The Best Dim Sum in the World?
Restaurant review: Din Tai Fung, Covent Garden, London
It’s not often I get invited out knowing that the bill has already taken care of. Separate to letting the family figure head, or mein fuhrer, as we oh-so warmly regard him as, pay for the family meal. Always taking an opportunity to slam a dad-joke down with his card, it feels like his pleasure and privilege to pay to be in that role. But beyond the parental clasps of life; the warm cupping and loving nod of mum ‘n’ dad settling the bill is far beyond my present days, I have weirdly once again found myself on the kids table.
Obviously, I don’t count the Christmas limbo meals. That weird time between boxing day and new years’ where no one knows what day it is, what time it is, where nana is, or how long it’s been since they’ve had a real shower since Christmas eve; all the trinkets and trimmings are pretty much taken care of in my little bubble around this time, I think. Being honest, I blissfully walked out at the end of a meal surrounded by old family friends without even thinking; sometimes its quite nice not to be the biggest guy on the table. Im that lost in the yule tide funk.
And I’m not saying that I have been parading around town reliving old eighties Jack Nicholson rumours; in a low-lit wooden panelled cocktail bar surrounded by small plates and secrets - smirking behind large black ray bans while coughing up jokes with a triple white smile, magnetising my over-filled guests as they hang off every bloated word that bumbles out of my jittering gob purely because I’ll be footing the bill. We’ve all been there in one capacity or another, for work or pleasure, whether we’ve liked it or not – I’ve grown up or at least grown wiser since those days took hold of me. I think.
But this meal was different; the roles were to be reversed and I was to be a proud plus one. And this was ‘the big one.’ Seriously big. Continentally big. China big.
Just a few weeks before I had read in pretty much every broadsheet or daily news site that this new restaurant had landed in Covent Garden, straight from China with a bold, strong statement of; “the best dim sum in the world,” and it would seem with steaming confidence like that, and 150 restaurants across the planet, they probably are right. But with no reservations, and queues around the block there would be no chance for me to get in. There is no way on this green globe that I would stand in a queue for anything longer than half an hour, let alone three or four long ones. No exclusive collaboration burger, Disney adventure, trendy ice cream scoop or dim sum platter is worth that wait in any way. So I had admitted defeat before I had even tried. With my height, standing in that queue full of native Chinese business-men with black suits and brown suitcases, I’d be the one looking like a lost tourist in Convent Garden. What if someone saw me, it’d be comical, I’d be devastated...
Enter: The Influencer. The dark arts of digital influencing. They say that proof is in the pudding, and it would seem that my little friend has found the right recipe to open this seemingly impossible steel door to mere muggles. The force is strong with this one and we had a table for two at 8pm with no drama, no wait and a fine view of the inner workings and turning cogs of the restaurant. I quite like this (brave) new world I thought to myself. Whilst slurping my dragon bubble tea (the bar had not been completed yet, strike one for Chinese efficiency here) and shaking free from the illusions of digital grandeur I admitted; Okay fine, dough eyed, pouty pictures aside, you can be normal and queue for a bit - its not that bad if you can be arsed with all the standing. But truly, I was in almost shock at the level of service, fixed glazed smiles and curtseying we received - Just because she bosses Instagram. The world has changed way too much, the game has evolved far past the realms of what we would consider necessary or right in the world of marketing, but hey ho, I’m never going to say no to a good ‘comp’ meal.
And so, the parade started; we could order cart blanche from the menu, and with the guidance of our waitress we thoroughly went for it.
Trays of heavy steamed dumplings arrived which were so delicately pressed and cooked they looked like little porcelain-like pasta art pieces sent from the past were swiftly spilt onto the table. Pursed packages of drool inducing goodness; the pork shao mai and duck long bao were unreal, the chilli-crab was spicy, crisp, superb, with all the theatre you’d expect from the world’s best. All delivered by men or women in white masks and lab coats, just like in a crazed horror film. I guess because the creation of these dumplings is art, chemistry, magic, all wrapped up into one cute mouthful. It took 60 years since its creation to land in London, and it has been worth the wait.
So much so, I couldn’t help but return in the twilight of autumn - and I’ll be back again. It was just as good if not better with the animosity. Plus, the Ivy is around the corner, so if the queue is too large you can handily swing in there for a cocktail or three until the wave of tourists has departed.