I was introduced yesterday to the most absurd and delightful “Chinese patisserie”:http://www.urbanpath.com/london/chinese/yauatcha.htm in Soho, possibly in Europe. The exterior walls are sheets of blue glass; even the urinals seem made from slabs of blue perspex, with a stepped slate trough for the handbasin. In the cellar is a restaurant, which looks crowded, dark, and painfully hip and on the airy ground floor dim sum and patisserie from another, very prosperous galaxy. You can get things like Cactus Biscotti, or the “Jade Ganache” that I had, which turns out to contain a sort of absinthe trifle enclosed in a cup made of eggshell-thin chocolate decorated to look like enamelled metal, and topped with pistachio-coloured cream that tasted of something quite pleasant but from another solar system where the fundamental chemistry of life is different.
There is a three page tea menu, with the Chinese teas grouped into colours — Green, White, Black, and — the largest section — blue. I shared two pots, one of which was utterly sublime. At £4.00 a pot, it bloody well should have been, but that was comparatively cheap. There was one tea which cost £28. The nibbles and the dim sum were priced to match the drinks. Wearying of tea, I ordered a glass of mandarin jiuice with chili, mint and lemon grass. It was the best fruit juice concoction I have ever drunk but the grass was absolutely crammed with ice, and it cost three pounds.
Central London is full of places charging extraordinary prices for quite ordinary pleasures: the fancy hotel opposite the BBC in Portland Place sells a small, single expresso for £5.20. You might as well be drinking printer ink. Afternoon tea in a grand hotel can easily cost £25 per person and it won’t be nearly as good as you might find in the right bit of the provinces. Do any English people eat tea at all nowadays?
This place, which feels so gratifyingly like the best restaurant on one of Jack Vance’s planets, actually delivers some fun for your money. Poking around the reviews, it would appear that the cellar restaurant does not. Pop round for tea in the afternoon, is my advice.