What do you call a dim sum restaurant that’s earned itself a place in the fifty best restaurants of the world? A Michelin-star restaurant that serves up great food and chic in equal proportions?
You call it Yauatcha. The brainchild of Alan Yau (who also set up Wagamama and Hakkasan), Yauatcha oozes style. The delicate pink and green wrapping of the cakes in the ground floor tea shop is just right. The dimly lit (though somewhat cramped) basement restaurant has none of the standard red and gold tones of most restaurants in nearby Chinatown. Here, the ceiling’s lit by bulbs in a `starry night’ effect; a huge aquarium stretches the length of the bar; the tables are grey textured wood, the sofas a vivid turquoise. Huge white peonies stand in tall peach and orange-tinted vases, and the staff wear uniforms created by Tim Yip, who designed the costumes for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Tarun and I booked a day in advance, for lunch. We were led to our table as soon as we arrived, and a young waiter arrived with our menus almost immediately. After a lot of thinking, we finally decided on ordering three types of dim sums: siu maai, crispy duck rolls, and steamed spare ribs with black bean sauce. For drinks, Tarun chose a strong Yobisu beer while I settled for something soft- a wonderfully refreshing and fruity kiwi lime iced tea.
The drinks were great, but the food was simply superb. The siu maai, tiny open moneybags of steamed minced pork and prawn, were lightly seasoned, and the casing was paper-thin and perfect. The crispy duck rolls were bursting with pieces of duck, beansprouts, cucumber and other vegetables, and came with a lovely dipping sauce of which an important ingredient was one of my favourite flavourings: five-spice powder. The steamed spareribs, cut into bite-size pieces that allowed us to devour them with minimum mess, were excellent too: very low on fat, and with just the correct amount of black bean sauce. Tarun isn’t particularly keen on black bean sauce--he tends to find it overpowering--but even he agreed that this was great.
We ended up feeling not quite full, so we ordered another item, shanghai dumplings. These were stuffed with a lightly seasoned mixture of chicken and prawn; steamed; and then fried on a griddle till the thin dough casing was slightly crisp and chewy on one side. Delicious, and very interesting!
Although the cakes and desserts upstairs looked tantalising, we skipped dessert--we’d eaten so much, we didn’t have room for anything else. The bill, along with a 12.5% service charge, came to £25.88. Not cheap, but definitely worth it.
On the flip side: service is erratic (our drinks came very fast, the food crawled), and I read somewhere that they only allow you 90 minutes to eat up. I don’t know if that’s true, but we weren’t given any ultimatums. I, on personal experience, would rate Yauatcha as a definite must-do for any lover of dim sums.