Yauatcha, London W1

A new dumpling palace from the man behind Hakkasan was always going to make the mouth water. But Yauatcha is even more than the (dim) sum of its parts
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Of course I was going to like it. I am genetically engineered to like dim sum. And after a lifetime of eating it in two-bit dives, it is an irresistible proposition when a master dim-sum chef is teamed with a big production budget and a seductively modern space. Not only that, but it even provides for my need to order dim sum at night.

Of course I was going to like it. I am genetically engineered to like dim sum. And after a lifetime of eating it in two-bit dives, it is an irresistible proposition when a master dim-sum chef is teamed with a big production budget and a seductively modern space. Not only that, but it even provides for my need to order dim sum at night.

So, yes, Alan Yau's latest dining project - a dark, sultry underground dim-sum parlour tucked away in the basement of Sir Richard Rogers's classy, glassy Ingeni building next to Soho's Berwick Street market - was always going to be a bit of all right.

Parisian designer Christian Liagre, who has already created the come-hither environments of Hakkasan and Busaba Eathai for Yau, has created two very different spaces here. The ground-floor tea salon is light, open and glassy, lined with canisters of the 150 varieties of tea and counters of exquisite little cakes by former Pierre Hermé patissier, Stephane Sucheta, ready to be boxed and be-ribboned in springtime pinks and greens.

Downstairs is a moody room, all low-slung tables and chairs surrounding a central bar lined with a long and luminous aquarium. Dozens of glimmering electric candles are set in the exposed brick walls, turquoise banquettes are discreetly embroidered with Oriental motifs, and softly frosted blue glass screens form a servant girl's veil over the steamy hustle and bustle of the kitchen.

A similar sense of style and detail is evident in Wah Cheong Soon's work in the kitchen. At Yau's super-glamorous Hakkasan, the supremely talented Soon brought dim sum up to the level of sophistication of Hong Kong's mighty Spring Moon and Singapore's Lei Gardens.

His menu is an inviting mix of traditional dim sum (bamboo steamers of har gau prawn dumplings, chicken feet, char shiu bau roast-pork buns) and more modern dishes (baked venison puffs, gold-leaf dumplings, Chilean seabass mooli rolls). There are also various rice congees, stir-fried vegetable dishes and noodle dishes on offer.

Best of the 16 dishes I try is a cheung fun rice-flour roll (£3.90) studded with good prawns and lined with an inner-tube of beancurd skin. Pork and spring onion cakes (£3) are so light, crisp and dry, they could give deep-frying a good name, while a crunchy water chestnut and sweet-prawn filling gift-wrapped in glossy green spinach (£3.80) rings sweet and true. Also impressive are the woo gok (£3.80), deep fried chicken and taro dumplings on a bad hair day, that are crisp and crumbly outside and soft and melting within.

Little taste surprises lurk at every turn, such as the subtle squish of bamboo fungus in the delicate shark's fin and seafood dumpling in consommé (£6.50), the salty sting of pickled Sichuan vegetable in the moussey pork filling of an opalescent crystal pork bun (£3.80) and the edible pin-pricks of bright-orange tobiko flying fish roe on top of the sensational scallop shumai (£5).

Given that I am so predisposed to dim sum, it follows that I am also incredibly critical. There must be sufficient variety, a palpable freshness, a sense of refinement and grace, and a light hand with pastry. It's all here, although the staple har gau prawn dumplings (£3.90) could do with finer, more transparent pastry and a few more delicate pleats.

As befits the kitchen aesthetic, gai laan stalks (Chinese broccoli) are young and sprue-tender, in a subtle ginger sauce (£6). Noodle dishes make a gutsy end to the meal if you tire of the delicacy of dim sum; although fresh hor fun rice noodles (£7.50) tossed with soy, bamboo shoots and meatloaf-tender sliced beef, are too heavy on the beef for authenticity.

Puddings are contemporary French fused with Asian ingredients, which seems an outmoded solution to the perceived problem with Chinese desserts. So go ahead and try the wobbly Sichuan pepper pannacotta (£6) or mousse-like gianduia cake with passion-fruit sorbet (£6) if you like, but if you want an absolutely sensational taste and textural experience, order a steamer of deliciously warm and gloopy steamed sweet black sesame balls (£3) instead.

The wine list is a smart one, with a fresh and fruity Rotenberg Cave de Turckheim Alsace Pinot Noir at £21.50 served lightly chilled. But Yauatcha means Yau at tea, and tea is one of the pleasures here, with a list of blue, black and dark teas served in delicate Celadon pots. At night, however, it is party time, and the NYLON (New York-London) crowd are more into cha-cha than cha, knocking back tea-based cocktails with vodka and lychee juice or crushed red grapes and Champagne.

If you like traditional dim sum, go by day, drink fine tea and work your way through the dumplings, ordering four parts steamed to one part fried. If you just want to have fun, go by night, and turn dinner into a sit-down version of the stand-up cocktail party, socking back chilli Martinis as you dine. Or keep it simple with a bowl of congee or a dish of noodles and a beer, or take tea and pastries in the teahouse upstairs.

Yauatcha is a treasure, a joy, a wonder. Of course I was going to like it, but I didn't know I was going to love it.

16 Yauatcha 15 Broadwick Street, London W1, tel: 020 7494 8888. Open daily for lunch and dinner and Saturday and Sunday all day. Dim sum around £70 for two with wine and service.

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: Some more dim sum

Tai Pan WH Lung Building, Great Howard Street, Liverpool, tel: 0151 207 3888 This huge barn of a restaurant above a vast Oriental supermarket is a great favourite with Chinese family groups and local dim-sum lovers. On Sundays, the place is a bun-fight, as everyone tucks into steaming spare ribs, neat little har gau, platters of crisp-skinned suckling pig, all manner of noodles, and braised chicken feet marinated in see yip sauce.

Liaison 29 Castle Street, Oxford, tel: 01865 242 944 In spite of its un-Chinese name, Liaison is regarded as Oxford's most authentic Chinese restaurant. It is a cosy series of smallish dining-rooms, with a log fire for warmth in winter. The lunchtime dim sum features all the usual array of dumplings, braised dishes and noodles, and an especially good har cheung faan (prawn riceflour roll).

Royal China 13 Queensway, London W2, tel: 020 7221 2535 Before Hakkasan and Yauatcha came along, this was London's finest dim-sum restaurant. The food is still exemplary throughout the Royal China empire (Baker Street, St John's Wood, Canary Wharf), and indeed preferable for those who like a more traditional dining experience (bustling crowds, towers of bamboo steamers). There is real finesse in the har gau and lotus-leaf rice and a silkiness in the cheung faan rolls rarely seen outside Hong Kong and Singapore.

E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

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