Monday, May 16, 2005

Review: Lei Garden

More dim sum goodness for lunch on Sunday. We went to Lei Garden, which is a very established and very large Cantonese restaurant in Orchard Road. We used to go there very often when I was young, but I think their standard has dropped somewhat – the food has become rather unrefined, prices have risen and service standards fallen. However they seem to have a large enough following that they’re always packed on weekends, as you can see.

Lei Garden

The first few dishes came fairly quickly, but the pace slackened off a bit near the end. The first thing to arrive was a bowl of porridge which contained, among other things, century eggs. That cost $4.00, but I didn’t have any.


Lei Garden has some pretty strange prices, which seem to come in multiples of $0.20. For instance, a basket of ha gao, or steamed shrimp dumplings, cost $3.40.

Shrimp Dumplings

This was probably one the best of the lot, even if the skin was a bit sticky and thick. Four dumplings to a basket, so everyone got one.

Next we had char siew pau, also $3.40, but there were only three to a basket.

Char Siew Paus

These I found to be a little on the small side, and the char siew filling was a bit salty. Char siew paus, I feel, should not be as petite as the other dim sum dishes – they should be honking big buns stuffed with savoury meat, though not overly dense.

Cheong Fun

Our steamed shrimp cheong fun cost $4.90, but like the pau, the sauce it came with was quite salty.

We also ordered a basket of xiao long pau, because I don’t remember ever having tried Lei Garden’s ones before. On the menu it’s listed as “Steamed Shanghai Dumpling with Mince Pork”, which, I suppose, is accurate enough.

Xiao Long Bao

These were all right, no complaints here. They gave us three for $4.20. On a separate note, I think these little dumplings are one of the triumphs of dim sum cuisine. Whoever invented them is a genius, along with the guy who discovered how to force-feed geese.

Egg Tarts

Egg tarts were next, $3.40 for three. I was quite disappointed with these, as the crusts of the tarts were hard and shell-like, totally lacking the flaky, melt-in-your-mouth quality that good egg tarts should possess. They should not, as a rule, crunch when you eat them.

Steamed Layered Cake

If you recall, I quite enjoyed the steamed layered cake Crystal Jade served, because it was moist and light and custardy. Now, the one at Lei Garden, however, is nothing like that. It’s dry and dense and only has a very thin strip of custard between each layer of cake. It’s like eating steamed bread – most unpleasant. Not cheap either, $2.50 for two cakes.

At about this point in time, my camera decided to have a fit and promptly could not be switched on again. Luckily there were only a few more dishes to go. If anyone would like to recommend me a better camera, I’m all ears.

One of the problems with Lei Garden is that their dim sum menu is very limited because they try and coerce you into ordering dishes off trolleys pushed around by their staff. Apparently this is all the rage in Hong Kong, but not very popular here (more about that later). However, if you know what you’re after, you can order items that are not on the menu.

Our last two dishes were a basket lor mai kai and char siew sou, both of which were not featured in the menu, but neither of which were all that inspiring.

Lei Garden is located in the heart of Orchard Road, which is quite convenient. If you go on a weekend though, a booking is absolutely essential.

There’s not much to be said for the place’s ambience. On weekdays it’s very empty, if that’s your thing, and on weekends it’s full to bursting. In a sense, that gives it atmosphere and character, but it also gives it bawling babies and screaming children. I’d rather not have wailing brats interrupting my lunch, all the same.

Due to the huge numbers of patrons, service was not particularly impressive. I was quite irritated with constantly having to tell waitresses who tried to hawk us more dishes off a trolley that we were not interested. The way it’s done in Hong Kong, apparently, is that customers are not given a choice, and have to order everything off the trolley. That’s fine, as long as customers don’t have a choice to begin with. Once they’ve ordered what they wanted, it’s galling to have to keep being bothered by these people. The menu is very limited, and ordering things not on the menu means you don’t know how much you’re being charged. Not a very satisfactory system. Furthermore, unlike Crystal Jade, the staff does not change your plates promptly, resulting in you having to eat food off a plate that already has strange sauces and bits of other food on it.

Lei Garden Restaurant (Cantonese, dim sum)
150 Orchard Road
#09-01/02 Orchard Plaza
Tel: 6738 2448
Location: 5/5
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 2.5/5
Food: 3/5
Overall: Pricey, unjustifiably so

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