A certain someone often asks me if I would ever start up my own food venture. The man poses a valid question; I spend so much of my time consuming food and consumed in the food industry that it would seem logical to have a career in something I truly love. Sometimes, at my most cynical, I think it’s probably a luxury. But other times, like when I’m perched up at the bar in the newly opened Yuu Kitchen, I think, why the hell not?
There are a steady stream of diners coming through the front door, all greeted by enthusiastic staff and even more exuberant art work plastered across the walls. The manga-style characters are what we’d call an acquired taste, but we like the uniqueness of it. Looking around, I spot many tell-tale signs of satisfaction; lots of nodding and smiling, lots of chatter, lots of dishes flying out of the kitchen. I would be chuffed to call a restaurant like this, my own.
But it’s people like Stephen and Jonny, the General Manager and Chef duo behind Yuu Kitchen, that make me think perhaps I’m not quite cut out for a life in the business. After chatting to both during our meal, it’s clear that the passion and dedication they possess is tremendous, and certainly many levels above what I could currently muster up. So for the time being, I’ll stick with being a diner and sampling the Asian and Pacific Rim inspired dishes they’ve conjured up.
Yuu Kitchen are dishing out Asian-style small plates; it’s a trend we’ve been unable to escape lately but one we’ve grown surprisingly fond of. As a result, we’ve also become quite adept at manoeuvring these large menus and have a rule of thumb of ordering a couple of items for each of the inevitable categories the menu will be split into. As lovers of raw fish, we were immediately drawn to the poke and the seared tuna, the former being something we’ve never tried and the latter being an old favourite.
The thick slices of tuna, though lacking the strong sear we might have expected, looked quite majestic swimming in the drunken soy. The taste was not as bold as the presentation, but I can’t fault its freshness. We might have been more enamoured with it had it not been outshone by the poke, a Hawaiian style seafood salad. This combination of raw fish, grilled octopus, avocado, and corn in a sesame citrus dressing all piled onto a crisp tortilla chip delivered the perfect mouthful of textures and flavours. After a very tight race, this was proclaimed our favourite dish at the end of the night.
Our curiosity was piqued by the Vietnamese chicken and pork ssam which were described as spring rolls wrapped in lettuce. I am very familiar with Vietnamese spring rolls and Korean pork ssam served with lettuce leaves, but never have I had a whacky fusion of the two. If I’m being honest, and I usually am, the lettuce was unnecessary as the spring rolls were already quite delicious, particularly dipped in the Yuu Kitchen sweet chilli sauce. Not the cringeworthy goop you normally see, theirs was a freshly mixed concoction which we couldn’t get enough of.
We tried three of the five bao on offer; the twice cooked 7up braised pork belly and crispy soft shell crab were obvious choices given our well documented obsession with both, however I really had to talk a certain someone into the sriracha honey glazed tofu. I still don’t think he was entirely convinced but once I bit through the thin crust created by the glaze and into the creamy tofu, I was entirely won over. There were fewer debates about the merits of braised pork with bbq sauce, or soft shell crab with wasabi mayonnaise; both were tried and tested, crowd-pleasing pairings!
Sitting up by the kitchen can be a dangerous affair for those of us who have very little willpower and like to eat with our eyes. After watching the chefs make, cook and plate up countless dumplings, and throw endless racks of ribs onto the Big Green Egg, I couldn’t resist ordering a portion of each. The butternut and sweetcorn dumplings might have been the more unusual choice, but the lure of the scallop, prawn and chive ones were just too great. Once we saw the crunchy bottoms, and tasted the sweet seafood filling, there were no regrets.
We’re usually dubious about ordering ribs, too often they are dry and bland; these were neither so we were impressed. It’s easy to understand why Yuu Kitchen’s ribs are a customer favourite – the meat has that comforting smokiness from the coals and falls right off the bone. I washed them down with another glass of the house white (a lovely Italian which comes straight from the tap!) before we finished with an indulgent ice cream bao!
I’m a little bit jealous of what Stephen and Jonny have achieved with Yuu Kitchen – they had a dream and made it happen. From where we were sitting, it all looked so easy… the chefs worked together seamlessly, the dishes were being plated up with ease and skill, the customers were happy… but I’ve been eating long enough in London to know that achieving this is not that easy. It takes some perseverance and guts to create a successful restaurant in this over-saturated city, and right now, my gut tells me to stay on this side of the pass and leave the rest to the professionals!
Have you ever considered starting your own food venture?
Thanks to Yuu Kitchen for the food and foodie conversations, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!