I was unsurprised to recently learn that dim sum can be translated to “heart’s delight ” in Cantonese. There’s a profound depth of joy to be found in these small bites, whether steamed or fried, sweet or savoury, had as a restorative snack or sumptuous meal in itself.
While typically filled with an abundance of fresh seafoods or meats, London’s plentiful dim-sum offerings have never been more thrilling for us vegetarians/ flexitarians either. Herewith, are my top picks for a dim-summer’s night dream…
Topping my list of weekend go-to’s for a night on the town, is the wildly opulent 1930’s-inspired Shanghai lair in Berkeley Square. Regular readers, might recall my rather-less-than-satisfactory visits when it first opened… but having been back on numerous occasions this year alone, I’d definitely recommend it for dim sum with a side of live jazz or risqué cabaret. The dishes themselves are as lavishly presented as the ritzy surrounds – think searingly-spicy Sichuan dumplings, or the summer truffle bao majestically crowned with freshly shaved black truffle…
Of course, for the purists among you – there’s no topping Hakkasan (another brainchild of Alan Yau). I’ve always been partial to the day-to-night flow of the Mayfair outpost, where the veggie selection is as glossy as it is cathartic – steamed parcels of deliciousness wrapped within silkily-smooth skins, from a burnt-orange carrot juice skin (encasing crunchy water chestnuts) to soft bean curd rolls, tempered with earthy flavours. If you’re looking to wash it down with a cocktail, the signature Hakka drink (a creamily-lush blend of lychee, coconut, passionfruit, vodka and sake) is always a good idea… Full review, here.
Enchantingly-ethereal cocktails and dim sum are in dramatic harmony at the Bar at The China Tang too, another Mayfair darling tucked away within the depths of The Dorchester hotel. There’s an almost cinematic quality to the lacquered bar, which is both a drinking and dining destination in its own right. The choice of dim sum includes slippery slivers of “cannelloni” (or cheung feung), while the new cocktail menu (inscribed in a scroll, no less) – unravels to mysteriously reveal an ethereal twist on classics inspired by the Eight Immortals… Full review, here.
My final fine-dining favourite is a controversial one, its flamboyant flashiness infamous for both attracting and repelling diners in equal measure. While opinions remain firmly divided over the Italian half of the restaurant, I’d say that the Asian side is well-worth a visit for its outrageously OTT (over-the-top) take on classics – from black truffle choi sum, to tofu rolls dipped in mango sauce and the ever-excellent sweetcorn dumplings laced with saffron.
For an alluringly-alternative affair, look for a numberless jade-hued door on Gerrard Street in Chinatown. Once let in, climb up to the Apothecary Bar – a speak-easy like drinking den, tea room and dim sum parlour (rolled into one!), festooned with oriental prints and kitschy Chinese ornaments.
The all-vegetarian selection is the stuff of solo gluttony, while the regular menu features the likes of crab and samphire fillings… Throw in Eastern-inspired cocktails (each taking its cue from the medicinal potions behind the bar), and it’s bound to be an inspiriting evening that follows! A Foodie’s Guide to Chinatown, here.
Whether Xu lives up to its surrounding hype continues to be a raging debate, dividing London’s guru-like critics. As for this humble foodie, I found a lot that appealed in the cinematic aesthetics of the latest restaurant from the folks behind Bao (think Wes Anderson crossed with 1930’s Taipei…), not to mention the restorative quality of the Taiwanese cooking. Vegetarians have much to rejoice in the off-menu offering of sweet potato Taro dumplings, a worthy substitute to the original stuffed with sausage… Full review, here.
Last but not least, are the not-so Ugly Dumplings to be found in Carnaby, an all-day restaurant spinning off from the cult street-food vendor. It’s a laid-back, happy-go-lucky space majoring in a panapoly of fusion dumplings, including the likes of halloumi & courgette and white chocolate & matcha. Simple sides emerge a star attraction too… Full review, here.
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Do drop me your top recommendations in the comments below, or by tweeting @foodiediaries.