Yauatcha. Soho so-so.
I had a little urge to reacquaint myself with the minority sport that is dim sum. You may have noticed that I’ve been to Royal China (not the Club), on a number of occasions and each time, I’ve waxed lyrical. Unfortunately, my local Royal China does not serve dim sum in the evening.
In a pathetic attempt not to overeat, I have convinced myself that dim sum are just little bites and not a proper meal. So once I had got the dim sum fixation into my mind, I had to make it happen. The only place that I could think of for dim sum in the evening was Yauatcha, which was formerly part of the Alan Yau empire. That was sold in January 2008. I see that a former colleague did the legals and that it was a £30m deal to the Abu Dhabi Investment authority. There’s talk in other blogs of it being owned by Tasameem, who also own Chrysan and operate Sake No Hana. I’d like to look at the whole history of the transaction but that’s another blog.
The ALan Yau empire included Hakkasan and Busaba Eathai and in terms of where this sits in the market, I’d say it was somewhere in the middle. It has all the glitzy design that you’d expect with an Alan Yau restaurant but the prices are not quite in the Hakkasan league. And thank goodness for that.
The restaurant is set out on two floors. The top floor, where we sat, is a very modern minimalist space, with clean lines and good lighting and tables not too close to each other. The only problem with the tables however is that they are just too small. And not only the tables. The chairs are not proper size – they seemed halfway between grown-up chairs and something you might find in a traditional Japanese restaurant, but not quite. I’m practically a midget and found the chairs uncomfortable and they would not be particularly kind to a larger posterior – not that I have one of course.
made C choose steered C towards the dim sum set menu. Despite my innate control-freakery I sometimes allow myself to just have the set menu without insisting on a Harry met Sally type of variation, rare though it is, There were enough things like that I liked and recognised and it didn’t seem like bad value for the amount of food. So much for my “little amounts of food” fantasy.
The blue swimmer crab salad with sesame dressing was crushingly disappointing. I’d say not even a tablespoonful of crab was in that salad and the dressing must have been put on with a pipette, so sparing was it. The mange tout appeared to be undressed and the whole thing was lacking in flavour and was an effort to chew, without any discernible taste benefit. Undressed mange tout, cold, are not enticing.
Later on, looking over at my neighbours, as you do, I noticed something that had the same components as my crab salad but looked quite different. It was a venerable mountain of mangetout, topped by a generous portion of crab with lashings of the sesame paste– if we were using the same measuring system I’d say there were about four tablespoons of crabmeat, resting on top of the pile.
Had they just not prepared the dish properly? Was it some stinginess in portion size, due to the fact that it was one of the components of the set menu? Who knows. Maybe with some actual crab and some sesame sauce it would have tasted of something other than cold stringy mangetout.
Worthy of note were the venison puffs – the meat unctuous and rich and with a slight sweet-and-sour flavour – these were very good and I could have eaten a lot of them.
The seafood dumpling in supreme stock (a light and delicate broth), was a massive dumpling of minced prawn with an unidentifiable meat – it came with a side dish of what was described as sour vinegar, with strips of fresh ginger. Obviously, I had to try that, but I’m not sure that it added massively to the dish and I ended up pouring in quite a lot of soy sauce which I’m sure is completely forbidden, but it needed salt and that was the nearest thing on the table to it.
And then three different types of dim sum, which were absolutely fine except the prawn dim sum, which was simply a fat prawn in its casing which was so hot that it burned the skin off the roof of my mouth on impact, which is never great when you are only a third of the way through your meal. Or ever.
The three-style mushroom cheung fan did what it said on the tin – this was good and the mushrooms had different textures and depth of flavour.
I also very much liked the dim sum with the chopped chilli on top – obviously I have a mouth made of asbestos because C was crying at this point – I’m assuming it was the chilli – but I was quite happy. At least it actually had some bite.
Really, I wish it had ended there because I was actually pleasantly full and most of it had been acceptable if not memorable. The rest of the meal, however, was as unnecessary as it was unsatisfying.
There is such a thing as too much. There were too many greens. A wodge of slippery pak choi is impossible to eat without half of it slapping against your chin or dripping its sauce down your front. It’s not worth the dry cleaning bill, never mind the social embarrassment. So I left most of it.
It came with the fried chilli squid. There was squid. And oatmeal. It was fried. I think they forgot the chilli. It had a strange semi-sweet tang and was chewy and dull. Fried chilli squid is one of my favourite dishes. This example of it was one of the worst that I have had. Any of my regular dining companions will vouch for my clean plate policy. Food is swiftly dispatched and the plate left clean and tidy. I don’t leave some for Mr Manners.
So the fact that I left over half of this is notable. Not a word from the staff. Maybe they’re used to it.
And then just when we had really had enough, crispy aromatic duck. It came with pancakes which were smaller than your average pancake, and thicker. As if two had been stuck together. No matter, because we didn’t finish them anyway. The duck was a little dry and I wasn’t sure that I quite like the coating of what I think was five spice powder on the outside. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t anything better than I can get in a local Chinese, for quite a lot less.
This is a restaurant which is not as good as it thinks it is. It’s nicely designed, there are lots of staff who ooh and aaah over you. It looks pretty. It’s a triumph of style over substance and if you want dim sum, I think there are better places than this. Go compare.