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Friday 5 February 2016

More Monkey Business at Yauatcha City!

Name: Yauatcha City (Chinese New Year Menu)

Where: Broadgate Circle, London, EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/

Cost: The special menu designed for Chinese New Year at Yauatcha includes 4 dim sum, 4 mains courses including a rice dish, and the dessert of 6 specially created macarons. Menu items can be ordered individually or the entire CNY menu at a cost of £113.20 for a two people meal, with a matching flight of 3 Monkey 47 gin-based cocktails at £28 per person. I have also shown the menu items priced individually. 

About: Opened in May 2015, Yauatcha City is the 2nd branch of this restaurant in London after its Michelin-starred sister in Soho, which has been serving top notch dim sum to Londoners for more than 10 years. Yauatcha is also renowned for its super-refined French patisserie with an Asian twist, and its selection of fine teas. It has long been among the best places in London to go for tea and cakes, as well as cocktails.

Yauatcha is more affordable and a little more casual than its big brother Hakkasan or the fine dining & Peking duck specialist restaurant HKK, so this is a place I return to regularly, whenever I crave top quality dim sum and Chinese food.

The service is exceptional at this branch and this is due to mostly one person - Lim, the restaurant supervisor. I was lucky enough to meet her on my first visit to Yauatcha City and then again on this occasion. It is rare to find staff who are this passionate and knowledgable about the food being served at their restaurant so it was a real joy to see her again and get a detailed explanation and her recommendations on the CNY menu items. I wrote about Lim in my previous review (read it here), and if you do get to visit Yauatcha City, I strongly recommend asking for her help.

This Chinese lunar year is the Year of the Monkey, and so cleverly Yauatcha has teamed up with Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin to create a menu with three matching Monkey gin cocktails, and even gin-flavoured macarons.

What We Ate: The Year of the Monkey menu, starts with a traditional Yusheng (aka Yee Sang or Prosperity Toss) salad. Yusheng literally means raw fish (which in Cantonese sounds like 'abundance'), and it is a special Chinese New Year dish to wish for prosperity in the coming year.

Yauatcha's version combined sashimi scallop with radish, Japanese seaweed, grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, crisp-fried pumpkin strands and shimeji mushroom, pickled onions, plum sauce and shallot oil (£15.80). These we tossed with gusto at the table, while wishes ourselves to win the lottery or become millionaires in 2016, etc (although having never bought a lottery ticket in my life, I have my doubts about whether this will come true).

The selection of dim sum followed. The caviar siew long bao, also known as Shanghai dumpling (£6.80), was perfectly made, with a luscious glutinous casing surrounding a rich broth, made even more special by its topping of caviar.

The foie gras roast duck puff (£5.80) had a wonderfully buttery mille-feuille style pastry case to match the sweetness and luxury of its contents.

The caviar taro dumpling (£6.20), a vegetarian dish, was gorgeously presented, the 'caviar' cleverly made from seaweed gum flavoured with truffle, the casings naturally coloured with extracts of carrot and pandan leaves, filled with a mixture of flavours and textures of Asian vegetables.

Lastly, the black truffle edamame sesame ball was light, airy, and delicious (£6.50), the filling a clever mixture of edamame and truffles in place of the more familiar black sesame paste.

The soup course was a sea conch Chinese yam soup (£11.80). A very traditional menu item, this had a wonderfully fragrant broth with goji berries, and little pieces of tender chicken, longan, yam and delectable layers of diaphanous, sponge-like bamboo pith floating at the surface.

The Hakka fortune pot (£38.80) was undoubtedly the highlight of the meal - it had a variety of different meats, fish and seafood presented together in a clay pot. There were deep-fried battered prawns, meaty abalone, gourd slices filled with dried scallops, the most delectable roast Peking duck and beef, slices of steamed seabass, lotus root, Chinese leaves and mushrooms. It was one of most luxurious dishes I have ever tried on a Chinese menu, and a real feast of fine flavours and textures. Lim explained that the fortune pot is a traditional dish from the Hakka region of China, where layers of different dishes are put together in a large pot, with meat at the bottom and fish then seafood on top - this is to symbolise reunion and harmony, and is used to celebrate important family occasions.

The rice dish was dry oyster fried sticky rice (£11.80) - this was exceptionally good. The rice was not like stick rice from Northern Thailand or Laos, but rather the stickiness came from the cooking of the rice in plenty of chicken stock and the addition of dry prawns and oysters which imparted great umaminess to the final dish.

Because I loved the next dish so much on my last visit, I couldn't help myself from ordering a portion of Yauatcha's fried chilli squid (£11.50) rolled in oatmeal (Malaysian Nestum oatmeal Lim tells me) and curry leaf. This, in my opinion, is a must order when visiting this restaurant, and was just as delicious as I remembered.

For dessert, we had a selection of 6 macarons (£9.70 per 6). For the CNY menu, the macaron flavours reflect the ingredients that are used to make or drink gin, including gin and tonic (made from Monkey 47 gin, grapefruit pate de fruits and tonic buttercream), juniper berry (with juniper berry ganache), bitter orange almond (filled with almond buttercream, bitter orange pate de fruits), elderflower ginger (filled with elderflower and ginger buttercream), rose and rosehip (filled with rose buttercream and rosehip jam), and camomile (camomile buttercream).

I've made a lot of macarons in my time, including while I was at Le Cordon Bleu, and I know how hard they are to get right. Yauatcha is famous for their patisserie, and the macarons I had there were faultess - the shells crumbled on contact with the lips, and the centres were soft, velvety and aromatic. 

What We Drank: We started with a couple of cocktails at the bar. The Aged Negroni (£13) blended Tanquery No. Ten gin with Campari and Lillet Rouge sweet vermouth, all aged for one month on the premises in American oak. The Asian Daiquiri (£11.50) was a delectable blend of Diplomatico Reserva Rum, plum sake, lime, orange marmalade, vanilla and chilli sugar - refreshing with a lovely citrus notes.

Priced at £28 per person, the flight of three gin cocktails is designed to partner the Chinese New Year menu. It includes a saffron gin and tonic, the 'pomelo fortune' with grapefruit, cranberry and mandarin bitters, and with dessert a pink kumquat with sloe gin and ginger liqueur. 

The Saffron Gin and Tonic served with the salad was an inspiration - 1724 tonic was poured through a strainer with a pinch of saffron strands. The flavour from those, and the one or two strands that passed into the drink, were enough to impart a thrilling intensity of the aromatic herb without overpowering the drink, and just a slight tinge of watery gold to the colour.

The Pomelo Fortune accompanied the dim sum. With a tropical blossom fragrance from the pandan leaf and grapefruit peel at the glasses' edge, and gin mixed with velvet falernum liqueur, pomelo, grapefruit, cranberry and orange, and mandarin bitters, this was a heavenly, and complex drink.

With our macarons, we had the Pink Kumquat cocktail. Kumquat is one of my favourite fruits, and this cocktail was punchy, with refreshing citrus aromas. Monkey 47 sloe gin was blended with Diplomatico Reserva rum, Domaine de Cantone ginger liqueur, cranberries and rice syrup.

Likes: If you visit Yauatcha City, make sure to ask for Lim – her knowdedge is encyclopaedic, her enthusiasm and friendliness are contagious. For me, the stars of the evening were the Hakka fortune pot, the fried chilli squid, the dry oyster rice and the adorable macarons. The gin cocktails were spectacularly good and unusual, with truly Asian flavours, and the saffron gin and tonic is one I will experiment with at home. 

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: For one of the best Chinese New Year menus on offer in London right now, hurry along to Yauatcha City before the season ends on 21 February 2016. Very highly recommended.

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