Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Yaumay: An elegant fix to Tokyo's dim sum shortage

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Is there a more satisfying way to spend a couple of hours at table than a leisurely session of good dim sum? In years past, Tokyo has been poorly served in this department, at least when it comes to the classic, laid-back, yum cha (tea-drinking) Hong Kong approach. Thankfully, that deficiency is now being rectified in style at Yaumay.

This recent arrival in the upmarket Marunouchi business district is the first Tokyo outpost of London-based restaurateur Alan Yau. Still known as the man who launched the U.K. noodle chain Wagamama, he has long since moved into more sophisticated dining territory. And that is where Yaumay is firmly positioned.

Don’t be put off by the loud black-on-orange wall that greets you once you’ve found your way inside the misleadingly named Nijubashi Square (there is no open area, it’s just another building). Inside, the dining room is refreshingly calm, light and spacious, with plush seating, comfortably large tables and an unbroken view toward the gleaming open kitchen.

Currently, the menu is the same at both lunch and dinner — and it all fits on a single sheet, rather than over several pages, making it much easier to plan out your meal. Initially, let your gaze slide over the larger meat dishes at the top and settle quickly on the dim sum section that is Yaumay’s raison d’etre.

Where to start? One approach is to try all the recommended dishes, shown with blue check marks. Another is to simply begin at the top, kicking off with an order of shrimp har gao and some siu mai dumplings (shūmai in Japanese), and then work your way down until you can’t eat any more.

A perfect bite: Scallop shūmai topped with tobiko (flying fish
A perfect bite: Scallop shūmai topped with tobiko (flying fish ‘caviar’). | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Don’t arrive too famished. Each item is cooked to order, so there’s likely to be a lag before it’s served. But as soon as the steamers are placed in front of you, it becomes clear why: The difference in quality — appearance, flavor, texture and overall freshness — is self-evident.

The har gao are plump and firm, packed with shrimp glinting pink through their translucent rice-flour wraps. The scallop shūmai come topped with beautiful orange tobiko, the “caviar” taken from flying fish. The steamed pea-shoot and prawn dumplings slip down with satisfying ease.

A couple more classic dim sum are called for. The bean curd sheet rolls (yuba-maki in Japanese) are filled with seafood and served in a light but savory clear sauce. And don’t sleep on the aromatic duck rolls: with plenty of rich meat packed inside the crisp, fat, deep-fried spring rolls, they more than live up to their description.

The temptation with dim sum is always to order too much. But before you get too full, go back up to the top of the menu and contemplate those meat dishes. You owe it to yourself to discover the duck, with its moist flesh hidden inside the perfectly crisp-fried savory skin. Or to tear into the intense, juicy, jasmine tea-smoked pork ribs. Or at the very least to try the succulent honey-roast char siu (chāshū) pork.

Classic dim sum offerings: Bean curd sheet rolls (front), with pea-shoot and prawn dumplings.
Classic dim sum offerings: Bean curd sheet rolls (front), with pea-shoot and prawn dumplings. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Or perhaps it’s time to close the meal with a claypot of congee. Again, this can take time to prepare, but the smooth, creamy rice more than justifies the wait. As with everything on the menu, it is fresh, flavorful and light. This is unmistakably Cantonese cuisine, born in Hong Kong but raised in a more cosmopolitan environment — much like Alan Yau himself.

Yaumay is still in its early days and looks set to evolve further. In the spring there are plans to introduce an omakase tasting menu to be served at the cedar-wood counter by the open kitchen. And once the warm weather arrives, the outdoor terrace seating will come into its own.

But already it feels comfortable in its skin, the sort of smart-casual place you can drop in to nibble and chat, sipping on tea — of which there are some seriously good aged varieties — or exploring the wine list. With Champagne and high-end Burgundy aplenty to choose from, it’s just the ticket for those occasions when you’re marking a significant anniversary, sealing a business deal or celebrating the start of a lunar new year.

Dim sum from ¥700; English menu; English spoken