When it comes to love, stocks, perfecting the macarena, and restaurants, timing is important. It’s good to remember this when you go to Din Tai Fung, a very popular, walk-in only spot in Covent Garden. Din Tai Fung already has over 150 restaurants worldwide, but their first European venture on Henrietta Street is a massive, two floor, 250-seater restaurant. It has an international following of fans. It serves dim sum for lunch and dinner. It has the kind of soup dumplings you’d merrily eat when you’re sick, or cold, or both. And, it is a restaurant with really bad timing.
Your best bet to have a successful trip to this particular Din Tai Fung is to head here for a snappy lunch or for a solo dumpling mission at off-peak times. On one of our visits, we popped by for a late solo Saturday night meal and had some perfectly decent xiao long bao within twenty minutes of getting off the tube. And that’s exactly what you should use Din Tai Fung for. Go ahead, stop by at 9pm and get involved with a few portions of the soup dumplings. You won’t regret it. But if you’re looking for somewhere to catch up with friends, or for a stress-free date, or to relax after a long day with some pork buns and a beer for company, this is not where you want to be.
Although it might take you an hour to get into Din Tai Fung at peak times, as soon as your table is ready, it’s time to look alive. Move, or you’ll miss your server as they disappear into the huge expanse of the restaurant. You’ll pass a glass box of what is basically dumpling making human stormtroopers wearing surgical masks. Are you impressed? Terrified? It doesn’t matter. You need to get to your table. Next, you’ll notice some waiters are wearing earpieces. Are they the pork long xiao bao’s security? It’s all just a bit too CSI: Dumplings for our liking.
Pretty much as soon as you order here, your food will arrive in rapid fire, along with your bill. Unless you specifically ask to keep it, they’ll also take the lid of your bamboo steamers - and so begins a classic game of everyone’s favourite restaurant pastime: how much can you eat before it gets cold? You’ll attempt to pop some pork chop into your mouth at the same time as some dan dan noodles and your string beans. It’s the constant pressure to eat faster that keeps things interesting, right? Then a £13.50 plate of egg fried rice will appear, but there’ll be no room on your table, and things will tip into panic territory. ‘Just take the rest of the crushed garlic pork. Abandon ship beverage. Women and wontons first. Leave the drunken chicken behind. There isn’t time.’
There are ways to have a decent time at Din Tai Fung. Come here off-peak. Come here when you’re feeling patient and a little chaos won’t ruin your evening. Because yes, timing is important, but when it comes to having a good meal at Din Tai Fung, timing is everything.
Fragrant Pork With Crushed Garlic
The first time we had these they were cute little rolls of pork and cucumber, with a big wallop of garlic. The second time they looked and tasted pretty sad. So, basically, it’s 50/50. May the odds be ever in your favour.
Sautéed String Beans With Minced Pork And Dried Shrimp
Five pounds worth of tasty, crunchy, green flavour. The kind of snack we can get on board with.
Pork Xiao Long Bao
These little guys have a meaty soup filling, a thin doughy skin, and a pretty staggering legion of followers. Eat them while they’re hot, they’re tasty.
Chilli Crab And Pork Xiao Long Bao
As above, but with chilli crab and pork. They’re pricey but you should order them.
Prawn And Pork Shao Mai
If you order one thing here other than the chilli crab and pork xiao long bao, make it these. They’re really tasty.
A lot of bun. Minimal pork. But you get to trial one for £2.80 before committing to a portion of three.
Pork And Vegetable Wontons With Black Vinegar And Chilli Oil
Decent enough. The best we’ve had in London? No. The second best we’ve had in London? Still no.
Prawn And Egg Fried Rice
£13.50. That’s all we have to say about that.
Red Bean Xiao Long Bao With Chocolate Lava
Lava? Don’t be dramatic. They’re dumplings with a dollop of chocolate inside.