August 6, 2017
The moment I stepped inside the Social Place (唐宮小聚) I was struck by a sense of déjà vu even though this was my first time there. The open kitchen, the wooden tables and chairs, the slogan of modern cooking without MSG, even the lighting — everything seemed strangely familiar. Once I scanned through the menu it became wholly apparent this dim sum restaurant is very similar to Yum Cha, another dim sum place in Sheung Wan. From the business card I found out the Social Place is part of the Tang Palace group, which doesn’t own Yum Cha, so while my companions were busy ordering food, my task was to google the relationship between the two places. Turns out Yum Cha’s team, including chef Winson Yip, formerly worked at the Social Place before opening their own shop. I suppose they manage to secure the rights of their dim sum designs.
Once the mystery was solved our attention turned to our crockery, which on first glance were filled with insects. On closer inspection the ants and flies were actually painted patterns, which depending on your perspective could be cool or disgusting.
The signature item, roasted pigeon, cost $25 a pop and was limited to one order per person. This 50% off promotion will last through 2017 in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Tang Palace group. Skin crispy and meat tender, this was no doubt a crowd-puller.
The trio of appetizers — fan pei with shredded chicken, jellyfish with cucumber, and drunken chicken — were all subpar. The fan pei was soft, the jellyfish soggy, the chicken tasteless.
Buns in all shapes and forms soon filled up our table. I have never understood the appeal of fake truffle products, so I wasn’t a fan of the mushroom-like bun with diced shiitake and truffle oil filling.
The taro bun with the appearance of a pig’s head had the look but tasted dry and bland. The black custard bun was probably right up there as the best I have had in town.
“Chicken Flowers” were deep-fried deboned chicken wings dressed in balsamic vinegar; the taste was similar to Shanghainese sweet and sour ribs. The added acidity from the lime was a nice touch.
The kitchen’s effort to appease the Instagram crowd is notable beyond the cutesy buns. With some petals on top, the otherwise ordinary looking steamed rice in lotus leaf wrap managed to instantly attract all of our phones and cameras. Often the lotus leaf only acts as decoration, but here it did infuse the rice with its fresh aroma.
The plate of leafy greens we hoped could refresh our palate a little was soaked with oil. We abandoned it halfway through,
For dessert I picked a trio of sweets: vegetarian bird’s nest with rock sugar, date pudding and deep fried Chinese haw dumpling. The first one was purely sugar water, but the latter two had good chewy texture and, much to my liking, not too sweet.
The signature items were mostly solid, but the miss rate was quite high for the rest of the items. The bill came to around $210 per person, not exactly a bargain for dim sum but admittedly we had ordered more than enough. I don’t mind coming back again to try some dishes I have missed out on like the Flaming Pineapple, but with my memory of the Social Place still fresh I will first go to Yum Cha again to see how the two compares.
Address: The L. Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, Central
Opening hours: 11:30 – 15:00, 18:00 – 22:00