There's something fantastic about Gold Leaf in Preston and I mean fantastic in the true sense of the word. From the street, Gold Leaf is just a staircase at the end of a pretty grungy walkway that connects High Street with a car park, but once you step over the empty boxes, newspapers and freshly delivered bean shoots and climb those stairs, POW!
Like walking through a wardrobe and discovering a winter wonderland, you step inside out of the gloom. Gold Leaf, however, is no monochrome land of restraint ruled by a White Witch; the decor in the foyer is straight out of Tom Wolfe's Electric Cool Aid Acid Test. As if the Merry Pranksters have driven their bus through Hong Kong on their way to Las Vegas, bold lighting, bright colours and revolving chandeliers mix with lobsters in tanks and an overall sense of chaos. At this point if the maitre d' turns out to be an octopus in a gold lame jacket you'd probably take it in your stride.
Once you're past the entrance, the other surprise is Gold Leaf's sheer size - it's huge and there are far more people scarfing dumplings gathered together in one room than you would expect from the street. And while it's noisy and there are hard surfaces everywhere, it's not too loud.
Although Gold Leaf does yum cha/dim sum every day of the week, Sunday for me is The One True Yum Cha Day.
Tea comes quickly (and is refilled often, as it Was Meant To Be) and within moments you're fighting off the trolleys. There's plenty of the normal fare done really, really well - steamed dumplings; seafood in all sorts of guises; gai lan; prawn wrapped in bean curd wrappers; scallops on tofu; little fried wantons and other crunchy parcels; and sheets of unctuous, pearly-white rice noodles with more seafood.
For me the perfect yum cha experience has a mix of the new and the familiar, and "new" this time was slices of eel, cut like tiny fish steaks and cooked in a dark sauce. This was luscious and fatty with a sweetness to balance the fish.
In the "familiar" category, apart from dumplings upon dumplings, I have a soft spot for turnip cake. There's something wintry and comforting about these fried slices of bland daikon, studded with Chinese sausage, ham and spring onions, even if they looked like slices of congealed dishwater that have been shallow fried. Balanced with light, prawn dumplings and scallops on ethereal soft tofu, they make up the important stodge course.
And that's what yum cha (or dim sum) is all about - balance. It's the balance of chaos and comfort; the familiar and the unfamiliar; the steamed and the fried; the subtle and the spicy; the light and the filling. Of course, yum cha also requires that there are children running around tables, the noise is rambunctious and there's a four-trolley pile up threatening to cover you in steamed dumplings and gai lan. And, perhaps strangely, in the middle of this chaos on a Sunday morning I find a kind of peace and some time to contemplate my lot. There's a joy about yum cha that reminds me of how good life and family can be.
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