Skip to main content

For 37 years, this East Chinatown restaurant has been one of the last places for traditional cart-service dim sum in the city. Now, it’s closed and the building has been sold to new owners. Photographer Lucy Lu chronicles their final weekend

Various dim sum dishes sit on a round table at Pearl Court Restaurant on Nov. 30. For many Chinese families, traditional dim sum is a weekend brunch-hour ritual where small-portioned dishes are ordered for the entire table.

Servers go from table to table with carts piled with dishes such as stuffed eggplants, red bean pancakes and deep-fried dumplings. Customers order by picking dishes off the cart. Pearl Court is one of the last places where dim sum – also called yum cha, or drinking tea – is served in this way.

You see a lot of dim sum places now have turned into fancier venues and they make a lot of fusion kind of dim sum or mainly just sweet type of dim sum. We stick to the staples and what’s good, giving that authentic taste.

Anna Fong, manager of Pearl Court Restaurant

All of this is changing soon. The building has been sold to new owners who plan to open a new restaurant that will offer dim sum and other Asian cuisines. But Pearl Court, which has been in business for 37 years, had its last day of service on Sunday, Dec. 1. On the final weekend, patrons were lining up for as much as an hour to have one last meal.

Hannia Cheng and Tanya Mok, members of the activist group Friends of Chinatown, wait in the foyer. The walls are lined with plaques of Pearl Court's accomplishments and a portrait of Jack Layton, who advocated for East Chinatown as a city councillor and conceived of the East Chinatown archway during a meal at Pearl Court. The foyer also has a bouquet of artificial flowers, part of the kitschy decor that is part of the Pearl Court experience for many patrons.

Valerie Mah is vice-president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for East Toronto. She's been coming to Pearl Court for 30 years. She says it was a place where Asian families could feel at home at all hours of the day and night, and where she'd throw Chinese New Year banquets for the whole community.

Drake Tafford has been coming here for about 15 years, when a former girlfriend took him. At first he didn't like the food, but grew to love it. In the last few years he's been coming nearly every week. 'It feels like home,' he says.

Janey and Jerry Yeung came on Sunday with their sons, Jiesen and Jieon. The Yeungs grew up in Toronto's east end and have been coming to Pearl Court since they were children; Mr. Yeung says they even thought about having their wedding banquet here. Ms. Yeung says the neighbourhood's changed a lot in that time as more of the Chinese population has moved away to Scarborough and Markham.

There used to be a lot of restaurants here, and this one probably might be the last ones where you could have a large family dinner at.

Janey Yeung

Yip Tai (Mrs. Tai) has been working here since 1988, six years after it was opened by Master Chef Chan. Yip Tai is a favourite among its regulars; the current manager, Anna Fong, remembers being served by her as a child. The Fong family took over the restaurant five years ago.

Then there's the food, of course. Here, diners get a dish called feng zaau, or braised chicken feet, a Cantonese staple of dim sum cuisine.

As patrons lined up out the door to get their last meals, Ms. Fong thanked customers for continuing to come back to Pearl Court over the years.

We have so many regulars that have been coming for decades, that are weekly or monthly customers and we would like to thank them for coming back and trusting us even though we only took over for the last five years.

Anna Fong