This is my favourite restaurant in all of Asia, take that how you will but it’s the truth. I’ve been to the original in Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and now with the first branch in Europe, London. Based in Henrietta Street in London, known for premium boutiques and mid-priced bistros, it seems like the only other location as an alternative to grungy Chinatown. It’s also the first restaurant in the group to boast its own cocktail bar, headed up by mixologist Georgia Billing.
Every cocktail on the list incorporates a Din Tai Fung ingredient, from fat-washing pineapple cake and mixing it with coconut water to adding rice vinegar to a tequila based concoction. Although the drinks menu is far more advanced than what you’ll find at your local DTF branch in Asia, the food is thankfully the same in quality and familiarity. I’ve been lusting after a table at the restaurant ever since it’s opened and due to its cult following, there’s still a substantial queue even months after its opening. The tasting that I attended featured all of my absolute favourites and more, hence you are now graced with this review. You’re welcome. If you’ve never been to DTF and have yet to forge a list of must-haves, this is exactly what you need to start you off – not to mention, impress your fellow diners. Of course, everyone knows about the signature xiao long bao, a pork soup wonder that has its very own ritual: delicate lift via chopsticks, a swirl in the soy sauce, vinegar and ginger condiment and a tiny pierce of its skin to release the piping hot broth. Sip and eat, that is the way of this sacred dumpling. What you might want to add to your order are the honey pork ribs, which are 100% meat with no unnecessary lumpy layers of fat that you’ll find at many dim sum joints, and the drunken chicken, a beautiful tender thigh doused in rice wine.
For mains, it goes without saying that you should include the most incredible food in the world (the pork xiao long bao obviously, and yes I’m biased). There’s a true art to its making, each contain 5g of dough and 18g of meat cut by hand and first measured by sight, which indicates the level of expertise that the DTF chefs boast. But don’t forgo the Singapore and London exclusives like the truffle version, a fragrant and luxurious dumpling to be enjoyed without the ginger accompaniment. Don’t forget about the chilli crab version either, my favourite thing about it is the electric orange chilli oil that oozes out with the soup. Then there are the vegetables, one of my favourite dishes at Chinese restaurants for the way they’re so tenderly cooked and that prevalent dash of garlic. At DTF the dou miao, also known as pea shoots in English, is specifically produced for the restaurant and as fresh and green as can be.
Since the restaurant giant earned its Michelin star, would it be fair to mention it without dropping the name ‘Tom Cruise’? Apparently his favourite dish is the wonton in black vinegar and chilli sauce, and I’m not surprised. I’d swallowed mine in a second and was heaping my next helping into my bowl before anyone else on the table had managed to pick theirs up. It’s the perfect balance between tang, spice and the silky outer layer. In my family, if you don’t eat fast, you don’t eat #Chinese.
Another plate worth talking about is quite a strange one when it comes to my highlight reel, which is usually meat, meat and the odd noodle. The fried rice at DTF is actually my grandparents’ favourite, especially alongside a sweet and savoury pork chop. But as someone that doesn’t enjoy the carbohydrate as anything other than a staple order at any Asian restaurant, the bowl of fluffy egg and no. 8 rice (this is a real thing guys, the grains are graded) was very much worth the calories. Oh, and the London branch has the steamed chicken soup. My true love that I have with an order of in-house noodles with a sprinkling of spring onion. This time, I had the 10-hour broiled broth with fall-off-the-bone meat by itself and it was just as nourishing and wholesome.
Ok, so the real question you have on your minds is, “is it worth the wait?”, in short, yes it is. A heartland mall in Tampines, the suburbs of Singapore, has a 20-30 minute wait for a weekday dinner table. One of Asia’s greatest restaurant exports is already planning a second location at Centre Point later in the year and then there’ll definitely be no excuse to miss out on this. No one does a dumpling like Din Tai Fung. Absolutely no one can.
5 Henrietta St, Covent Garden,