Sunday 17 June 2012

Yauatcha, London

Despite sounding like a sneeze, since Alan Yau (of Wagamama and Hakkasan fame) opened Yauatcha in 2004, it remains one of my favourite places in London to eat.  

Maintaining a Michelin star since 2005, I believe part of Yauatcha’s success is its seemingly unique ability to be both formal and relaxed; suit large groups, small groups or individual diners; be perfect for a feast or a light bites  - but must of all, its success has to come down to the always quality dim sum, drinks and, of course, desserts served.

Originating along China’s Silk Road, dim sum has, over hundreds of years developed from roadside teahouses to the culinary art form we know today. Translating as "a little bit of heart" or “touch of the heart” dim sum still has connections with the drinking of tea.

The name Yauatcha being Alan Yau’s play on words of the Cantonese phrase ‘Yum cha’, which means ‘to drink tea’ – it had been a hot day on my recent late lunch / early dinner, so breaking with tradition, I ordered an Iced Tea of Lime and Passion (with apple juice and jasmine tea). There is a great selection of soft drinks at Yauatcha and they are not “all ice and no taste” as is served in some places – mine certainly hit the spot. 

To accompany the tea, I ordered a total of six dishes. Arriving in a trio of stackable ‘zheng long’ (bamboo steaming baskets), my seafood selection arrived first: Lobster Dumpling with Tobiko Caviar, Ginger & Shallot; King Crab Dumplings and Prawn, Cuttlefish & Zucchini Dumplings.

Yauatcha’s food may look like the dim sum that you can get in any average Chinese restaurant up and down the country but the flavour here is incomparable. They clearly use the top quality, fresh ingredients and make them with passion and love or… "a little bit of heart"

King Crab Dumplings – king crabs (and spider crabs) are amazing creatures that I’ll invariably order if I see them on a menu. These were plump and full of delicious crabmeat.

Prawn, Cuttlefish & Zucchini Dumplings – there are apparently over 2000 recognised varieties of dim sum and these were the first I have eaten of this shape and colour. They tasted great but I’d like to be more knowledgeable about the different types of ‘pastry’ and have made a promise to myself to look out for and enrol onto a dim sum preparation course.

Lobster Dumpling with Tobiko Caviar with Ginger & Shallot – these dumplings were sensational – sweet, firm chunks of lobster meat cooked with the absolute subtlest hint of ginger and shallot. Easily the best dumplings I have ever eaten.

The nest trio of dishes included Spring Onion Puffs; Mushroom Cheung Fun and Chicken Feet in Chilli Black Bean Sauce.

Spring Onion Puffs -  these were not my favourite as I found them to be a little dry and bland despite also being flavoured with dried shrimp. They were good once dipped in the chilli dipping sauce but they’re probably not something that I’d rush to order again.

Three Style Mushroom Cheung Fun – in Cantonese ‘fun’ means noodle and ‘cheung’ means intestine but these rice noodle rolls are just named for their resemblance to pig’s innards. If the name doesn’t put you off beware that with the mushrooms and sweet soy based sauce the resulting dish is quite ‘slimy’ – personally, I don’t mind a slimy textured dish and these slipped down a treat.

Chicken Feet in Chilli Black Bean Sauce – occasionally listed on dim sum menus as ‘phoenix talons,’ chicken feet are another ingredient that some may choose to avoid. I however, love to get messy with the glutinous goodness and enjoy spitting out the small connecting bones. The skin and tendons add an interesting textural difference to all that wonderful cooked down collagen – forget KFC these are the real definition of ‘finger lickin' good’

I finished my meat with a Pearl Leong ‘tea smoothie’ made with mango, guava, orange juice and oolong tea – another example of Yauatcha’s top selection of refreshing drinks.

Feeling full, I was going to skip dessert but I can’t resist a macaron as anyone who has read my post about where to find the best macarons in Paris will attest (see here) so I just went for a trio of the perfect little pastries: a Salted Caramel; a Lychee Rose and a Mango & Lime. They were excellent – but when I go back I’m going to try harder to save room for more of the impressive looking artistic creations that were on display. 

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