Finding xiao long bao in Hong Kong, thankfully, isn’t too difficult—it is where the tradition was born and raised after all. But finding a perfectly-wrapped, savouring dumpling is another question; the dish takes years on years to master and only the top chefs in the city can capture the mouthwatering taste and warm soup broth upon first bite.
A longstanding restaurant on the block, Dim Sum Library has been celebrated for its xiao long bao’s, and this year, reinvents its classic menu with an exotic twist at its flagship and its newly-opened Dim Sum Library Elements. Cha Siu Papers Times drops by the Kowloon branch to try the new and noteworthy collection of the traditional “little basket bun (translated from Chinese to English)”.
Situated in Elements Mall (near the up-and-coming West Kowloon District Promenade), Dim Sum Library’s second branch follows closely in the footsteps of its Pacific Place flagship, another curation by Aqua Group. Decked in a Gatsby-esque, art deco theme, the restaurant retains its stylish aesthetic and draws in crowds from all over.
It boasts a spacious setting with a dining area for gatherings and a bar for those dropping by to try the Asian-inspired cocktails. Designed by London agency Fabled Studio, the space is inspired by ancient Chinese poetry using a Chinoiserie interior and hints of gold throughout the restaurant, whilst the windows showcase the panoramic harbour views from your dining seat.
The Xiao Long Bao
Although the look and feel of the restaurant may be familiar if you’ve visited the Pacific Place branch, this new Dim Sum Library offers a different menu from its flagship. Honouring the traditional xiao long bao, the restaurant takes a refreshing reiteration in its new menu catered for the dumpling enthusiastic crowd.
The new flavours include the Kombu & Bonito Xiao Long Bao, the Beef Brisket Xiao Long Bao, the Bak Kut Teh Xialong Bao and the Hot & Sour Xiao Long Bao. The four limited-edition flavours will be available at both branches and will each be available on a weekly-themed schedule. We tried the tasting menu which included each of the innovative xiao long baos and the new dishes on the menu.
First, we tried each of the new xiao long baos one by one. Served in a range of bright colours, each had its own unique flavour and wrapped in a paper-thin skin.
The Beef Brisket Xiao Long Bao was my favourite, enclosing an eight-hour simmered beef, using a traditional Cantonese method and served with a clear broth to condense the flavour of the meat. The oxtail and brisket went well with the cinnamon and white pepper for a slightly sweet touch, whilst the bay leaves kept the flavour in-tact. Next, I tried the hearty Kombu & Bonito Xiao Long Bao, based on Japanese miso and ramen—with a cultural infusion. This dish was curated with sister Japanese restaurant Shiro to make an authentic dashi soup using sake, soy sauce, and traditional pork filling. With only three ingredients for a seemingly- simple concoction in fact results in a reminiscent flavour of traditional ramen which takes a lot of skill to make.
After the milder variations, we tried the spicier xiao long baos. Inspired by Aqua Restaurant Group’s David Yeo’s Singaporean heritage, the Bak Kut Teh Xiao Long Bao is a family recipe to him, and uses the herbal soup remedy for a slightly spicy yet warming taste. And lastly, the Hot & Sour Xiao Long Bao is for those who can take Sichuan spice levels—and would know that Sichuan doesn’t hold back in chillis. Without being overpowering, this dish pays homage to the origins of spicy Sichuan cuisine and is made with Sichuan paste, fresh chilli, aged vinegar and the traditional pork filling.
For our tasting menu, we tried a selection of new appetisers and mains at the newly-opened restaurant. To start, we had the Deep-Fried Taro Puff with Escargot, an East-meets-West iteration of the traditional Chinese dim sum dish with a bit of French twang using sea snails to create a rich texture.
Truffle is still hot on the radar for many restaurants and palettes, and a refined flavour to say the least. The Black Truffle Har Gau Shrimp Dumplings takes another dim sum dish to new heights with the complementary taste of truffle. The Fried Eggs & Tomato Rice Paper Roll is crispy and light, using western elements to give it a new flavour.
One of the favourites on this menu was the Prawn, Scallop & Crab Spring Rolls, which were delightfully coated in crispy batter and filled with indulgently tender seafood for a perfect pairing. And of course, the signature Dan Dan Xiao Long Bao remains a cult favourite on the menu, and serves as a Shanghainese-inspired take (using the hot broth from dan dan noodles) on the traditional soup dumpling.
Try the Pan-Fried Sichuan Cod Bao for a final dim sum treat, without being too oily, before the main dishes.
The mains arrived at the same time and—as with most Asian cuisine—is recommended to be shared by its diners. The Crispy Pork Ribs were a sweet and gooey, boneless meat dish—serving as a tender and tasty plate of pork, reminding me of a childhood favourite—the sweet and sour pork.
Another crispy dish, the Deep-fried Pumpkin with Rosemary and Salted Egg Yolk was a truly unique flavour—the salted egg yolk coating the batter-fried pumpkin to create a blend of aromas at every bite. The final dish was the Stir-Fried Kale which came in a hot stone pot, and was actually the least invigorating in comparison to the other dishes which boasted heaps of delightful flavours.
For dessert, we had the new Chilled Hibiscus & Guava Pudding, a sweet (but not too sweet), densely-filled fruity treat.
Whether you’re here for alcoholic drinks or not, the cocktails and mocktails at Dim Sum Library are celebrated for their delightful, Asian-inspired selection.
We tried the Qilin Guardian, a Tanqueray gin-based pu erh tea served with Disaronno, orange and lemon juice and shaken with egg white. Being a gin fanatic, this cocktail was a well-balanced mix of fruit and tea. We also tried The Lion Dance, an oolong tea-infused cocktail with El Jimador tequila, agave, kaffir lime leaves, lime and pineapple juice, and black pepper—a cultural infusion between Mexican and Chinese.
It’s evident that Dim Sum Library Elements has followed successfully in the footsteps of its partner restaurants at Aqua Group, and from its Pacific Place debut. Each xiao long bao on the menu is meticulously prepared and freshly-made each morning to ensure the highest quality in serving its premium ingredients. The cocktails are a must during a visit, to complement the Asian flavours of the dishes.
The four new members of the xiao long bao family will be available at Dim Sum Library in both Pacific Place and Elements, alongside the original signature Dan Dan Xiao Long Bao from the 29th June until the 20th September. Each week will serve different flavours of the xiao long bao.
Dim Sum Library Elements, Shop 1028B, 1/F, Elements, 1 Austin Rd W, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2810 0898, dimsumlibrary.com.hk