What: One of the world’s largest Chinese restaurant groups has finally landed in the UK thanks to a partnership with BreadTalk Group. Din Tai Fung has more than 150 restaurants worldwide - predominantly in Asia - under a number of different formats, but this marks its first in Europe.
Who: BreadTalk CEO Henry Chu is the man in charge. He has flown over a number of its Taiwanese chefs to the UK to oversee the launch and has also sent the large UK culinary team to Singapore for a three-month training programme. You can see them in action in the glass-fronted kitchen on the ground floor of the restaurant.
The food: Din Tai Fung’s famed xiao long bao are the headline attraction (the soup-filled dumplings undergo a 40-minutes process of hand preparation) but by no means the only reason for a visit. The xiao long bao come in a number of varieties, including truffle and pork; chilli crab and pork; chicken; and prawn and gourd but other steamed options include jiao dumplings (vegetarian; prawn and pork; pork and vegetable), shao mai (minced pork and glutinous rice; prawn and pork) and various steamed wontons - as well as a few crispy options. There’s also a selection of Chinese buns in both sweet and savoury flavours. Other highlights include various egg fried rice and noodle dishes, served dry and also in a broth. Each dish on the menu is accompanied by a picture, as is common in casual restaurants across Asia.
The vibe: Taking on a huge site on Covent Garden’s Henrietta Street, Din Tai Fung is well placed for footfall. As a result, the dual floor restaurant has had long queues snaking out of its door since its launch (there is also a virtual queuing system in operation) and a bustling vibe inside. But make no mistake - Hakkasan this isn’t. The brightly lit room has a pleasingly canteen-like quality to it with a minimalist decor that wouldn’t look out of place in Chinatown and front of house staff pushing round cheap metal and plastic trolleys piled with empty dishes. There’s even a retro feel to the dining room, with plastic vinegar and soy sauce containers on each table and slightly wonky art on the walls - all of which add to enjoyment of the place. Kitchen staff (many of whom serve the tables) wear face masks for hygiene reasons, which does add a post-apocalyptic feel to proceedings, but we can overlook that.
And another thing: Not content with opening one restaurant in London, Din Tai Fung will soon open a second in Centre Point.
5 Henrietta St, London