|The Christian Liaigre-designed ground floor tea room|
I'd been to Soho's swankiest dim sum restaurant before, on a couple of occasions, but due to no fault of theirs always left with a sense of melancholy; I won't labour the point but let's just say unrequited romance was involved and I'd come to feel that Yauatcha and I were jinxed. This time I was with my purely-platonic pal Eliot, so there was no danger of me leaving with a heavy heart, and could appraise the experience rather less partially than on my previous visits.
Opened by uber-restaurateur Alan Yau - he of Wagamama and Busaba fame, as well as Hakkasan and Sake No Hana - in 2004, Yauatcha is a sleek, sprawling two-floor space designed by French king of cool Christian Liaigre. The ground floor tea room (although to call it such is rather like calling Harrods a corner shop) is a light, bright room done out in minimalist grey and black with accents of blue including the glass front wall; downstairs is a dark, sexy jewel-coloured dining room with acres of lacquer and a twinkling ceiling. We were seated in the former; the unsuitability of the low-slung seating for two chaps both 6'3" and over is all I can find to fault about the design.
|Scallop and prawn shu mai|
Scallop and prawn shu mai topped with fish roe, har gau - intricately pleated, sticky-skinned shrimp and spring onion-filled pouches - and chive and lobster dumplings (decadently topped with tobiko caviar) from the steamed section of the menu all used exceptional seafood and vibrantly fresh fillings, delicious eaten unadulterated but even better dipped in the chilli oil and soy sauces provided.
From the 'baked, grilled and pan-fried' section we enjoyed beautiful, pillow-soft venison puffs and rich, tender jasmine tea-smoked spare ribs whose meat came away from the bones at the gentlest tug of the teeth. Two fried dishes - crispy duck rolls and sesame prawn toast - were elevated, elegant takes on takeaway staples, the latter whole fat tail-on prawns encased in balls of sesame seed-sprinkled dough, completely unlike the more familiar flat triangles the name brings to mind.
A crispy duck salad, lightly dressed and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, was a stylish demonstration that the kitchen is capable of more than divine dumplings. Eliot being on the wagon only I drank; a chilli Martini chosen from the short but varied and enticing list was a potent, palate-awakening start to the meal while a follow-up glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand was as good as those wines generally are. Because of the huge selection of fine and specialist teas available, Yauatcha distinguishes itself as one of those very rare restaurants where non-drinkers are as well and even better catered for than boozers.
|The 'sexy' basement dining room|
Our blow-out lunch came to about £50 a head but half a dozen dishes between two and a pot of tea to share, say, would be only half that. It's also perfectly possible to drop in (space permitting - on our visit both floors were absolutely full to capacity) for tea and one of the exquisite, intricately-decorated cakes for which the restaurant is almost as well known as its dim sum. Service can be brusque and a little haphazard - drinks, even tap water, come from the separate bar, food from the downstairs kitchen, their arrival rarely synchronised - but for food this good I'm prepared to put up with it.
Unlike earlier relationships that didn't work out, Yauatcha and I have been given a second chance and I'm newly in love for the (Chinese) New Year. So gung hay fat choy baby - this time it's for keeps.
Yauatcha, 15-17 Broadwick Street, London W1F 0DL Tel: 020 7494 8888 http://www.yauatcha.com/
I was invited to review Yauatcha. Lucky, lucky me.