Food Blog | Cooking Blog
There is absolutely no wonder that dim sum tea house, Yauatcha, has maintained a Michelin star for 9 of its' 10 years of existence. The iconic London restaurant draws people from all over the capital with it's award winning menu and somehow manages to supersede what you might expect from Alan Yau, the visionary that gave birthed the Wagamama, Busaba Eatthai and Hakkasan empire. Tea house, patisserie, Chinese kitchen, cocktail bar and winery - there really isn't anything missing from Yauatcha and it doesn't fall short of the mark on any one of these five dimensions. The ambiance is brilliant, bringing glamourous city dwellers - both young and old - together in the funky, dimly lit duplex with subdivisions and hidden alcoves separated by sheets of blue glass, multicoloured flowers and modern aquarium tanks. There is no smell of Chinese food, it is neither cheap nor overpriced, the staff are all gorgeous... And the food... Well, just wait for it.
Walking in through the large, blue glass door of the restaurant, the first thing that hit me was the clean scent of Jasmine, as opposed to the waft of Chinese cooking smells that inevitably fill the majority of far Eastern restaurants. My mother (the blonde) often objects to Chinese and Thai restaurant suggestions on the grounds that they make your hair and clothes smell of the food, which nobody wants to carry around on them after the dinner is over. Yauatcha could not have been further from this. Another complaint that she frequents is "but Chinese food is so heavy and oily". Again, this could not have been further from the truth. Everything in eye sight was neat, tidy, clean, refined, sophisticated, odourless, and certainly did not look remotely heavy or oily. The take away patisserie counter in the window of the restaurant showed off countless deserts which were so immaculate in their presentation that they almost looked inedible. As they were varying in colours, shapes and sizes, and failing to resemble any desert forms we had seen before, the plus one and I attempted a guessing game of what on earth these dishes were. As soon as our inability to identify the patisseries became evident the maitrdee told us our table was ready. Saved by the bell. At once, we were ushered downstairs, away from the large white ground floor room that packed some thirty tables full of happy customers.
Being so spoiled for choice that we ended up almost ordering off the cuff when the waiter appeared, the plus one and I were frustrated to have had to resist the menu's many temptations that we were unable to try. Next time the sticky vegetable puff with peanut, the fried chilli squid with oatmeal and curry leaf, and maybe a crispy mushroom and black truffle spring roll will definitely be near the top of the list! Similarly, whilst we only had time to share a passion fruit martini before moving on to our wine, it assured me that my next visit will definitely require a more thorough exploration of the cocktail menu. The sweetness of the fruit together with the sharpness of the liquor, whipped into an silky smooth frothy frenzy by one of the highly skilled bartenders throwing shakers and strainers in all sorts of directions behind the bar - it was the perfect way to start the evening. Our wine, chosen by the sommelier to match our choice of dishes, was similarly brilliant. Rampant Red, Hamelin Bay, 2010: follow suit, any of you tartlets that might be ordering the dish combination that we did - brilliant clarity with a a complex bouquet of cherry, earth, plum and berry fruit aromas, and a palette that is round and medium in weight, with fine tannins.
* Spoiler alert. I got that from the online wine reserve. I have absolutely no idea what any of that means, but it was delicious.
The meal begun with a delicious dim sum from the fried section of the menu (anyone who says they don't like the fried stuff is lying). The sesame prawn toast appeared in an inventive format - a whole prawn surrounded by more prawn meat, deep fried in a ball and then once again on a slice of sesame toast. The toast was crunchy and the prawn was light, bouncy and packed with sweet shellfish-y flavour. The plus one was a particular fan, sporting an ear-to-ear grin when I assured him that it really was, okay, for him to have the last piece. I, however, was more preoccupied with the baked venison puff: a soft, flakey puff pastry parcel of Chines five spiced venison, mushroom and pine nut that was topped with a honey glaze and a scatter of sesame seeds. Sweet, rich and wrapped in pastry, the puff bared a greater resemblance to a pudding than any sort of starter. What was particularly outstanding was that the generous portion of venison at the epicentre of each puff was perfectly tender. Something complicated done incredibly well, and when dipped in the homemade sweet chilli puree... Exquisite, and completely unique.
Our next course featured steamed pork and prawn shu mai dumplings and prawn and bean curd cheung fun, a traditional Chinese classic and a new and experimental Yauatcha invention, respectively. Both were completely outstanding. The shu mai (similar to gyoza but different in shape) encased a seamless blend of minced pork and finely chopped jumbo prawns and were topped with finely chopped Chinese chives. Dipped in soy, each dumpling had so much going on: the type of thing that forces the "what-the-hell-is-in-that-and-oh-my-god-what-i-have-no-id-oh-my-god-that-is-just" type of response that the plus one shamelessly gave. Subtle hints of water chestnut, bamboo shoot and other perplexing Eastern flavours that often make appearances in dim sum had us completely dumbfounded as we made futile attempts to describe the experience. However, the best was yet to come. Having come as a recommendation from every single person that I spoked to before my visit to Yauatcha, the prawn and bean curd cheung fun was something that I wasn't willing to miss, and Oh. My. God. How lucky I didn't. Encased in soft, steamed lotus rice paper, tempura battered discs of liquid bean curd, wild prawn and engonaki mushroom soaked up a delicious new style soy-citrus dressing. There are no words. The slicing of the rolls makes each piece resemble a maki roll, which may contribute the shock to the senses that comes when the warm, soft morsel immediately melts in the mouth. Woaaah mama! It is no wonder that it is Chef Tong's all time favourite dish on the Yauatcha menu. A must have!
Next, we moved on to a plate of spicy soft shell crab deep fried in an ultra light chinese five spice tempura batter and tossed with spiced almond flakes, curry leaves and finely chopped discs of red chilli. The colours were amazing and the intensity of flavour that came through with each bite was unbelievable. The light, crispy curry leaves came together with the raw chilli to pack a punch so strong that the taste bud tingling sensation of each morsel could only be ended by having another bite. The soft shell of was evenly coated in a layer or light, airy batter just thick enough to give it a pronounced crunch. It's texture was more similar to the fried rice paper skin of a spring roll than a shrimp shell and the meat was not dissimilar to that of a hard shelled blue crab, although the hint of a new shell gives it a slightly sweeter note. The culmination of soya sauce, root ginger, chilli, five spice, curry leaves, garlic, almonds and lime brought out the flavours in the crab beautifully and it was perfectly cooked. If only it didn't seem to be one of those dishes that is incredibly complicated to source and cook for yourself at home...
Without wasting any stomach space on soups or salads, the plus one and I plunged straight in to the eagerly anticipated course of crispy aromatic duck. Reflecting the traditional method of Cantonese cooking, the duck had been slowly steamed, coated in a combination of Chinese spices, dusted with cornflour and deep fried. This method of cooking ensures that the meat of the duck is soft and tender throughout with that characteristically crispy crust that gives a crunch to your pancake wrap. The skin was perfectly light and crispy in texture, and the flavours from the root ginger, onions, Chinese five spice powder, cumin and Schezuan pepper rub came through beautifully. Proud of this dish, Chef Tong professes that if Wills and Kate asked him to cook them a meal, he would have to make them his aromatic duck. But, a word of warning to any couples heading to Yauatcha soon, his quarter of a duck is a fairly generous portion. Had it not been quite so delicious, the plus one and I might not have polished it off so effortlessly, especially given the dim sum that we had already sped through. Moments after it was set down on our table, the duck was shredded into thin strips. Our highly skilled waiter, using nothing more than a fork and table spoon, moved through the meat tearing it into stringy bits of deliciousness in a matter of seconds, whilst we prepared our steamed pancakes with shredded cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce. The ultra thin and bland pancake provides the perfect case for the strength of the sweet sauce, spicy duck and the fresh crunch of the vegetables. Impressively, the plus one managed to package and eat each pancake without making any mess whatsoever. I, on the other hand, was not nearly as glamorous. Greedy as I am, I overfilled every one, never able to close the pancake and always having to resort to chopsticks. Too busy enjoying the ride.
For the main course, we opted for meat instead of seafood. Whilst I do not regret this choice, the temptation of a stir fried scallop with lotus root, a Schezuan style native blue lobster and a steamed dover sole in black bean sauce have left me eager to pay the restaurant a second visit. The Jasmine tea smoked ribs were a highlight: sweet, sticky and messy as any good rack of ribs should be, yet refined in taste with the subtle infusion of Jasmine coming through continuously. Each rib provided scaffolding for two thick strips of meat that tore off the bone at the touch of a fork - the easy eating I needed after the crime scene duck.
We also sampled traditional Hakka pork belly, served in a ramekin of thick sweet and sour sauce, accompanied by cloud ear mushrooms and roasted suede. The suede was not my favourite part of the dish, but the rest was absolute perfection. It slightly dumbfounds me when I remorselessly chomp my way through fatty meats like pork belly, but the flavour is just too good to miss. The cloud ear mushrooms were shrively and wafer thin in texture, and not dissimilar to shitake mushrooms in taste. They provided a soft and clean contrast to the richness and chewiness of the pork and absorbed the flavours from the sauce perfectly.
An order of baby pak choi in oyster sauce alleviated our guilty consciences about having had nothing green on the table despite the inordinate number of plates. The leaves were soft, limp and saturated in sticky oyster sauce whilst the stalks were relatively firm and crunchy. As is often the case, the baby variety of the vegetable is slightly sweeter than its full-fledged father and it packs a deliciously flavourful and comparatively refreshing antidote to the rich flavours and textures of Chinese cuisine. We also went for a palette cleansing steamed rice, which provided a bed for the pak choi, pork belly and other saucy numbers.
Finally, we sampled a portion of Singapore stir fried vermicelli noodles tossed with grilled prawn and squid. The plate was colourful, fresh and full of variety. The grilled peppers and bean sprouts gave it a real crunch, whilst the soft wafer thin strings of noodle were incredibly soft in the mouth. The prawns and squid were grilled simply, enshrouded in any complicated seasoning or marinade. Seaseme seeds, peanuts, red chilli, coriander and lime made the noodles resemble my all time noodle favourite: seafood pad thai, only that these were much lighter and less stodgy. Truly delish!
*A sneak preview of the desert counter... See you next time, Yauatcha!