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Restaurants & Bars 9

Yauatcha, Soho, London

limster | Jan 10, 2009 02:44 PM

Plump prawns, nested in crispy shredded filo, their mild natural sweetness enhanced by a subtle bit of lychee with a different timbre of sweetness and light fruit. Excellent deep frying with clean tasting results.

Steamed scallops with kumquaat plays on the same principles, the zesty bittersweet slice of kumquaat against the scallop, in a butter/cream sauce. However, it's a little disappointing, the 3 portions in the serving featuring essentially half a small scallop (sliced horizontally), the rest of the mouthful bolstered by ball of minced seafood (scallop? prawns?), what I thought were Chinese chives (jiu3 cai4) and probably smoothened over with egg whites. Not bad, but not worth the £6.30 price tag.

Similarly, the steamed dumplings filled with pea greens and a little smidgen of snow crab was pleasant, the dumpling skin a bit on the thick side, although the texture was fine - still chewy and not mushy, but lacking refinement - the quality is no better than that of the skins on the har gau at Dragon Castle, which if anything maybe a little thinner. It's not bad and fairly delicious, but poor value at £8.00.

Desserts that I had were a better deal, while not at the technical pinnacle (e.g. temper of the chocolate), showed flair in presentation and thoughtful and somewhat classic flavour combinations.

The passionella - good passionfruit mousse and cake, excellently complemented by a light milky chocolate, encased in a fairly thick and hard shell of chocolate (quibble here - a thin fragile shell would have been better, but it's more demanding and requires better temper in the chocolate).

Darker chocolate in the Balthazar, the chocolate mousse supported it with a toasty coconut mousse, within a chocolate box and a little quenelle of the same mousse on the chocolate lid, sugar coated and glittery.

An extensive tea menu, which I liked, but the teas that I tried were expensive for the quality. A Shi2 Ru3 Xiang1 oolong from Fujian's Wuyi mountains gives off the qualities of the fairly dark roast along with a good amount of floral aroma, somewhat vanilla-ey, and something that I associate with dried banana chips. Quite complex and very drinkable but at £11 is steep compared to the £3.50 Tieguanyin at Teasmith, especially when the Shi2 Ru3 Xiang1 is perhaps just marginally better with a very similar flavour profile, imho.

Had a second tea, Bei3 Dou3 Yi1 Hao4 aka Xiao3 Hong2 Pao2 - translates roughly as North Polar (Star) the First, aka Little Scarlet Robe. Little Scarlet Robe is an allusion to one of the finest (and most expensive) teas in the world, Big Scarlet Robe (Da4 Hong2 Pao2). Stylistically and flavour-wise, this tea is closer to the Shi2 Ru3 Xiang1, dark in roast, like the rock teas of Wuyi, with more subtlety and balance. But again expensive (£15) compared to some of the oolongs that I've had at places like Teasmith and Postcard Teas. Postcard Teas actually carries a version of Big Scarlet Robe that is way more complex, with a remarkably long and subtly sweet and fruity (summer stone fruit) finish, that this Little Scarlet Robe lacks.

OTOH, it was nice to have a proper setup for gai4 wan3 (covered bowl) tea brewing (you need to request tea ceremony as opposed to just a pot of tea, prices are the same) so that one could do multiple infusions at one's leisure at the table. This is crucial for some of the teas, as these teas will peak only after a couple of infusions or more (especially the aged pu-erhs, but also applies to oolongs) -- having the only first infusion means missing out on the tea at its best and combining infusions means diluting the better stuff. I've heard critics of Yauatcha complain that they would only serve a pot combining a couple of infusions, so it was a pleasant surprise that should satisfy many of them.

After the fact, I heard from a friend that the tea master at Yauatcha is Taiwanese, which makes me wonder if the Taiwanese teas might be better sourced. On the whole, I thought my experience was very pleasant but significantly overpriced compared to other places I've been here when one considers quality (and I've not even made it to that many dim sum places). I'm wondering if there is a sweet spot in their menu in terms of value, such as going after the more "regular" dim sum items or sticking to the patisserie, and it seemed from watching other tables that the afternoon tea options looked pretty reasonable. I'm not rushing to go back, but if I do, will definitely try other parts of the dim sum menu next time except for the lychee prawn rolls which I enjoyed.

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