Posted on Friday, 17th April 2009
Having afternoon tea at a Chinese restaurant might seem like a strange concept, but when that restaurant is Yauatcha, a one-star Michelin Restaurant, it seemed like something worth trying. Yauatcha’s creator is the famous restaurateur, Alan Yau who propelled Hakkasan to international fame. Alan sold his majority shareholding in both these restaurants in 2007, although he still maintains a management interest. Alan Yau aside, part of my desire to try the afternoon tea at Yauatcha was also due to the spectacular and mouth-watering pâtisserie display in the restaurant front. If you have ever walked past it, you might know what I mean.
Preparing for a spot of afternoon tea at Yauatcha, or any other decadent high tea location, requires a strategy similar to the kind that you might adopt for a major sporting event. Truth be told, I’ve never participated in a major sporting event, nor even a little one, so this is pure speculation on my part. But I imagine that you have to be disciplined in terms of what you eat, otherwise you might not last the distance or perform to your optimum. In this instance, a lack of preparation could have jeopardised my ability to gorge on all the delectable sandwiches and scrumptious cakes, and that was simply not on.
So on the day that I was to have afternoon tea, I planned with military precision what it was I would eat beforehand. Here is my dietary plan, with my follow up notes in brackets:
1) Something small for breakfast, eg, juice. (This is hard. I like breakfast, and it is the most important meal of the day. )
2) Skip lunch. (Even harder. 11am and I am starving! And tea is not for another three hours! )
The result was that when 2pm came, I was ready to eat. I even turned up early for our reservation. But unfortunately, things did not go to plan. While I had imagined diving into the food immediately, we were in fact not seated for another 15 minutes. My belly was not happy. And when we were finally seated, utter confusion reigned. Three different waiters came to take our orders, one after another; and this was despite the fact that, on the basis of advice given to us by the restaurant, we had ordered in advance ‘so as to prevent any delays’.
So we ordered again, and again, and again, and then sent the staff away. But then, it seemed that they wouldn’t come back. We must have been too efficient at shooing them away, for thereafter, no amount of gesturing to them for service seemed to work, as they performed this fine dance of skirting our table. And so now it was me who was confused. If we were at afternoon tea, then where was the tea? It would be 25 minutes from the time we were seated before we were served any drinks, by which time I was not only very hungry, but also very parched.
There are three afternoon tea sets to choose from: the ‘Yauatcha’ with sandwiches (£24.50); the Pink Champagne which is the ‘Yauatcha’ with a glass of Mailly Grand Cru Rosé (£31.50); and the Oriental which comes with dim sum (£24.50). All the tea sets are served with warm scones, petits gateaux, sweet sandwiches, pastries, exotic fruits and a pot of tea. And if the tea sets don’t appeal, you can also order `a la carte, where a plate of scones costs £5.50. We ordered two Yauatchas and one Oriental, and three sets proved to be more than enough for the five of us, or rather, all that a tiny table better suited to three people could in fact hold.
The savoury bites are kept to a minimum: four small sandwiches with various fillings. As for the dim sum set, it comes with only a baked venison puff, a char sui bun and a sesame prawn toast. All were very tasty but not amazing. But despite the minimalist approach to the savouries, the chaotic service, and the squashed table arrangements, the pâtisserie went a long way in making up for these little heartaches. They were as every bit as delicious as they looked in the window. We were tantalised with a perfectly presented selection of chocolate, raspberry, vanilla cakes; chocolate muffins; pandan macaroons and chocolate ganache pastries; to name but a few. Each individual piece was resplendent and uniquely exquisite. The exotic fruit consisted of nicely ripened and sweet mango, kiwi and various berries.
Next were the scones: a selection of plain, raison, green tea and coconut, accompanied by a choice of honey, raspberry and apple jams, orange marmalade and clotted cream. The plain one scored the highest points, although I liked them all for their sheer uniqueness and variety. However, the scones had not been sufficiently baked, and were therefore a little soggy in the middle.
After the scones, there were still more gorgeous sweet treats to come: chocolates, biscuits, and marshmallows with flavours such as coca-cola and passion fruit. But despite all my efforts at preparing for this occasion, my taste buds by this point had been defeated. Even for me, the volume of sweet things proved too much. We had ordered three sets between five, but on reflection, two would have been enough. We would have also all preferred a higher proportion of savoury bites, and for this purpose, I would recommend that for three people you order only one set and perhaps top up with extra dim sum.
But as delectable as the cakes were, it was really hard to overlook the poor and badly managed service. The staff were not particularly rude, but they weren’t particularly friendly either. In keeping with the stylish, chic, blue décor; some looked like they had been hired for their aptitude for making it onto a ‘beautiful people’ list. But it might also be for their ability to sport a blank look and feign disinterest. Furthermore, persistent questioning of the staff revealed that they were ignorant on most matters relating to the food. Our queries were rewarded with little else other than a repetitive ‘I don’t know’.
Another sore point is that Yauatcha do not offer free tea refills. Each tea set comes with only one pot, to be chosen from a limited selection off the tea list, and each additional pot incurs a charge, a practice I don’t agree with in a ‘Chinese’ restaurant. Most teas range in price from £3 to £11, although the 35 year old Puer tea from Yunnan, China, costs £46.20. We tried the Dargon’s Well Green Tea, the Puer Ya Jian (a dark tea), and the Classic Beauty (a blue tea). The latter was the resounding favourite thanks to its beautifully intoxicating aroma, and gentle nutty flavour.
There is no doubt that the pâtisserie at Yauatcha is fabulous, and the variety and quantity of sweets offered for afternoon tea is also very good. So if you fancy trying it, do so, but with a little caution. Be prepared to: ignore the service, bring your own water in case you dehydrate while you wait, and order carefully so as to manage your savoury and sweet intake. Another tip is to perhaps go later in the afternoon on weekends, when the restaurant becomes less busy. During our visit on Sunday, all tables were filled when we arrived for our 2pm booking, although some of them started to free up by 4.30pm. So with a later afternoon time slot, you might stand a chance of getting better service. But then again, maybe not.
15-17 Broadwick Street
Soho, London W1F 0DL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 8888