EVERY morning of every day for the past seven years, Yau Sunyin, 82, and his wife, Man Leiti, 80, have gone to Iron Chef Chinese Seafood Restaurant for yum cha at 11am. They walk from their Cabramatta apartment to the restaurant and after a breakfast of dim sum and tea, they go shopping before strolling home.
They have eaten each of the 120 different dim sum many times over, though prawn wonton remains a favourite.
''It takes us months to rotate through the dishes and eat every single one,'' Mrs Man said.
The couple, who migrated from Shenzhen in China's south in 1955, also go for dinner at least three times weekly and have held every celebration of their three-generation family there. On Wednesday this week, they were joined by their six grandchildren.
They are not alone in patronising the 550-seat restaurant in the heart of Cabramatta. In a cycle of life that begins about 10am when the yum cha trolleys roll out and continues, with just a short mid-afternoon break, through a la carte and barbecue offerings until late evening, the restaurant caters for 11,000 diners weekly.
Many elderly couples begin the day with congee, the newspaper and tea. Within the Chinese community, the restaurant is known as ''Dou Heung'', meaning seasonal week. Iron Chef was selected as an English moniker when it opened in 2006 because it is ''a strong name'', said Phillip Visalli, the managing director of the restaurant's owner, the V Group.
Steamed chicken's feet is the top choice with yum cha diners, who number more than 4000 on the weekend.
''The chef removes the base and nails of the [chicken] feet, fries it and leaves it to cool to room temperature for six to 10 hours. We fry it again, marinate it and last of all it's steamed,'' Mr Visalli said.
For the less adventurous, the kitchen produces all the favourites including ha cheung (rice noodles with prawn) and cha siu bao (pork buns).
Like a traditional model in China, the kitchen is divided into sections - yum cha, barbecue and a la carte - each with an executive chef. In total, there are 30 chefs.
''We're basically copying what's been done for hundreds of years,'' Mr Visalli said. The restaurant also serves yum cha on trolleys, rather than an increasingly modern trend towards menus.
At a time when many Sydney restaurants are feeling the pinch, takings have risen by 17 per cent with more than 70 per cent of diners travelling from outside the area, notably the Hills district, Hurstville and Kingsgrove.
Finding chefs is a more challenging task.
''We are finding it hard to recruit anyone to work in a Chinese kitchen,'' Mr Visalli said. ''Younger people don't want to do it. They are going to university and tech, and even though the chefs get very good money, no one wants to do it.''
with Esther Han