Din Tai Fung, the super popular Taiwanese chain has finally arrived in London. Even as social media fills up with photos and complaints of 5 hour long queues, London fans of their fabled DTF XLB (Din Tai Fung Xiao Lung Bao) were not deterred.
So what is the allure? DTF has built up a global fan club across their multiple outlets in Taiwan, South East Asia and the US, with the Hong Kong branches gaining Michelin stars. They are most famous for their Shanghainese Xiao Long Bao.
How they make DTF Xiao Long Bao in pictures
In London, the design of the new Covent Garden restaurant is centred around the glassed in kitchen where a team is working in unison churning out unending trays of these dumplings. Busy hands are rolling dough, cutting them into precise 16 g pieces, weighing out precisely 5 grams of pork filling, and then swiftly folding 18 times to create their famous soupy pork dumplings.
For those who are offering their opinions of DTF and dim sum on twitter, know that is not a Cantonese dim sum restaurant so you can’t compare it to something like Yauatcha. XLB is a Shanghainese dumpling that happens to be one of the types of dumplings that Cantonese restaurant choose to serve on their Dim Sum menus.
There are 250 seats in their Covent Garden outlet and they are all taken. There is a queue at the door but the wait is now down to just 45 minutes. Every table has a stack of bamboo steamers filled with XLB or their other steamed dumplings.
For first timers, the super cheerful staff are very happy to share their favourites. You are then given a sheet of paper to mark down your order, just like in dim sum restaurants.
How to order in Din Tai Fung
Start off with some appetisers like the DTF salad and some drunken chicken. My Chinese dining companion was so thrilled to see some of these dishes on the menu. She said, “it’s just like what we used to have in banquets at home”.
At some Chinese banquets, the first course is usually called four seasons, with 4 cold dishes that can include jelly fish, cold sliced braised pork or duck, drunken chicken and the like.
The drunken chicken at DTF is executed perfectly, smooth pieces of chicken, braised in a heady rice wine broth, served cold. We love this mainly for the texture. The moist pieces of chicken is savoured for the mouth feel, what in Cantonese we call “waat” or “smooth”, not an easy texture to describe in English.
The crunchy kelp salad is dressed in a sesame oil dressing, slightly spiced. Again, it’s cold but delicious.
Be warned, the food arrives very quickly and all at once.
We got a bit excited to see the 6 hours steamed chicken soup on the menu. Here they use This is what Chinese mothers like to make at home as it is not just nourishing but is also a prescription for a good complexion and anti-wrinkles. It’s the original bone broth.
Big bamboo steamers with the much anticipated XLB arrive. Lisa, our delightful Taiwanese server prepared the essential dipping sauce – 1 part soy sauce to 3 parts rice vinegar over some strips of ginger. You have to have the XLB with this sauce as it enhances the flavours of the pork.
How to eat Xiao Long Bao
The best part of this dumpling is the superior soup so don’t waste a drop. The best way to eat it is by using a spoon. Carefully lift it from the steamer basket, place on a spoon. Nibble an edge and sip the soup. Then add a couple of strip of ginger and a bit of the dipping sauce and enjoy.
The XLB does not disappoint, they are bit size so you can easily slurp up the soup and bit into the dumpling in one go. The skin is quite thin, not too doughy and the filling is well seasoned although I would have liked a bit more soup.
We ordered one piece of the much hyped truffle XLB, it was nice but not significantly better than the regular XLB.
The prawn and pork wanton were recommended. This was easily our most favourite dish of the evening. Bouncy wontons in a smooth skin, served in a shallow dish with the chef’s spicy sauce. The sauce is to die for. This red oil sauce is made daily and is a sort of a secret recipe. From tasting, there might be soy, black vinegar, sugar, chilli oil and some spices. And no, they don’t sell this but you can try making it at home.
In Taiwan, the punters there rave about this sauce and they usually just order these wontons and a bowl of plain noodles to dunk into the sauce. I’ll have to try that next time.
Taiwanese beef noodle soup is another dish not to miss at DTF. Rich beef broth, slow braised beef and springy egg noodles. Super comforting. Feel free to douse this with their chilli oil.
We also ordered the Dan Dan noodles. It came with a bit of cloying sauce which we didn’t expect. Not a favourite, I’m afraid.
For dessert, the chocolate lava dumpling has been much talked about but unfortunately, they didn’t have any. Lisa insisted that we try the sesame bao, steamed bread bun filled with a black sesame paste. Delish. We also had the very refreshing Mango Pomelo sago pudding.
Din Tai Fung is not your regular Chinese restaurant. The menu has the less familiar Shanghainese, Huaiyang and Taiwanese dishes. The menu here is not that different from that in Singapore as this branch has the same ownership as the ones there. They make no concessions for Western tastes, so recipes are not tweaked but remain quite authentic (except for the not very hot chilli oil). A lot of the dishes might be a bit foreign to some, like the cold starters but it is an absolute delight for the Chinese clientele. So many dishes that taste just like we had it in Asia.
So when you do go to DTF, be adventurous. Let the server guide you and you will have one of the better Chinese meals in London. I will be back often and I’d be happy to queue, but not for the XLB, but those addictive wontons with the spicy sauce.
Din Tai Fung
5 Henrietta St,
EatCookExplore was a guest of Din Tai Fung