Once a year the city turns red as Chinese New Year celebrations take place all over London. This infectious and joyful occasion is like no other, with dragons parading through the streets, lanterns swinging and delicious Chinese delicacies being passed around for all to enjoy.
Glowing on the corner of Brewer Street, Yauatcha has been a Soho institution for a decade, an ultra-cool contemporary Chinese dim sum teahouse. The restaurant is part of the renowned Hakkasan group and relishes the Michelin star accolade it received within a year of opening. Wandering past often, I have always been intrigued by this huge restaurant, which stands out amongst the miniature cafes that populate Soho. When I was a child my family visited Chinatown often and I remember clearly sitting in the old fashioned New World restaurant on Sunday mornings excitedly choosing dishes from the passing trollies. I had a similar feeling of anticipation visiting Yauatcha, though here the service is rather more refined, and the food much more intricate and sophisticated.
On a miserable January evening damp customers were crowding the doorway at Yauatcha desperate for some warming tea and comforting food. Passing the beautiful displays of handmade cakes, we followed the waitress downstairs to a stylish and animated dining area. Tables are low which feels odd but authentic, and lamps and candles illuminate the walls. A fishtank full of colourful exotic fish extends across one side of the room and behind it the staff create equally colourful and creative drinks.
I was here to celebrate the year of the Horse and to try dishes from the special menu Yauatcha are offering in honour of the occasion. This year the restaurant has collaborated with luxury fashion empire, Harvey Nichols, who have designed a magical horse-themed window display for the eatery.
Alongside the decorations Yauatcha are offering the following Chinese New Year Menu, available from 30th January – 14th February:
Dim Sum Steamed / Fried
Golden cuttlefish roll £6.80
Steamed fish toll in black bean sauce £7.80
Barramundi in chive oil £18.80
Pork belly with salted fish in clay pot
Steamed tofu in black bean sauce
Asparagus with dry bamboo fungus £13.80
Jasmine honey mandarin, sesame
Throughout the collaboration each guest at Yauatcha will receive a red envelope containing vouchers for fashion and beauty treats, along with a token for a bespoke Chinese New Year cocktail created by the Yauatcha and Harvey Nichols bar managers and available at the Fifth Floor Bar. Also during the campaign eight special golden tickets will be given to guests at random, containing lavish prizes such as meals and cocktail masterclasses at Yauatcha and makeovers at Harvey Nichols.
In addition, Hakkasan group’s Executive Pastry Chef Graham Hornigold has created bespoke macarons and petits gateaux, which will be added to the existing array of award-winning desserts, cakes and handmade chocolates. The limited edition flavours include:
Red Macarons depicting the Chinese character for the Year of the Horse, filled with mandarin ganache and mandarin pâte de fruit. Mandarins are traditionally given at Chinese New Year, and symbolise luck and fortune.
Red Petits Gateaux in the shape of a traditional Chinese New Year lantern, depicting the Chinese character for the Year of the Horse. A jasmine mousse filled with a honey pannacotta centre, with caramelised mandarins and sesame brittle. The mandarins symbolise luck and fortune, the sesame seeds fertility.
To complete the festivities a great spectacle will be put on for guests at Yauatcha on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd February when the traditional Chinese dragon dance will take place with its colourful and noisy celebratory performance.
As the New Year menu was not available until the following day, my guests and I tried a selection of the best dishes from the full a la carte menu. It was a real treat to choose from such a wide variety of Chinese dishes, and try some of the creations which have made this restaurant so popular with Londoners and tourists alike. To start we sampled a selection of dim sum, highlights included the surprisingly slimy but wonderfully tasty Prawn and beancurd cheung fun which was a unique layering of textures soaked in a moreish sauce. I loved the Wagyu beef puff, beautifully presented parcels with indulgent meat inside and the Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll which was coated in a crispy layer that disintegrated as you picked it up, encasing a soft filling of vegetables.
I couldn’t resist trying the Chinese crispy aromatic duck with pancakes which I realised I have been craving for months. The quarter of duck plus accompaniments was priced at £16.90 which seemed incredibly reasonable for such a prestigious restaurant. The duck was wonderfully crispy with extra thin pancakes (which did tend to stick together) and cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce. The meat was perhaps a little too dry but was so flavoursome and particularly nice wrapped up with the other components.
The feast continued with egg fried rice and main courses. Stir-fry rib eye beef in black bean sauce was the most impressive, thin tender slices of premium steak coated in an irresistible sticky sauce with slices of onion and pepper. We also really enjoyed the vegetable dishes, especially the Spicy aubergine with sato bean, okra and French bean, a lovely assortment of flavours and colours, served in a pretty bowl.
For dessert the waitress managed to source some patisseries from the New Year menu. The magnificent Red Petits Gateaux looks as wonderful as it tastes, super soft creamy mousse, and thankfully very light. The macarons are meticulous too, the mandarin is alarmingly red with a little bite of mandarin fruit in the centre, I loved the coconut flavour which is sweet but refreshing.
The service at Yauatcha is immaculate, and the efficient staff whip away empty plates the moment the food is gone, top up water after just a few gulps, and wipe tables clean at regular intervals. It is a smooth, slick operation with never-ending attention to detail. As we opened our lucky red envelopes at the end of the meal, I had one wish in mind… a return visit to Yauatcha.
More information and book here: www.yauatcha.com/soho/chinese-new-year