15 Broadwick Street, London W1F 0DL
From minimalistic canteens, Wagamama and Busaba Eathai, to artisan bakery Princi and this chic teahouse, Alan Yau OBE has proved himself the archetypal, architect restaurateur. It’s tempting to call him the Asian ‘Conran’. But unlike Sir Terence, he’s an ace at collaborating revolutionary restaurant design with pristine plates; marrying a satisfying palette with a gratifying palate. At best, his fresh flavours provide a near emotional response, whilst Conran’s Franglais platters can seem dull, à la petrified brasserie…
Upon opening, both Yauatcha and its elder, more ambitiously priced brother, Hakkasan, became Dim Sum destinations, soon starred by Michelin.
The atmosphere downstairs is romantic, being decadently dimly lit by a galaxy of glinting bulbs and faux flickering candles. Upstairs, the tea urn lined room feels crisper; perfect for a less lasciviously inclined lunch. Propped by almost brutal concrete pillars, the ceiling is latticed as a Mondrian; a study of Bristol blue emphasised by an aquarium below which serves as a shop window. I hope fish don’t suffer sunburn! Albeit comfy, one-armed leather chairs are so low as to play on scale. Indeed, when getting up, I was momentarily disorientated by how close to the floor I had sat. Louche jazz lingers.
Behind blurring, cobalt coloured partitions, I spied silhouettes of chefs steaming, frying and roasting. Even though I was dining with a vegetarian, I managed to sample a good selection of the venue’s Dim Sum classics. These are served in trios (the number three, according to Chinese superstition, representing life; four being the number of death). Perhaps because it is acclaimed by morose Michelin, or perhaps because there isn’t a fast enough turnaround of diners, Dim Sum trolleys are notably absent.
Steamed, tightly pursed har gau dumplings were pasty shaped, cocooning big fluffy prawns beneath their gluttonous, gossamer thin skins (£5). Full-stop sized caviar eggs crowned scallop shu mai, provoking plentiful detonations on the palate (£7.50). Jade pork dumplings were arrestingly green, punctuated by Chinese chives. Actually better when cooler, they also provided my first taste of sweet, lingeringly fruity preserved turnip (£5.50). Fried, blue swimmer sesame crab were uncommonly good: delicate, succulent, saline and more-ish (£6.80). Baked, Exmoor venison puffs left the sensation of utterly gentrified Eccles cakes (4.50). Tradiitonally, noodles are served at the end of a Dim Sum flight, ensuring diners don’t go hungry. My (unnecessary) noodle filler involved peppery, shemeji mushroom (£9.50). The pasta fronds were ‘hand pulled’, a process worth watching, should you get the chance.
Selected by wine writer and executive sommelier, Christine Parkinson, the wine and sake list walks a carefully balanced tightrope, this being a notoriously wine unfriendly cuisine. Although I didn’t venture far beyond the vast tea cart, which also includes iced tea and tea smoothies, some intriguing picks include Camel Valley Brut pink from Cornwall(£56 per bottle) and dry Spanish Malvasia (£27). I stuck with a Riedel glassful of cool, blotter dry, vaporous Manzanilla from Fernando de Castilla (£6.70/125ml) served by an inquisitive sommelier clad in an aubergine coloured suit. He also recommended the sweetie, Moscato Rosa from awkward-to-pronounce producer, Franz Haas (try to say it) in Italy’s Alto Adige. Despite a vertiginous price (£14.90/100ml), it consummately echoed the flavours in an obtrusively un-Asian pudding of chocolate mousse with molten raspberry centre (£7.50).
For those, like me, need to sate their sweet tooth, Alan Yau’s anticipative sense of design will prove a final snare. Thanks to the colourful perspex counter of macaroons sprawling by the door. needless to say, I didn’t go home empty-handed…
Even though Yau has sold his restaurants to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, through dynamic design and deft, distinctive dishes, his spirit lives on. Never one to rest on his laurels, watch this space for an announcement of two upcoming projects in London.