Yauatcha might be seen by some as just another trophy bought by Abu Dhabi’s investment arm but the Michelin-starred quality of the food remains, not least in the very impressive dim sum.
Ever since Alan Yau opened his dim sum baby back in 2004 it's been a popular spot, with those early days seeing queues out the door and waiting lists as long as the tally of dim sum. It’s marginally easier to get into these days, but this modern take on a classic Oriental teahouse still looks quite the sleek part, with an attractive interior moodily bathed in brilliant blue by backlit fixtures and an impressive aquarium of similar hue. Views of the bar through misted glass look like cataracts but the rest of this polished dining room offers the kind of clarity and precision you might expect from somewhere designed by Christian Liaigre, who has married vogue and vintage pretty well.
The fashionable reputation, the celebrities popping in, the undemocratic prices; this is dim sum for the discerning diner. There are plenty of local Soho types, so expect to spy trendy looking sorts discussing PPMs and telecine colouring, or the more successful denizens of the theatre industry swapping amusing tales of particularly theatrical thespians. Add to that a host of chic, well-heeled ladies lunching, a few special occasions and, of course, the obligatory bloggers with ludicrous lenses, and you’re set for an atmosphere most would gleefully describe as ‘vibrant’. Lunchtimes are relatively casual, whilst evenings come over all glamorous, with natty numbers the norm.
With those kind folk of Michelin bestowing a star (that’s stuck) upon Yauatcha back in 2004, there’s a certain elevated expectation from most diners. And whilst those looking for sophisticated pieces of artistry might be disappointed, those wowed simply by flavour should be very pleased indeed.
Most of this pleasure will probably come from the really rather delightful dim sum, of which there are quite a few. And whilst to try them all you’d need pockets deeper than the pit in which you put them, a few standout options just have to be sampled, with the signature venison puffs (£4.50) chief amongst them. These brilliant, buttery bundles of flaky pastry play host to deeply rich, sweet and char siew-esque venison, with sesame seeds popping to provide an extra layer of flavour - it’s a seriously good dish.
Others impress too, with the har gau (suitably delicate with big and bouncy prawns - £5.30), scallop shui mai (a bugger to grab but every bit as dainty and delicious as the har gau - £7.50) and the seabass in black bean sauce (big on flavour and big on fish - £8.80) particularly worthy of note. The sheer number of different dim sum would bring Barry Schwartz out in a very cold sweat but just stab a pin in the page a few times and accept that you’ll have to return.
If you don’t fancy the dim sum then there is plenty more besides, with a very good crab salad (doused in a judiciously restrained peanut and soy sauce - £9.80) and a stir fry of sugar snaps, mange tout and edamame (£8.80) being good shouts for those seeking something a little lighter. A Szechuan seafood and tofu claypot (£19.80) might not be anywhere near as spicy as the demarcation suggests but it is packed with flavour – just keep an eye out for the whole cloves of garlic, lest you lose friends.
Desserts (all £8) go a little more global, with posh rhubarb custards and sorbets sitting alongside milk chocolate praline (with jivara milk chocolate, salted caramel and peanuts), a cassis chocolate pudding (with violet) and chocolate selections. The macaroons (£1.50 a pop) really impress though, with folds of flavour found within the kind of yielding chew found only in the very best.
If you’re popping in for some lunch and don’t fancy something boozy then you’re in luck, with the iced teas and tea smoothies being particularly good. A kumquat and jasmine version is lusciously fruity, but not quite as lusciously fruity as the lime and passion fruit option, where lime, apple juice and jasmine tea mixes fruitfully with passion fruit and its pips. The cocktails (some of which come from Hakkasan - not literally) justifiably boast some renown but those wanting to drop a bottle of wine or two have some very decent options to choose from, including an excellent 2010 ‘Clos du Roy’ Sancerre from Pascal Jolivet and an even better 2010 Pouilly-Fuissé from Manciat-Poncet.
The Last Word
It might not be the cheapest spot in town but elevating the traditional dim sum experience to a standard this high is never going to come cheap - simply order carefully or cry to hell with it.