When I first came across the restaurant Bo Lang, I knew I’d be reviewing it, and after meeting with a rather prestigious tea merchant in Belgravia, I had the chance to visit.
The veranda-fronted bar doesn’t so much open up, as extend back, once you enter the restaurant proper. Despite its compact size, it still manages to have a full bar and a lovely layout of dark wooden dividers, a modern version of the traditional Chinese carved screens, that give a layered feel to any space. These allow the bar to maintain an air of privacy, without feeling too claustrophobic. I would have appreciated this more, were my attention not distracted by the bright orange furry cushions on the chairs. I had to quell the impulse to ask the staff it that was real Muppet.
I was delighted to find a full tea menu, and having already been treated to a smoky Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin, I opted for the more delicate flavours of Anji Bai Cha, a green tea from the Zhejiang province in China. The initial taste takes a short while to identify, but it’s a pleasure to let the mellow texture flood the mouth, and taste this delicately sweet, grassy tea with a hint of floral. The sweet after taste with a hint of bitter, grips the palette firmly and lasts for almost half a minute.
I was surprised to see this light, and delicate tea served in a cast iron kettle, rather than a porcelain or glass teapot. The staff, well trained by JING, not just a tea provider but also a propagator of tea culture, very promptly poured the tea after 3 minutes. It would be even better if they reminded their guests to take the built in strainer out to stop the rest of the tea from stewing. Nevertheless, the small cast iron tea mat and rustic drinking cup enhanced the aesthetics of my tea drinking, if not actually the logistics.
As with most of my reviews, I asked the waiter what he would recommend. A question that was either misunderstood, or was so unexpected it left him nervously explaining the whole concept of a menu. When pushed a little, he pointed out the mixed dim sum platter, which served as both an example of the variety of Bo Lang’s dim sum and an indicator of the type of clientele the restaurant was aimed at.
When the platter arrived we were helpfully told what each of the varied steamed skins contained. Each dumpling’s skin was hand made, and so delicately thin that they displayed the ingredients of the stuffing through their translucency. It was just a shame that they were all quite over-steamed. To merely touch them with your chopsticks was to commit to eating the parcel, or have it cling on like an abandoned child.
The flavour of classic Prawn Dumpling was a little overpowering, whilst the Prawn and Chive dumplings were a treat to the mouth, and the eyes, wrapped in lovely jade like green skin, joined by the yellow of a Goji Berry and Mushroom dumpling, an excellent option for vegetarians. My favourite of this multicoloured selection, was the crab dumpling, crowned with a few beads of caviar. The flavour was interesting and complex with hints of ginger and lemon, but never overpowering the crab.
Every single dumpling was very fully stuffed. This is definitely a high end dining experience where they don’t skimp on the shrimp.
We were curious about the Pumpkin and Mouli dumpling, which came sensibly wrapped in thicker skins of vibrant yellow, to support the soft texture of the cooked gourd and radish, well balanced by the crunchiness of pearl barley, and the piquant spicy taste.
We also ordered the most standard dish at a dim sum restaurant, as a way to measure the chef’s skills. What’s a dim sum place that can’t provide decent Char Siu Bao? Whilst it was obvious that creative liberty had been taken with the smaller dim sums, the buns came to the table in all semblance of the traditional Cantonese staple. The inside however, was a different matter. My dining companion, a self confessed Char Siu fanatic, whom I am still trying to convince to write me an article entitled “Char Siu Bao, the Bacon Sandwich of the East”, was a good lab rat to judge this. Initially noticing a vinegary taste, he reported some suspicious spring onions and quite a lot of gelatinous sauce binding the finely chopped honeyed pork. We came to the conclusion that either more select innovation was needed, or the traditional Char Siu Bao should be left alone. An island of classicism in a sea of modernity.
The best dish was by far the Fried Turnip Cake with Sambal Sauce, where the staple of Cantonese dim sum is infused with a twist of exotic Indonesian spice. Presented in small rectangular strips rather than the traditional square slabs, the cakes are fried to just the right degree so their crunchy surface contrasted with the soft centres, without being too floury or overprocessed. The “Xian” (Umami) taste of the shrimp rich chili sauce really brought out the flavour of the turnips, and was a fantastic reimagining of the small cubes of cured ham or dried shrimp present in the Cantonese classic.
Manager Vincent told me that, with the goal of “Asian fusion”, Bo Lang had been founded just over a year ago, bankrolled by a Russian businessman. With chefs from Hong Kong and Shanghai, they aim to provide dishes from all over the China, though their choice menu looks suspiciously southern, featuring Hot & Sour Soup (a speciality of Sichuan) and Stir Fried Beef Hofun, (an instantly recognizable Cantonese dish).
The manager, possibly more used to dealing with press and other interested parties, was quick to recommend their Chicken and Black Truffle dumpling, and 28 Day Aged Beef in Oyster and Ginger Sauce, of which he seemed particularly proud. An excellent adaptation of yet another classic Cantonese dish, modified to balance the acquired taste of British high beef, celebrating of both region’s mutual love meat.
I will certainly be trying this if I manage to visit again, along with their delightful dessert menu, an area to which traditional Chinese restaurants pay little attention. Perhaps I’ll sample the Chocolate and Green Tea Grand Cru, or the Kumquat Sorbet. Though looking at the prices, it will have to be a very special treat.
Whilst we found the service attentive, and the quality of food excellent, not everyone was having the same experience, with the couple next to us having been brought the wrong dish, as the waiter mistook cross table chatter for direct request, though the serving and kitchen staff near tripped over themselves in order to remedy the mistake.
Bo Lang 波浪, means waves, and I was told that the name was chosen because, like water, the restaurant wishes to be always moving, a good way to adapt to trends perhaps and bring out more innovative dishes, but hope Bo Lang will also stay true to its nature.
Posted in Blog and tagged Anji Bai Cha, Belgravia, Bo Lang, china, Chinese, dim sum, food, Hofun, london, restaurant, tea, Tie Guan Yin