Ask two people what a dumpling is and they’ll invariably give you a different answer. Steamed, boiled, or fried? There’s Chinese xiao long bao and Japanese gyoza. Some are American-influenced, others steeped in Russian tradition. A good thing, then, London has them all.
With a branch in Soho and, more recently, Market Hall in Victoria, Baozi Inn are a prime antidote to beige food. The almost neon-green prawn and chive dumplings, and the traffic cone-orange pork and crab are a case in point.
Though Andrew Wong’s newest restaurant is more focused on Chinese-style grilled meats (think crispy duck, poached soy chicken, Ibérico pork char siu), it would be remiss not to offer a nod to what made his first restaurant – A. Wong – so great. Pork and shrimp dumplings, served in a cast iron pan with fried eggs, spring onions and crispy chilli sauce, is one of the best things on the menu.
Limits: sometimes fusion food doesn’t know what that word means. But let’s just have an open mind for a minute. Cheeseburger dumplings. In other words, homemade gyoza filled with burger mince and melted cheese, served with Dirty Bones’ signature burger sauce. Perhaps such a marriage didn’t need to be made, but some are sure glad it was.
Russian food is considerably underrepresented in London. Indeed, what do we know of it, if not caviar and stroganoff? While Zima very much leads with the former, it’s opened eyes to borsch, pirozhki, and Olivier salad. Dumplings are a star part of the cast too, including potato and mushroom vareniki and pelmeni with black squid ink dough and a three-fish filling.
Chinatown is much more than it might suggest, what with numerous other food cultures represented from East and South East Asia, including Japanese, Malaysian, Korean, and Burmese. XU – of Taiwanese influence – is one such example. Though perhaps ambitious to say they serve the best dumplings in the area (has anyone tried them all?), they’re certainly among the more unique: take the sausage taro, or sweet potato and miso, for instance.
Din Tai Fung
Originating in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung’s London branch was a hot topic of conversation even months before it opened. Queues, subsequently, have rarely been short since. Worth it for the main attraction: the xiao long bao, a steamed bun also known as a ‘soup dumpling’ containing minced pork. Far from the simplest to make on a large scale, Din Tai Fung have perfected their method.
Not one for such a long wait? RedFarm, a 3-minute walk away, provide a good alternative with their own xiao long bao – which some say is even better than DTF’s. Other dumplings, in their many shapes and sizes (and certainly in Red Farm’s case quirkiness), are a theme here too, including ‘Pac Man’ har gau.
Ichibuns is the classic American diner, via Hokkaido. There’s karaage burgers and ramen alongside sweet potato fries and cherry milkshakes. For a place awash with Japanese pop culture, they still find time for the classics, including gyoza. The veg option (with three different types of mushroom and jicama) is a standout.
Now with restaurants in three continents, Alan Yau’s ‘contemporary teahouse’ is bringing top drawer dim sum to people across the world. Many dumpling varieties are covered, such as Cantonese shui mai (diced pork in an open dough casing) or har gau (steamed prawn dumpling with a translucent wrapper). Try them at their restaurants in Soho or Broadgate Circle.
My Neighbours the Dumplings
Less a restaurant, more a ‘dumpling house’ with a bar, this place is a paean to parcels of dough, with seven gracing the menu most times. Served dim sum-style in bamboo steamers, they come in the form of classic pork and prawn, the not-so-common scallop and spinach, and much in between.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.