One of the most hotly anticipated openings I can remember, Din Tai Fung finally opened its first London restaurant a few days ago. Like many others who’ve tasted Din Tai Fung’s famous Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) before, I was very excited to find out whether they would be as good as I remembered from our trips to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
I visited with friends on the first Sunday after they opened, grateful to the two who arrived an hour before opening time to secure first place in the growing queue for our group of seven.
All of us had eaten at multiple branches of Din Tai Fung before, so we made sure to include everyone’s favourites in our order. Going in a large group meant being able to order far more of the menu than any of us had managed before, visiting solo, or in twos or fours.
I’m happy to report that it lived up to our memories and we had a delicious meal.
Pictured is Mr Eat Love Noodles, who has ‘campaigned’ for years for Din Tai Fung to come to London! He was also the one who arrived an hour before opening to ensure that we had first place in the queue when the restaurant opened their doors at 11 am!
Both the Oriental Salad (£4.50) and the Cucumber in Garlic & Chilli Oil (£4.50) were exactly as remembered, the latter a particular favourite of mine.
We also ordered a portion of Dou Miao (Pea Shoots) with Garlic (£9.50, not pictured), which were low on the garlic but a welcome addition of green freshness.
We ordered quite a few xiao long bao, all of which were excellent.
Din Tai Fung have brought staff across from Taiwan to launch the restaurant, and, just as you can in the branches I’ve been to there, visitors can watch the dumplings being made in a perspex-enclosed kitchen area. Dim sum chefs train for several months to master the skills, and watching them cut and weigh dough, roll out the dough, add the filling and quickly fold the signature 18 pleats on each dumpling is mesmerising.
The classic Pork Xiao Long Bao (£10.50 for 8) and Pork and Crab Xiao Long Bao (£14 for 8) were both very good – delicate, containing a decent puddle of soup, and the usual moist and tasty filling.
The Prawn and Pork Shao Mai (£14.50 for 8) were among my picks from the meal, having not had these before, I was surprised these were a soup dumpling version of shao mai. Fabulous!
In a second round order of dumplings, we chose Pork and Vegetable Jiao Zi (£10.50 for 8), which I thought were decent but my least favourite of the steamed dumplings.
We also ordered seven Chilli Crab Xiao Long Bao (£2.50 per dumpling) which were hands down my runaway favourite of the meal. The filling had such an intensity of crab flavour, beautifully balanced with chilli spice; I could happily have eaten all seven on my own, though I’d have had a riot on my hands if I’d tried!
The Black Vinegar and Chilli Pork and Vegetable Wontons (£7.50 for 6) were decent, though I prefer the Prawn Chengdu Jiaozi at Baozi Inn.
Prawn Wontons Soup (£9.50) was warming, and the broth good.
But the other dish that really impressed everyone was Chicken Soup (£11). Made by steaming the chicken for almost two hours, before adding to a broth made over several hours, the chicken is so tender that the word itself feels insufficient, and the meat and broth are at the same time rich in flavour while also surprisingly light and fresh. This signature Din Tai Fung dish lived up to all expectations!
A portion of Noodle in Spicy Sauce (£8.50) was okay, there wasn’t quite enough sauce but the noodles had decent texture.
Pork chop featured twice, first Pork Chop with Dry Noodles (£13.50, not pictured), in which the noodles were bland and the pork chop a little dry. Then in Pork Chop with Fried Rice (£13.50), which was far superior, the pork chop much more succulent and the egg fried rice a perfect rendition.
Many of the dessert options were not available, so we ordered a portion of Sweet Taro Xiao Long Bao (£9.50), filled with delicate lilac taro paste, they were a mildly flavoured end to a great meal.
We visited just a few days after the restaurant opened, and there were quite a few menu items that were unavailable, as some of the key ingredients have not yet made it through customs for delivery. The restaurant hope to be able to offer their full menu soon.
Our meal for 7 came to £230, including service, that’s just under £33 per person. For the range of dishes, and quality, that felt absolutely fair. It’s more expensive than the branches in East Asia, but many of the costs of running a restaurant are proportionately higher here too.
This opening has been so widely anticipated that there are long queues to get in right now. With 250 covers, most of those waiting for doors to open were seated reasonably quickly, but the queue was far longer by the time we left a little after 1 pm than when we entered, and probably much slower moving as well. The restaurant is open from 11 am to 10.30 pm Monday to Saturday, and to 10 pm on Sunday.
I’m so pleased Din Tai Fung have maintained their high quality for their first European branch, and that the xiao long bao and other dishes are as good as we all remembered and hoped. This place is worth the hype, so do make plans to visit yourself soon.