Yauatcha (Soho)

As my inamo review showed, my discovery of East Asian food is still very much in its infancy. In an attempt to flourish in my understanding of such food, I soon found myself in Yauatcha’s Soho restaurant, in pursuit of of a variety of dim sum dishes on a student budget. Those familiar with London’s restaurant scene might balk at the suggestion of finding many Soho options for those on a student budget, not least at somewhere that has a Michelin Star under its belt, but Yauatcha is the exception to the rule: as you’ll soon gather, if you visit Yauatcha at the right time, it needn’t break the bank.

What do they do?

Yauatcha offers a huge array of dim sum and tea, as well as boasting a patisserie with an astonishing selection of macaroons and other desserts. The focus is on refined dishes with unorthodox ingredients and flavours, and this normally costs a pretty penny (with lunchtime set menus starting at £40, and à la carte dishes ranging from £5-£30). However, during the afternoon lull, there is a 7-course tasting menu called Taste of Yauatcha, for a confusingly cheap £15 per head – only time would tell whether there was a catch.

What did we have?

As indicated above, we went for the Taste of Yauatcha menu, which consisted of nibbles of a various dim sum, and a pot of tea to finish off with. For drinks during the meal, Meg went for a couple of glasses of Cazas Novas (£8.10 for 175ml), and I chose the Wine Flight (£20 for small glasses of red, white, and rose, as well as a glass of Tawny port). In stark contrast to the food, we found the drinks rather disappointing, with fairly ordinary, cheap wine being marked up quite heavily. That being said, the food more than made up for this.

The meal had a fairly timid, but perfectly pleasant, beginning, with Pickled Cucumber, served with Soy Sauce and Chilli Sauces. This kept us at bay, before a flurry of dishes appeared.

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The first duo to arrive was the Mushroom Spring Roll (with Black Truffle) and Baked Venison Puff. These were both superb. The spring roll was crisp and was not overly greasy (as spring rolls often are), and the combination of mushroom and truffle provided for a decadent, rich and dark taste. The puff was sticky, sweet and daring, offering a novel, but extremely enjoyable, flavour. These two nibbles contrasted each other excellently, and provided extraordinary flavours of very different kinds.

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Next to arrive was the Prawn and Beancurd Cheung Fun. I now gather that beancurd is essentially tofu (boooo), but that didn’t take the edge off what was another wonderful dish. The aspect that really caught our attention, here, was an astonishingly sweet crust within the cheung fun, which can only be described as similar to maple syrup. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to grimace at the thought of such a flavour being found in a savoury dish, but it really did work: this was perhaps the highlight of the meal.

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Next, we had Har Gau and a Crystal Dumpling Wrap with Pumpkin. The har gau was tightly packed with shrimp, leading to a satisfying smack of flavour upon biting into it. The dumpling wrap was very neatly formed, and perfectly tasty, albeit not knock-out.

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The penultimate samples were the Garden Dumpling and the Prawn Shui Mai with Chicken. These were both immaculately and colourfully presented. The dumpling was mainly comprised of pumpkin, which was not overly sweet, but that seemed appropriate, given that we had already had quite a few sweet flavours. The shui mai was perhaps a little drab – the prawn and chicken flavours didn’t really come through, so this didn’t leave quite as strong an impression on us as the other dishes.

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Finally, we had Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf (with Chicken and Dried Shrimp). This was a pleasing contrast to the various small nibbles we’d been served, and was a further opportunity for refined presentation to be demonstrated. This, however, appeared to be something that passed me by – being the novice that I am, I proceeded to try and saw through the leaf, with my chopsticks, so as to get to the rice. Shortly before Meg was about to embark on the same mission, she was kindly guided by the waiter to turned the parcel over, which would reveal a much easier route to the rice: opening up the lotus leaf. Ah. Lol. Ultimately, the rice was fluffy and tasty, although perhaps a bit stingy on the meat front.

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Insider tip: turn it over.

The Verdict

Value for money -5/5 (f00d): for a Michelin-starred restaurant to offer up such a creative, sumptuous array of food for £15 per head is nothing short of wonderful. There were one or two dishes that perhaps lacked sufficient meat to convey the flavours, but that wasn’t to take the shine off a meal that was seriously good value. Value for money on the drinks was more of a 2/5 – this was a bit of a letdown. What it would be interesting to see is how the full food menu, alongside the drinks, stands up for value for money scrutiny: it should be borne in mind that the Taste of Yauatcha menu is not available at the usual lunch and dinner sittings, so perhaps the verdict is out in terms of overall value for money.

Pretentiousness – 2/5: overall, fairly level-headed. The bamboo baskets, I feel, were more a sign of authenticity than of pretentious presentation of food.

Atmosphere – 4/5: The surroundings were very modern, and largely tasteful. Given that we went during what one would expect to be a ‘downtime’, the restaurant was buzzing (perhaps due to this menu), and was able to cater for a modern and lively feel on the lower floor, whilst retaining an elegant, calming atmosphere on the ground floor.

Yauatcha was extremely tasty, and a great experience. We’d definitely return, although we’d hope to see a more curated, reasonable selection of drinks, and would be keen to see how the main menu compares to the exceptional value of the Taste of Yauatcha menu.

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