Like any decent Chinese restaurant, Dim Sum King Seafood Restaurant greets visitors with a modest exterior. Located on the third floor of a run-down building in Downtown Toronto, accessible by a set of dingy stairs, it doesn’t leave the most glamorous of first impressions. (Think of the stairs as a little pre-meal cardio that makes your gorging on siu mai all the sweeter!)
Stepping into the restaurant, we were met by the usual trappings of a dim sum establishment: dozens of waiters taking orders and pushing around carts of bamboo steam baskets, an aquarium by the entrance, round tables surrounded by big families or groups of friends. We arrived at 5:30 pm, but since it was the weekend, the place was already starting to get busy; nevertheless, a server approached and seated us immediately.
This isn’t my first experience at Dim Sum King, but it is Kevin’s. When I sent him pictures of my first visit, he’d commented that it looked “depressing.” Since I’d just had a great meal there catching up with my friends, I felt kind of offended and really wished I could somehow evoke for him the taste of the meal, to prove him wrong.
Of course, being from Vancouver, Kevin has tasted a lot more high-quality dim sum than I have. (Let’s admit it Calgary is a bit of a Chinese food desert. It’s getting better, though!)
Luckily, Dim Sum King has earned his approval!
Dim Sum King offers all-day dim sum, which is great because who doesn’t love dim sum for dinner?
There are two styles of dim sum restaurants: one where servers wheel around carts of food and you pick whatever catches your eye, and the other where you order first, on a little piece of paper indicating selections and quantities. Dim Sum King is the latter. If you’re inexperienced with dim sum, this can be perplexing because many dim sum dishes are difficult to describe without a visual menu, and the English translations are terrible. Of course, my advice is 1) eat with a Chinese person or 2) stop worrying and just pick anything! It’s pretty hard to find a dim sum dish I don’t like.
We ordered nine dishes. The thing with these restaurants is there is an initial delay phase, where you’re really hungry and waiting in agony watching diners around you enjoy their food. Then, the first dish arrives, and everyone at the table begins eagerly counting down the seconds for it to cool down.
Shrimp dumplings and shumai
For us, the first to arrive were the shrimp dumplings (har gow) and shumai (siu mai), both absolute staples. Are you even eating dim sum if you don’t have at least one of these at your table?
But barely before the little morsels are cool enough to eat, more bamboo baskets are incoming. Soon your entire table is flooded with dim sum dishes and your mouth can’t keep up with the supply.
I’m telling you, it’s such a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by those bamboo baskets of food, like your own personal buffet selection!
Anyway, the shrimp dumplings here are delicious. Very savoury, juicy filling, and a rice wrapper that’s not too sticky. Compared to Rosewood, I would say these dumplings have slightly less filling but a firmer, tastier wrapper.
I can’t comment on the shumai, since I didn’t eat any, but Kevin said he liked it and ate all four pieces on his own.
The best fried squid in the city
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Dim Sum King cooks the most mouthwatering, delicious squid I have ever eaten in my life. This was the one dish that made the restaurant stand out in my memory from the last time I visited. Even Kevin, who hates squid, admitted that the flavour was pretty damn amazing.
I’m not sure how this is possible, but I think the taste is remarkably close to that of fried chicken. Don’t ask me how or why! If you taste it, you’ll know. Squid is not usually a go-to dim sum order for me, but at this place I get it every time.
Then again, they are also a seafood restaurant.
This one was all Kevin’s, and I didn’t take a photo. I don’t have much to say about chicken feet. Even before I stopped eating meat, I didn’t really care for gnawing at bones for ages just to get a bit of skin. So little reward for so much effort. However, Kevin said the chicken feet here are good.
Purple sticky rice rolls
These “forbidden rice” stuffed steamed rolls straddle the line between sweet and savoury. The top of each roll is sprinkled with shredded salted egg yolk, but the rice itself is subtly sweet. Overall, compared to the loud in-your-face flavours of the other dim sum items, this one is surprising in its… blandness. I don’t mean that in a bad way—I think it’s really tasty. But only if you’re someone who enjoys the pure taste of sticky rice, as I do. These are also really, really filling. After eating just one, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat the other three and still have room for the other things we ordered, so I packed the rest up to go.
I wasn’t too impressed with these. The egg-to-pastry ratio was off: not enough egg custard and too thick of a crust.
They were shaped more like stout Portuguese pastéis de nata than the flatter, thinner-crusted Hong Kong style tarts I was expecting.
Nevertheless, the pastry shell was well-baked, and the filling rich and not too sweet, just the way I like it.
Battle of the custard buns
Today I learned about a new menu item from Kevin: the liu sha bao, or salted egg yolk bun.
I order egg custard buns (right) almost every time I go for dim sum; I can’t get enough of the creamy, sweet filling of these steamed bao.
Kevin goes one step further, though. He eschews the custard bun for an even more decadent-looking item: the salted egg yolk bun (left), probably the closest Chinese analog to molten lava desserts. Pulling one of these bad boys apart is like slicing into a poached egg: a runny golden filling runs out, only instead of an egg you taste a salty-sweet custard with hints of egg yolk.
Clearly, Kevin loves the liu sha bao a lot more than the humble nai huang bao. But I think they both deserve a place at the table. The nai huang bao may not look as beautiful or have such a striking flavour profile, but there’s a solid amount of filling in each bun. The liu sha bao has a little too much bread and not enough filling. And although both are custard-based, they both taste so good in different ways that I can’t imagine living without either.
A custard-y new contender
This next item, known mysteriously on the menu as “Steamed Sponge Cake with Cream and Eggs,” piqued my curiosity, so I had to try it. I was expecting something rich and yellow and custardy, and I wasn’t wrong!
Alternating layers of soft steamed sponge and warm, gooey custard make up this cute striped dessert. It doesn’t seem like a traditional dim sum item, or at least not a popular one for us to have never seen it before now. But I’ll be ordering it more often from now on, because for me, it combines two of my favourite things: cake and custard. It tastes just like the nai huang bao I talked about earlier, but solves my issues with the buns having too little filling—this one has the perfect ratio in my opinion.
Our bill came to $64 after tax and tips, which is a little more expensive than Rosewood at $55, for a similar quantity and quality of food. However, it’s still a great price for a super satisfying meal, with a little bit of leftovers to take home!
Kevin says he would be happy to come back here for dim sum in the future. We also want to try their seafood dinner menu at some point too.