Alan Yau’s latest venture feels like the set for a Martin Scorsese movie. It’s a Shanghai-style speakeasy, with boudoir chic, and live jazz band fronted by a slinky singer. The vibe is that of a private members’ club, with a clutch of staff on the door, which opens into a dimly lit, sultry feeling joint. It’s a world away from the bleached wood mass-market simplicity of Wagamama, Yau’s first opening, or the egalitarianism of Busaba Ethai, and much closer to the style of his other restaurants, upmarket Hakkasan and Yauatcha. But here Yau has ramped up the glamour to movie-set level. There are velvet curtains, red-fringed lamps, and golden dragon-head taps in the bathrooms. There’s even a dress code, though it’s basically no trainers/sneakers.
So who’s flocking here? On our visit, a bevy of glamorous women with frozen foreheads, swishing past in Laboutins, and plunging jumpsuits, on the arms of (generally) older, shorter men. Then, there are the suited-and-booted, wacking it on expenses. Keeping the wheels oiled are legions of waiters, with strict levels of hierarchy: servers are in white jackets with gold buttons, while above them are willowy waitresses, tall and elegant in silk blouses.
So it’s good/interesting to look at, but how’s the food? Well, high rollers equal high prices, with an East India cocktail ringing in at a decidedly exclusive £30. I try a delectable Clover Club (£15), which combines gin, chinato, raspberry, grenadine, and lemon. It’s gloriously subtle, tasting like a rose merged with Earl Grey foam. There’s a tiny dried rosebud on the top. Exquisite.
The signature house dish (which you’re advised to order the previous day) is the Duck de Chine (roast duck with pancakes), and it’s a Lamborghini of a dish, at £75 a plate (but there’s enough to feed four as a starter, no problem). The duck is succulent, juicy, gleaming beneath a crunchy, sweet honeyed roasted fat. You wrap it in pancakes that feel like they’ve just been cooked, stretchy and soft. The menu suggests you to accompany it with caviar, but this would catapult the bill into the hundreds before even finishing the first course.
The menu has lots of Chinese and Japanese classics, such as prawn dumplings, or beef and black bean, plus some wild cards. There’s a dim sum section, from which we take the Shanghai pork gyoza, which were delicate, al dente, like the much more upmarket cousins of those served in Wagamama. Sichaun vegetable dumplings were deliciously oily, crunchy and spicy enough to make you blush. From the starters, we tried the salt and pepper squid, green papaya salad, which were perfectly delicious, but gained little from being together. Most intriguing ‘First’ was the smoky Park Carbonara, pancetta with sea urchin and unaniwa, where a raw egg is mixed into the velvety, silky noodles at the table. It’s a particularly beautiful dish, and the taste is a smooth and smoky Asian-Italian hybrid, given a punch via the orange-ochre salty sea-urchin roe.
This is dining as theatre, complete with cinematic lighting, and the band crooning covers of I put a spell on you. Prices may be high (expect upwards of £100 a head), but it’s worth it for the buzz of being somewhere completely different for a few hours, part 1930s Shanghai, part Scorsese-does-Chinatown, part super-rich playground. Don’t forget to order the duck.
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