I have been going to yum cha at East Ocean in Sydney's Chinatown for over 20 years. I can't remember when I started going but I can't remember not going. The place is part of our family's history. Both of my children had their first yum cha experience there, only months after joining our family.
We go to other yum cha restaurants as well. The Rhodes Phoenix, near our current home, being a new and surprising favourite. But East Ocean has always been the special place.
Yesterday was the last time I will ever eat at East Ocean. It was a sad day and an end of era.
When mum, Jules and I arrived there yesterday something wasn't right. It took longer than necessary to realise what the problem was.
The trolleys were gone.
A colourful printed menu and order sheets lay on our table. I couldn't believe it. It was horrible. Mum argued that the food was the same, better. But no it wasn't and the atmosphere was different, wrong, broken.
To me yum cha isn't just the food. Sure I love the variety of dumplings, the deep fried wonders, the crispy green steamed Chinese brocolli, the just warm egg tarts. But for me yum cha is a feeling and the trolleys are part of that feeling. The anticipation as each trolley nears: what will this one hold, an old favourite or a new surprise? The hum and buzz of the restaurant, the rattle of the trolley wheels. It's a package, an experience.
Without the trolleys the restaurant is unnaturally quiet. Flustered waiters rush from table to table, dealing with confused customers, carrying cooling bamboo baskets and plates.
I walked down the steep stairs, back onto Sussex Street, with a heavy heart. It would be the last time I visited this place which had been such a big part of my story for so many years.
Good bye East Ocean.