YOOM–Paris’s First Dim-Sum Restaurant, B-/C+

February 4, 2011


France still suffers from a colonial hangover when it comes to the way it perceives of Asia. If the English have rather admirably come to terms with the loss of their vast once-colored-pink-on-maps-of-the-world empire and only occasionally swoon in nostalgia for the Raj, most of the French still see Asia through the opera glasses of folklore and a rather vain nostalgia. To wit, they want the booming continent with the thousands of churning factories that fill our store shelves to be gentle, alluring, sensual and picturesque. And for proof of my postulation, see what reaction you get when you tell the guests at any Parisian dinner party that the population of Viet Nam is significantly larger than that of France.

To be sure, there’s been important immigration from Asia to France for a longtime, but it hasn’t created the tissue of a dynamic Asian culinary in Gaul. Compare Paris’s Asian tables to those in San Francisco or Los Angeles, for example, and the contrast is generally wilting. Why? Most Asian restaurant owners still ‘correct’ their food to cater to the French aversion to hot food and strong flavors. Still, when I heard that YOOM, Paris’s first dim-sum restaurant had opened down the street from where I lived, my heart started thumping. I love dim-sum, and one of the best meals I ate in all of 2010 was at the Crystal Jade restaurant in Singapore on a Saturday noon when they serve dim-sum only. In fact, what I wouldn’t give for an order of their Shanghai soup dumplings right this minute.

Anyway, in the hopes of a brief transit away from the Parisian winter and a good feed, my friend Christian and I padded over their for lunch the other day, and arriving, we liked this restaurant in the rue des Martyrs a lot. The gray tile walls and serving plates with vintage lithographs of Asian maidens or stocky Maoist vintage women harvesting corn were amusing, and the service was surprisingly prompt and very friendly.

We settled in over a bottle of Quincy, and promptly ran amok with the menu, since we wanted everything. The first dish that arrived were our orders of won-ton soup, and it was delicious–delicious deeply flavored broth with delicate meat filled won-tons and a nice floating scrimp of chopped green onion and herbs. Then the grilled ravioli showed up–three to an order, and the pleasure needle dipped down a bit. They were just fine, but lacked a real crust and were under-seasoned.

Then the tower of bamboo steamers arrived. Har Gau, delicate steamed dumplings stuffed with minced shrimp, were pretty good, but the chicken Satay ones were a real disappointment–with a texture that varied between grainy and pasty and no taste of Satay (peanut sauce) at all. Mushroom dim-sum, usually made in Asian with a mixture of fresh mushrooms, tasted more of the can that the mushrooms had come in than the fungi themselves, while “tetes de lion,” balls of ground pork rolled in rice and incredibly delicate and flavorful in Asia, had been over-cooked so that the rice was gummy.

If these little mouthfuls were much better than the generally miserable industrially made ones found in most Asian restaurants in Paris, they lacked the lights, depth of flavor and finesse of those you get in Hong Kong or Singapore, where dim-sum is an elegant pleasure-giving art on par with French pastry in its intricacy, imagination and delicacy. In the best Asian dim-sum places, each mouthful is meant to be a brilliantly balanced gastronomic spectrum of distinct tastes and textures; at Yoom, they all started to taste the same after a while.

Still, this place is definitely a step in the right direction for any Parisian or visitor who really loves dim-sum.

Yoom, 20 rue des Martyrs, 9th, Tel. 01-56-92-19-10. Metro: Le Peletier. Closed Sunday and Monday. Average 35 Euros.

  • Erica

    Hey Alex,

    Hope you're doing well. I saw that you love xiaolongbao (perhaps my death-bed dish), and I wanted to know if you had found any good restaurants for these beauties in Paris? I recently discovered a restaurant in the 13th that serves them called Autour du Yangtse. I'm planning on heading over there this week to try them, but I didn't know if you had any other places you would like to share.

    Happy Sunday!

  • Hi Alec, good write up. I maybe becoming complacent, but I think I'm going to start seeing Chinese food in Paris in context to the country and hope that it will evolve, which I know it well. I remember when I lived in Spain as a teenager that fried rice was cooked with very strong olive oil. I thought it was very bizarre. We were in Spain last year, and Chinese food has really evolve… I did find a Schzehuan/Hunan style restaurant in 13eme, food was good and spicy; unfortunately, I just couldn't get pass how greasy/oily everything was… oh well, I'm an optimist, and your recent review is a good sign. Merci!

  • Erica: Thanks for sharing your address, and if I come up with any other good Asian places in Paris, I'll post here immediately.

    Randy: There are small signs that Paris is getting serious about Asian food–as I posted last week, Lily Wang is actually very good, if not particularly authentic, and I love Q-Tea in the 9th, which I also wrote about recently. Let's hope these new places are a trend!

  • Dear Alec, the feeling I get from your various reviews about the "Asian offer" in Paris is that we live in two different cities. There are hundreds of excellent Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and even Chinese restaurants in Paris and around. But if you keep hitting places like Yoom, Lily Wang, Lao-Tseu and Le Santal, no wonder you're disappointed. However these are in no way representative of the East Asian food scene in Paris.

    Q-Tea is a good place. But it is not "a trend". Paris has been serious about Asian food for quite a while now. Indeed, it began with the first immigrants from Wenzhou back in the 1920s.

    One first tip: try Tricotin for dim sum. We can share them.

  • Hello Ptipois,

    I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one, since anyone who's traveled regularly to Asia as I have, or who knows San Francisco, Sydney, Vancouver and many other western cities will tell you that the Asian offer in Paris is generally middling at best.

    There has indeed been immigration to Asia from France for a long time but once they arrive, most Asian restaurant owners inevitably propose pretty dumbed down versions of the food they ate in their own countries. They're are a few exceptions, but Paris is still not a top-league city for Asian food, and I've always found Tricotin very overrated.

    Best, Alec

  • Erica

    Hey Alec,

    Autour du Yangtse was a total wash–the soup dumplings were too small and way too sweet. Even though I went in with absolutely no expectations, I was still disappointed at the end of the meal…sigh…the quest continues!

  • Alexander Lobrano

    Thanks for the feedback, Erica, and sorry to hear that Autour du Yangste was a wash out. I'm on a permanent dim sum hunt in Paris myself and if I find anything good, you'll read about it here. Best, Alec

  • Relle

    THANK YOU! I am so glad someone else agrees with me…I was really disapointed with YOOM for the same reasons…I was excited to go there – especially when I saw the crowds outside the door waiting for them to open. I said to my friend I am not sure if they will still be there in a year. I know my Asian food…and eat more asian out and at home than any other food fare. Have you tried Mousson 9, rue Thérèse 75001 Paris. Authenic and fresh…or another great find…an Asian melange…called Panasia! absolutely fantastic 130 Ave Victor Hugo 92100 Boulogne Billancourt – funky – young and the food is really good…metro Marcel Sembat. Happy eating!

  • Alexander Lobrano

    Thanks, Relle. I liked Mousson a lot, too, and will look forward to trying Panasia. Best, Alec