Lucy Lord celebrates Chinese New Year by feasting on dim-sum at Soho’s Yauatcha
Dim sum teahouse offering contemporary Cantonese dim sum, patisserie inspired by European culinary techniques and Asian ingredients, and an extensive range of tea, wine and cocktails.
Yauatcha doesn’t shout its credentials, as it doesn’t need to. It’s known as the best (albeit most expensive) dim sum gaff in Soho, brainchild of Alan Yau, founder of Wagamama and Hakkasan – which I reviewed last week.
There’s quite a queue as the girls on reception, elegant in royal blue shift dresses, spend more time on the phone than engaging with actual customers. A small (niggling) gripe, as service was otherwise exemplary, from twinkly dim sum expert Yeon to charming French manageress (I forget her name, but she was from Cannes) to our wonderful wine waiter Konstantinos. Yes, he was Greek. It’s a very cosmopolitan sort of place.
With glass walls, small tables and a pared back interior, it’s cool and minimalist – apart, that is, from the patisserie counter heaving with luridly coloured sweet stuff and a vast, Bond villain aquarium; Wagamama on acid, if you like. The loos downstairs are to die for, feng-shui-ed to the rafters with slim vases of orchids, neat stacks of pristine linen hand towels and washbasins with sloping slate steps approximating ancient Chinese fountains.
Cool and cosmopolitan, just like the staff. Young Chinese to the left of us, elegant female Swedes to our right. There’s a weird girl a couple of tables away who keeps her North Face anorak and fur-bobbled woolly hat on for the duration of the meal. Later, we get chatting to a charming couple who live in Brussels (he’s English, she’s Polish), are here on business and tell us it’s their favourite place to eat whenever they’re in London. They work in sustainable energy and can hardly keep their hands off each other.
As with Hakkasan last week, we’re here to review the Chinese New Year menu, and very good it is too. From the dim sum, crispy monkfish cheek with enoki mushroom and salsify is superior battered fish, a satisfying mouthful. Homemade tofu with seaweed and water chestnut has a wonderful texture, neither slimy nor rubbery, unlike any tofu I’ve encountered before. ‘Tender and molten’ say my husband Andy’s notes (he is, as he likes to remind me, ‘an invaluable part of the reviewing team’).
Next come a trio of dumplings, pliant, practically translucent dough in very pretty colours – bubblegum pink, peppermint ice-cream green, virgin snowy white – with a trio of sauces in varying degrees of heat. The spicy scallop (white) is my favourite, sweet and tender with a pleasing kick. It’s time to acknowledge my lack of dexterity with chopsticks and use fingers instead (no doubt a hideous faux pas). Chicken and prawn (pink) are just as you’d imagine, but better, and wild mushroom (green) intensely flavoured, redolent of the forest.
Three members of staff tell us that the venison puff is Yauatcha’s signature dish, its recipe unchanged for 15 years. Some customers only ever ask for these, we’re told. It turns out their pride is justified – the delectable little pies more than live up to expectations, melt-in-the mouth meat in richly savoury gravy encased in moreish flaky pastry.
There are still four main courses to come, and we’re starting to slow down. Steamed freshwater prawns with chilli are zesty with tamarind, coriander and garlic, black fungi and bean salad hot and poky with Szechuan pepper. Peking style pulled pork with golden mantou turns out not to be pulled, but thick, tender slices. The soft little buns that accompany it are lovely.
Chinese sausage with sticky rice has the proper umami of beef-flavoured Monster Munch, really very yummy, but I can’t possibly finish it after all those dim sum. Sticky rice, Yeon tells us, is traditional at Chinese New Year as it symbolises families sticking together.
Mandarin matcha choux with sesame, mandarin compote and orange Chantilly confirm the brilliance of the patisserie counter, and go a long way to explaining why Yauatcha is as popular at tea-time as it is for dinner.
We kick off with refreshing cocktails – raspberry, kumquat marmalade and bitter gin – which we didn’t order but are nonetheless a very welcome start to the meal. To follow, a couple of bottles of crisp, dry Picpoul, recommended by Konstantinos, who actually offers me the wine to taste first – it’s slightly irritating how rarely this happens, despite the booking always being in my name. To accompany our mandarin choux, a honeyed Samos grand cru, which might have been a tad excessive – but hey, we were out in Soho, celebrating Chinese New Year. And what better way to celebrate than this?
15-17 Broadwick Street.
Soho, London, W1F 0DL;02074948888
Sun 12 noon – 10.00pm (last reservation) Mon-Sat 12 noon – 10.30pm (last reservation) Patisserie Counter: Monday – Sunday 12 noon – 11pm