Saturday, 17 December 2016

Dumpling Shack pop-up

So I managed to grab a couple of places at John Li's Dumpling Shack pop-up event in Leicester Square last weekend - no mean feat, considering that his last pop-up venture with Shotgun sold out within hours.

Dumpling Shack has been resident in the School Yard at Broadway market since 2014 and John Li has built a steadily increasing reputation and fan base for his fresh, handmade dumplings amongst some very stiff competition. This pop-up brought his street eats inside and central, at Leicester House in Soho.

The table was set with some roasted peanuts and a sizeable bowl of zingy smacked cucumbers (surprisingly easy to make at home btw if you are serving a spicy Sichuan main) for a fresh, palate-cleansing start.

First to arrive was a salad with lily bulb, celery and jellyfish. I can't recall having had lily bulb as a key ingredient before but it was interesting, with a texture and flavour not unlike a mild version of roasted chestnuts.
This and the toasted sesame dressing went well with the crisp celery and the classic delicacy of very finely-sliced jellyfish, looking almost like glass noodles.

Then came the star of the show, the dumplings. Note that these are sheng jian bao, pan-fried soup dumplings, which have a completely different texture to the xiao long bao Shanghai soup dumplings popular in dim sum restaurants. These are more robust in texture, the exterior almost like a thinner version of the fluffy char siu bao bbq pork bun; and they needed to be, as the fillings were substantial - and amazing.

The signature pork and water chestnut filling was tender, juicy and deftly seasoned; the shiitake, woodear and leek provided a veggie option that had great depth of flavour, but for me the crab and truffle option was one of the highlights of the evening and had me chasing tiny shreds of filling around the plate with my chopsticks out of pure greed. They were as good as I had heard - a beautifully crisp, browned base, not too doughy and piping hot. One word of warning though - when I say hot, I really do mean hot - please don't be tempted to pop a whole one in your mouth as soon as they are served, as the result will not be pretty.

These were followed by the long bean fritters with smoked tofu mayonnaise. These were not so much actual fritters as long bean tempura, with the lightest of batter coatings and a fabulous gently spicy chilli kick, balanced by the creamy smokiness of the mayo.

Next up were the barbecued duck heart skewers; beautifully and simply presented, tender nuggets of meat with robust bbq flavours.

Potatoes in spicy red bean sauce arrived next; again the spice factor is mild, more warming than eye-watering, with the starchy sweetness of the red beans providing a comforting backdrop to the dish.

We were seriously starting to flag when the next dish arrived at our table, the signature spicy cumin lamb chops with pickled radish. However, these were everything you might hope they would be: juicy, crisp, perfectly seasoned melt-in-the-mouth heaven. Definitely one of the stand-out dishes of the evening.

Scallops in XO sauce came next. I lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years and XO sauce was a staple seasoning, a seafood-based umami high. These were good but not outstanding . . . although in fairness we were both ridiculously full and still going on about the lamb chops.

The final dish arrived, a vegetable dish of kai lan served with crushed peanuts. I had a mouthful or two and confirmed that yes, I absolutely would order it again as a side if I hadn't already eaten my own body weight in dumplings and associated fabulousness.

Rumour has it that this pop-up is in preparation for a bricks-and-mortar version of Dumpling Shack planned for 2017. For what it's worth, my vote is a resounding YES PLEASE.

Yours, still daydreaming about dumplings,

Girl About Town xx

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