19 November 2010

Yauatcha, London – Review

Travelling back to London will always be like coming home for me. I lived in Britain's capital for 15 years, and during those years the city has witnessed me progress from spotty young university fresher, to meeting most of my friends, getting my first job, marrying my love, and to seeing the birth of my first daughter. So it's unsurprising that I have grown to adore the city. Of course, the bittersweet irony is that it's only when I chose to leave the place that I realised what a magnificent city it truly is. Maybe distance has made me sprout a pair of rose-coloured spectacles, but forget the relative trivialities of tube strikes, congestion charges, and Daily Mail-esque warnings of "broken Britain, innit" – at its heart London is a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis, throbbing with pace, energy, wit and charm. Yes, it is noisy and crowded, and sometimes downright nasty, but it affords an adopted Brit like me a myriad of freedoms and a number of small daily joys.

One of the many small joys I miss is Sunday dim sum. Whether it's the morning after the night before, a family get-together, brunch with friends, or some well-deserved time alone, nothing can soothe the soul and satisfy the stomach quite like good dim sum on a Sunday. So when Mrs. Nibbler and I were in London to celebrate a friend's birthday recently, we got the chance to indulge again in a favourite Sunday pastime and headed off to Yauatcha for some restorative yum cha.

Yauatcha has been going since 2004 and was founded by legendary restaurateur Alan Yau. It is currently one of three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants in London. The famous red guide isn't the ultimate arbiter of quality, in my experience, but it is generally the most consistent indicator of a restaurant's calibre. However, I find that once Michelin strays from its comfort zone of 'modern European/French' food, their ratings retain less significance. So I was genuinely curious to see how Yauatcha stacked up against my dim sum experience at the excellent non-starred Pearl Liang a couple of days earlier (see review here).

Yauatcha is designed as a modern take on an old Chinese teahouse. We were seated in the ground floor dining room whose interior was quite minimal and light, with clean lines of glass, wood, and concrete dominating. There is also a darker and moodier subterranean bar and dining area. The menu here blends tradition with modernity quite well, and the focus is on dim sum dishes and other smaller plates, although more substantial main courses are available too.

We started with baked venison puffs (£4.50), a twist on the more traditional char siu (barbeque pork) puffs. Pieces of tender, sweet venison were encased in flaky, buttery pastry. These were sooo moreish – a fantastic start to the meal.
Next, some scallop shu mai (£7.50) and char siu buns (£3.50). The shu mai consisted of open-topped dumplings filled with moist prawns and shredded carrot, topped by a thick slice of sweet scallop. The whole thing was crowned with glistening roe.
The classic barbecue pork buns seemed lighter than those I had experienced before and were all the better for it. Both dishes were a delight.
This was followed by pan-fried turnip cake (£5.50), which I discovered is not made from turnip at all, and instead features daikon as the main ingredient. The turnip cake had a thin layer of egg and chives on one side, which lent it an extra richness. I could never tire of turnip cake such as this.
Next were some wild mushroom dumplings (£4.80). A vibrant green wrapper contained a moist mixture of oyster, shimeji and shiitake mushrooms. The filling packed an umami-rich hit of woody mushroom. It was OK, but nothing special. Each dumpling was decoratively studded with pearls of qian shi (fox nuts) – a first for me; their taste was rather neutral, so they were maybe there just for texture, although in Chinese medicine they are considered good for the kidneys.
Our kidneys suitably cleansed, we dived into some excellent prawn cheung fun (£5.80) and shanghai dumplings (£3.50). As at Pearl Liang, the waiter poured some sweet soya sauce over the cheung fung, the wobbly rice noodle rolls packed to the rafters with succulent prawns. The shanghai dumplings were a bit of a disappointment, however, as I was expecting these to be the soup-filled, steamed kind. Instead we got the grilled variety of pork-filled dumplings. They were fine, just not what I was expecting.
Finally, to finish, one of the highlights of the meal: plump and bouncy har gau (£5.00) dumplings. Each dumpling was made with beautifully pleated, translucent wrappers filled with oh-so-perfectly cooked prawns. They were just heavenly!
Throughout the meal we sipped from elegant cups of silver needle white tea from Fujian Province, which was beautifully mild and refreshing with a vague sweetness to it. The total bill, including service came to £53, which was not as much as I had expected it to be. I really enjoyed lunch at Yauatcha; there's something very cosseting and slightly decadent about going there for Sunday dim sum. However, judged on the food alone, I'd have to give the edge to Pearl Liang – the quality and sheer value for money of their dim sum is, I believe, unrivalled in London. But if you're looking for a touch of healing luxury when you're feeling bleary-eyed on a Sunday, then you can't go wrong with a spot of yum cha at Yauatcha to leave you feeling sated, happy, and ready to face the world again.

Food:        8 / 10
Service:     7 / 10
Ambiance: 8 / 10

Yauatcha
15-17 Broadwick Street
London W1F 0DL
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 8888

Yauatcha on Urbanspoon
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