Chinese New Year at Yauatcha

Happy Chinese New Year! So begins the Year of the Dog, which apparently is amicable and kind, cautious and prudent. I’d be quite interested to know how the Dog ended up being the emblem of caution and prudence since all the ones I know will joyfully launch themselves into a freezing bog or gorge themselves actually sick on horse poo, but I think we can all agree that the world could do with a bit more kindness and amicability these days, so count me in. 

Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Yauatcha, which I bang on about often, has a new CNY menu to celebrate, so we pottered down to the Liverpool Street branch to give it a whirl. Although on paper Broadgate Circle is as fundamentally soulless as an electric trouser press, it does occupy that strange hinterland between Spitalfields’ culinary cool (see Gunpowder, Som Saa, The Kitchens and so on) and the overpriced excess of the City. So even on a Monday, Yauatcha was buzzing with all kinds of people. When we arrived, we had a pair of suits to our right, amicably negotiating who got what last pieces of dim sum (because despite their gastronomic ingenuity, some sadist in the kitchen decided three was the optimum number), and to our left a gaggle of excitable sub-21 year olds who invariably declared every dish that arrived to be ‘bangin”.

There are some things you have to order when you go to Yauatcha, even if you’re the kind of person who likes to try something different every time. Example: the venison puffs (£8.00), sweet, flaky, glossy pastries loaded with a rich and lovely gamey stew, like tiny little pies. (Assuming you’re from the South, that is. Mike is a Midlander and his idea of a pie is a curried, beak-filled monstrosity only available at the worst kind of football grounds. I am talking civilised pies.)

Also essential is the prawn toast (£12.00), which makes the flimsy triangles of your traditional Chinese takeaway look like slices of compacted shellfish slurry. I didn’t order it this time and regretted it. And, god, the prawn cheung fun (£10.00), the Colin the Caterpillar of Yauatcha (i.e. it is long and thin and wildly popular). They do two kinds and only the woefully uninformed would choose the version without the crispy bean curd. Crispy bean curd is one of the single most underrated foods in the world. When I die I want to be encrusted in it and put in a glass case as some sort of monument to the stuff.

Our waiter cautioned us against the ‘spicy’ Szechuan pork wontons (£6.00), but in terms of heat they were a walk in the park, especially compared to the fiery versions being sold up the road at Dumpling Shack. They could have used a little more sizzle, in my view, but they did have that all-important lip-slicking sensation, the kind that makes your mouth feel like a slip ‘n slide. (NB: not recommended if you’re sporting a bold red lip, unless you want a Coco the Clown incident.)

The Chinese New Year dim sum this year is a Chilean sea bass roll (£9.00), because fish are considered lucky in Chinese culture. I am generally someone who is wholly capable of eating any thing at any time (broccoli for breakfast, roast dinners on Tuesdays and Cadbury Mini Eggs whenever I can lay my ham hands on them), so the idea of a particular foodstuff being in any way auspicious always seems very novel. I loved the dim sum but the flesh and wood ear mushrooms were so delicate compared to the rock ‘n roll flavours of our other picks, I wished they’d served it first.

My usual advice in Yauatcha is to skip the mains and simply to keep ordering dim sum until it’s time to call an ambulance, but we gave the CNY specials ago because one of them was scallops in a black bean sauce (£30) which was bloody fantastic (though also, of course, bloody expensive. It did come with some surprise baby asparagus though, which was nice.)

Mike’s stir-fried duck breast with hazelnut in mala sauce (£21) was much more reasonable and simply enormous, chunks of soft flesh contrasting with the bite of the sugar snaps and crisp red peppers.

The pastry chefs at Yauatcha do an incredible job (and their £35 birthday cakes – giant versions of some of its more elaborate puddings – are one of the city’s best-kept secrets), and my usual MO is convincing whoever I’m with to order a Chocolate Pebble so I can eat half, but for CNY they had a pudding shaped like a Haoyun lantern (£9.00) and, food in the shape of non-food things being a special weakness of mine, we had to order it. It was actually quite a delicate dish – the bit that looks like a big red sponge is a lighter-than-air soy caramel mousse, topped with a mandarin confit.

I, being a more savoury creature, rounded things off with the traditional salted egg yolk custard sesame balls (£9.00), which are on the dim sum menu though definitely definitely a pudding item. The sesame flavour was actually a little overpowering for me – but the gooey, sweet, salty egg custard in the centre was the stuff of dreams. I could have done with a straw to suck all the good stuff out with, though that would have been terribly uncouth and would probably have culminated in a firm hand at my elbow and the words ‘Madam, you’re making a scene’.

We left with a couple of takeaway macarons (Dog = kind, and I was being kind to my future self. Who doesn’t like a macaron for breakfast?), and feeling, yes, much more amicable towards the state of the world than usual. Let’s hope it lasts.

Yauatcha, 1 Broadgate Circle, London, EC2M 2QS

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.