Some meals are sinful. Their decadence almost ensures your glutinous damnation. Each minuscule morsel is ravenously devoured with the same lustful rapture say a night of carnal pleasure on a secluded, moonlit beach delivers. It’s wrong, but desire overcomes your senses and you lose your sense of time, space, and all forms of manners in polite company. That’s what Yauatcha delivers a damning dining experience that’s worth turning over your soul to the devil.
Yauatcha is the creation of Alan Yau, a London-based restauranteur who’s most notable restaurant Hakkasan, has transformed over the years from a Michelin-starred restaurant in London’s chic West End, to a full-blown empire that now includes one of the hottest night clubs in all of Sin City. Yauatcha, however, represents a return to Yau’s roots and heritage and does so with the same exacting nature and attention to detail as his other endeavors. Primarily a Dim Sum restaurant, Yauatcha in Waikiki could perhaps give Yau his next Michelin Star; at least that’s what my taste buds tell me.
As a child, my first experience with dim sum came by way of my extended family. Their recipes were one of my fondest childhood memories and what I looked forward to devouring every time we visited. Chief among those recipes I yearned for was one for Char Siu Bao, a sticky, squishy, sumptuous rice flour dumpling filled with BBQ pork. I could pontificate on this humble little bun for days, but suffice it to say, I judge Dim Sum on their Char Siu Bao. Yauatcha’s did not disappoint.
The three Char Siu Bao buns were like clouds. These little balls of heaven dissolved in my mouth as if they were made of cotton candy. And the BBQ pork is buttery and savory and absolutely mouth-wateringly splendid. I’ve had oodles of Bao before, and as I mentioned earlier, I grew up eating them. These, these perfectly white little bubbles of sweet, sweet pork are on another level. Sorry, Grandma Amy.
Up next were Yauatcha’s venison puffs. As with all of the restaurant’s servings, they can be shared, although take a bite of any offering and you may wish you had come alone. The venison puffs are a new take on other traditional dim sum, but elevated to a level of refinement I scarcely believe can be pulled off day after day. They’re smoky bite-sized pieces of heaven. The crust is flakier than your mother’s, or grandmothers, lard-baked apple pie. It’s as buttery too. Yauatcha uses clarified butter throughout the cooking process, including in the pastry dough. The chef meticulously applies the butter to the crust layer after layer, letting each seal the smoky meat underneath in a pristine eggshell-like capsule. Cracked open and the meat still steams. We ordered two plates of the venison puffs as there wasn’t enough.
Our waiter Joey, who had been lovely throughout the night, suggested we then try two other dishes, the Jasmine Tea Ribs as well as the Prawn and Crispy Bean Curd. We nodded incessantly to both suggestions; our mouth’s salivating after the beautifully scrumptious dishes prior.
A quick aside, Yauatcha’s wait staff is knowledgeable and passionate about the food. They know how each dish is constructed and how fresh the ingredients are, all of which are practically still mooing, growing, or photosynthesizing. Yauatcha’s staff is exactly how restaurants want their staff to behave and every damn restauranteur needs to take notice of Yauatcha, their execution is perfection distilled.
As for Joey’s suggestions, they couldn’t be any more spot on. The first out were the Jasmine Tea Ribs. AS they come in a half-rack, Joey split up the ribs at the table so as none of the important juices left the plate. However, he could’ve blown on the ribs and they would’ve split, as calling them fall-off-the-bone wouldn’t do these ribs justice. Imagine the finest, most indulgent Swiss chocolate as it melts in your mouth. That’s almost the same texture of the Jasmine Tea Ribs. They almost liquefy, leaving nothing but a spring-cleaning devoured bone that you’ll suck on like a lollipop due to the jasmine smoke permeating the bones themselves. Yauatcha additionally coats the ribs in a sweet, slightly smoky sauce that’ll have you asking where you can buy a bottle of it. Sadly, you can’t.
With my first healthy bite of the Prawn and Crispy Bean Curd, I uttered “Holy Moses!” After hearing my exaltation from across the quiet and reserved room, Joey came over, looked at my face, which surely made my emotions well-known, and told me it was his favorite dish on the menu. I’m not sure how to even describe the dish itself outside of writing how I think my grunts, groans, and moans are spelled. There’s a soft, luscious texture of this dish that makes you think you’re actually eating something much more high-class, something more similar to caviar or a truffled steak. The prawns are crispy, yet the overall texture is soft. The flavors are both bold, yet demure. No ingredient overpowers the others. They brought us eight pieces, I wish it was twelve.
We additionally paired our meal with a 12 year old sake that came in an ingenious glass that featured an ice recess on the outside of the bottle ensuring that the sake was perfectly chilled and water-free, and a glorious Japanese take on a Moscow mule—Virginia Black whiskey, ginger, cardamom, vanilla, lemongrass, lemon and ginger beer. They were everything we could’ve asked for.
Yauatcha’s lineage traces back to Yau’s flagship restaurant in London, where the Yau earned a Michelin star. You might think that some of the first restaurant’s greatness would get lost in transit across the Atlantic, but you’d be dead wrong. Yauatcha in Waikiki deserves every ounce of praise as the flagship location in the West End. Between the lovely wait staff and the knowledge that they bring, and the food they prepare with all the delicacy, precision, and care of a brain surgeon, you’ll have one of the best meals in your life. I know I did.