With the illusive blue tinted windows and air of sleek mystique, Yauatcha has stood in the heart of Soho for over a decade. And, for a solid thirteen years it’s held tightly onto its one Michelin star, which was first awarded way back in 2004.
The creation of Alan Yau, daddy of Hakkasan/Busaba Eathai/ Wagamama, Yauatcha is a stylish take on a traditional dim sum teahouse. The top floor is dedicated to a grand patisserie and chocolate counter, as well as a fair amount of tables and general airiness. But head down a narrow flight of starlit stairs and you’ll find yourself in the cavernous bowels of a thriving, living beast.
When my partner and I arrive it’s nearly 4pm on a Tuesday but the place is heaving. Upstairs is completely full, and we’re immediately led by the svelte, stoic hostess down below to our table.
Downstairs is beautiful; the ceiling is completely alight with a galaxy of twinkling stars, and the stone walls are carved out with candlesticks like something from a futuristic place of worship. The semi-open kitchen is steaming, literally, with plumes of scented grey billowing regularly. And, the bustling staff are busy, I can only imagine the level of work that goes on here. With lunch service over, and afternoon dim sum running until 5.45pm only to be followed by a dinner service long into the night, it’s not an easy job for anyone.
Seated without so much as a smile, my partner asks for water and we order A Taste of Yauatcha. At £30 for two it’s a steal, a great chance to try a handful of dim sum items on the menu and see just what the place has to offer.
The waitress takes over from then on and returns with some dipping sauce and pickled cucumbers which have a nice sweetness and crisp bite. When she brings us an open bottle of tepid water, and our pot of jasmine tea we settle down and take in our surroundings.
And then the dishes begin to arrive.
First up is the baked venison puff and mushroom & black truffle spring roll.
Both are delicious.
The spring roll actually makes me gasp because I’m so taken by surprise. The immediate hit is one of truffle, intense mushroom and almost, almost, a cheesiness. It’s fantastic.
And the venison puff is a gamey, succulent treat, all treacle and meat.
The har gau is also a real mouthful; perfectly cooked prawn, with all the bounce and chew of a delicious piece of dim sum. Beside it, the pumpkin crystal dumpling is, again, very pretty to look at but not all that tasty. It’s fine, not unpleasant, but the pumpkin is starchy and it’s also filled with pine nuts which is a bit of a strange combo.
Next we try the beautifully vibrant spring vegetable dumpling which is surprisingly peppery but otherwise doesn’t taste of all that much, a shame given its pretty appearance.
The Prawn shui mai with chicken is beautifully appetising to look at and cooked a treat but I can’t say either of us tasted any chicken in it.
The prawn and beancurd cheung fun is tasty, served prettily with a drizzle of light soy, but the portion size is stingy- just one piece to share between the two of us.
We wrap up the meal with a slab of sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf. It’s a meaty, shrimpy, gluttonous mess with just smacks of savoury.
For £30 (including tea) you can’t expect to be full, but you’ll be content and certainly not hungry. It’s not expensive for a taste of Michelin glory but some of the portion sizes were questionably stingy- I mean one cheung fun to share; really? That’s cheeky.
What is also cheeky and I will mention here, is that we were charged £4 for tap water. As someone who has worked in hospitality for years now, I know the tricks of the trade; therefore I know when a bottle of lidless water comes to the table, room temperature and in a labelled bottle for appearances alone: it is without a doubt from a tap.
Now I get it, this is an expensive location, and if you’re not drinking wine they want to up the price somehow; but this is dishonest, no? I felt slighted, and a little cheated. It’s off putting and despite how much I enjoyed some of the dishes, I’m not sure if I would return because of this. London doesn’t have the limited luxe variety dim sum it had ten years ago; with the likes of A Wong and Pearl Liang to name just a few, there is no shortage of high end Chinese cuisine these days.
So as much as I enjoyed The Taste of Yauatcha, I would say go there with limited expectations. The dishes are hit and miss; the hits are fantastic, the misses simply mediocre. The setting is trendy and romantic, but the staff are mildly unpleasant.
You are told on entry that you have a time slot and it is made very clear that you are in only to be ushered out asap (unless, I assume, you are spending large).
So if you go, try this set menu (A la carte is pricey) and see what the fuss is about; tell me if the mushroom spring roll explodes in your mouth too.