Dim T, 1 Hampstead Lane, London N6 4RS
Being of oriental background, I tend to steer away from any establishment labeling themselves as ‘Pan-Asian’ or ‘Asian Fusion’ as this usually means an inability to cook any dish from any of the regions well; more like con-fusion than anything or “jack of all trades” syndrome as I prefer to call it.
However, a slightly rushed decision for a Mother’s Day gathering had led us here (she had only arrived back in London a few hours prior). Now I have previously been lured to the Hampstead branch of this establishment by a naive dining partner, which left me completely underwhelmed and underfed. Suffice to say I was not holding any expectation for this visit to their Highgate outlet but the occasion of being with our mother seemed to outweigh the importance of venue.
For a place that primarily advertises itself as a Dim Sum Restaurant, the ‘hand made’ Dim Sum dishes were limited in choice, poorly steamed, extremely bland and served with inadequate dipping sauces – cheap soy sauce and a chilli condiment that had no relevance in being there. I had to specifically request sesame oil but decided against asking the waitress for the more traditional Chinkiang vinegar, knowing full well I would have been shot a blank, clueless stare. In an attempt to spruce up the poor selection, we also ordered Five Spiced Squid – which barely tasted of one spice, overpowered by the generic taste of wholesale sweet chilli dip sold by the gallon; Grilled Gyoza – a completely average ‘defrost to order' type, and Won-Ton soup that actually never arrived despite numerous polite reminders. (Even at this late stage, I’m still morbidly intrigued of how they might have mishandled that basic dish and that’s being kind with the language.)
The decision by committee type of à la carte menu which spans the six of its London chains read like a backpacker’s hop around a Hong Kong food court and seemed to cater to those that believe a pack of Nissin instant noodles are a sophisticated taste of the orient.
The Crispy Shredded Chilli Beef was not even on par with the cheapest of local takeaways and contained more batter than any contentious meat content (note the inadvertent alliteration of 'con’). The Katsu Chicken Curry, although seemingly generous in portion, had a mere dribble of curry sauce, no accompanying vegetables and in each case, we had to unconventionally order separate sides of steamed rice – “we recommend a side order of rice, coconut rice or stir-fry noodles with these dishes”. Well of course they would; the model of selling rice as a side order at an extortionate mark up is savvy business, but since when did Japanese Katsu Curry go with stir-fried noodles?!
The Crispy Duck, ordered for the younger contingent of our group was about as good/bad as one would find from a ready-made supermarket dinner set, marred by the perpetual misjudgement of pancake to duck ratio, a foible endured not only by this establishment.
Only after everyone was nearing the end of their course, did my mother finally receive her Seafood Laksa (on Mother's Day of all things!). The broth did not have enough heat or coconut milk, nor any of the ingredients that are usually to be found in a Laksa – lack of fishcakes, tofu puffs or even beansprouts were noticeable, as was the inclusion of Pak Choi (sigh). Yet more affirmation of uneducated, condescending menu writing.
This led me to wonder how these western chefs* got recruited and the type of ‘training’ in oriental cuisine and kitchen management they received – evidently none. (*Yes, this was confirmed when the continental looking head chef had the chutzpah to waltz his smug self out, in a bid for approving looks from us, the only Oriental’s in the restaurant.)
Regarding the service, upon arrival they were adequately gracious and inviting enough, but once we were seated and secured in (for this nauseous theme park ride), it became progressively worse. Our conversation was punctuated at every opportunity by the waitress’ persistent hard sell of Edamame beans. During the meal, the staff had an air of “hurry up because my shift is almost over” about them which was oddly contradictory to their level of attentiveness and I couldn't help but notice the head waitress kept picking her itching nose then handling the fresh ingredients for the cocktails.
On the subject of drinks, they took forever to arrive, with a Mandarin Mojito failing to even make the table although able to make a brief guest appearance on the bill. My ‘Fresh Mint’ infused Lemonade tasted as if the mint had been chopped by the same knife as the dim sum filling – an indistinct “raw meat” taste, (perhaps the aforementioned head waitress had prepared it), at which point I asked for it to be replaced by a Lychee beverage – an unimpressive, overpriced soda; even the synthetic brand of Rubicon canned drink has a more authentic taste. I was offered to try a sip of Hot Sake – now I do not profess to be an expert in alcoholic beverages, but even that tasted of pure profit, i.e. the cheapest brand they could lay their hands on.
While I concede that to compare this venture to any authentic Asian establishment may be imprudent; if the proprietors believe that this is a representation of our cuisines, then they are severely patronising their customers and insulting the so-called ‘western palate’ which by now has acclimatised to these exotic tastes. To even call this the McDonald’s of the Nobu, Hakkasan world is an insult to McDonald's! A disaster of a chain, probably owned by some Tim ‘Nice but Dim(sum)’ type.
“Hang on, now I know what the ‘T’ stands for.”