Yauatcha – Broadwick Street
Posted on November 15, 2014
Time flies when you’re having dim sum. Being drip-fed dumplings somehow quickens the clock.
Underneath Broadwick Street in Yauatcha’s basement dining room, steady time evaporates. Down there it’s perpetual night. The pitch-dark ceiling with its constellation of tiny spotlights purges the room of daylight. Cerulean glass, gloomy brickwork and obsidian floors interrupt quotidian reality: you can eat dim sum from midday to midnight, completely ignorant to the passage of time; unless you have a film to catch, which I did.
In fact, Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, Interstellar, positions ‘time’ at its thematic heart. Matthew McConaughey plays an astronaut whose job is to find an alternative planet for humanity as Earth nears its apocalypse, an intergalactic mission illustrating the mind-boggling effects of time dilation. This sees (spoiler alert) McConaughey, now aged 124 – but looking as fresh-faced as the day he departed – reunited one last time with his elderly daughter as she sees out her final hours, her grandchildren at her bedside. Theoretically, it’s reasonably sound. Apparently.
But our meal at Yauatcha challenged such physics. It was certainly proof that a dim sum dinner could defy space-time theory. It proved the inverse. Time didn’t slow in this black hole of a restaurant, but sped up, so our meal flashed by in an instant. So quick in fact I had no idea what I’d eaten. But, then again, that tends to be the case with Chinese food.
Dishes came and went, often before we’d even finished, and too often without distinction. The staff were unremitting. Our glasses of tap water were taken away after a few gulps and replaced with fresh ones. Plum sauce was replenished after just a teaspoon’s use and sweet and sour cucumber batons came so frequently my tongue nearly pickled. In a moment of criminality, the last of the crispy duck skin was stolen prematurely, forcing me to snatch if from the disappearing plate. It was over efficiency, bordering on a nuisance.
The food came out bit by bit. Chunks of crab in a peanut dressing were lovely but too few, the accompanying salad of green veg and enoki mushrooms nice enough. The second dish demanded a savouring moment. Light, buttery pastry encased a sweet portion of venison, a refined, gamey counterpart to the char-sui bun. Chicken dumplings, har gau and pork and prawn shui mai were delicate mouthfuls, all full of flavour; as was the mushroom cheung fun, although its slimy mouthfeel was rather off putting.
One large seafood dumpling arrived in a scalding fishy broth looking suspiciously like a preserved cerebral cortex, but one worth taking the roof off your mouth for. Aromatic duck pancakes were excellent, the Chinese greens – miniature bok or pak choi I never know the difference – were just okay, more of a filler than a dish in itself. The chilli squid, oatmeal and curry leaf turned out to be similarly nondescript, a little greasy and garnished with what tasted like breakfast cereal.
And it was all over in a poof of steam, a somewhat unremarkable illusion of fine Chinese cooking. It was good, but not great, a surprise when you consider Alan Yau’s restaurant has, for the last nine years, maintained both its Michelin star and the gravitational pull of supermassive black hole to dim sum epicures.
Most impressive was the way over an hour had disappeared into thin air. The waiters were given an extra thrill when were forced to ask for the bill with our final course. Finishing before we’d actually finished. They must have loved it. But just where had the time gone?
Was I having that much fun I’d lost track of time? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s just the way dim sum works. Hunger is kept at a chopstick’s length but true fulfilment seems impossible. There’s plenty of theatre to keep you going. The billowing vapour, the bamboo towers; the broths, teas, vinegars, pickles and ubiquitous dipping sauces, conspire to steal your minutes (and your money) without appeasing your stomach. Most of your time is spent anticipating the next morsel.
There’s lots going on at Yauatcha but not much of it will stay with me. In the subterranean darkness, where light cannot dictate time, it’s no wonder the moment creeps away from you. What good can exist inside a field where time is unaccounted for? Not much. Except those venison puffs. They were bloody marvellous.