Shikumen Finchley Road
Ask any group of food lovers where to find the best bao or dim sum in London, and you’ll be lucky if everyone leaves the table as friends. It’s a curious phenomenon: whilst enthusiasts of many other cuisines often hold strong opinions on their favourites, it’s nothing compared to the near fanaticism that characterises the lovers of brilliant Asian food in the capital.
It’s a mystery, until you try a dish like the xiao long bao at Shikumen. Exploding in a fresh burst of salty soup and perfectly tender dumpling, there’s an art to these soup-filled little treats, and it’s all about getting the ratio of liquid to solid just right. Here, it’s perfect, their silky smooth texture the stuff of fantasy.
The rest of our savoury courses don’t quite inspire the same devotion though. Braised pork belly on rice is definitely tasty, a slick of umami sauce and the pork’s own natural sweetness working well together, but it’s missing something. A splash of acidity to cut through the fattiness or a textural contrast from crisped fat. The Dim Sum platter suffers from the same issue. Every component tastes great, and is well cooked, but as a whole it suffers from a lack of real diversity. Such a platter should be a journey, a selection of vibrant mouthfuls that takes you from sweet to sour to umami and back again. A Yakitori platter does that job a little better. Chicken meatballs are packed full of flavour, as is a beef skewer made bright with studs of chilli and sesame. Bacon wrapped asparagus is a classic pairing and performs well here, the asparagus perfectly cooked with just the slightest bite. Miso marinated salmon, mixed vegetables and chicken with spring onion are all less remarkable, though still solid enough.
Traditional Black sesame balls get us back on track, their squidgy rice casings hiding a treasure trove of rich, buttery sesame paste. For such a highly simple dessert, it was surprisingly satisfying, reminiscent of Western peanut butter-based dishes but without any of the sickliness. A mango and grapefruit tapioca pudding is equally good, again highly simple but moreish. It reminds us of a fresher, brighter version of bubble tea, but with a thankfully lighter hand on the pearls.
It’s hard to really know what to make of Shikumen. You’d certainly struggle to find a better meal amongst the chains nestled here in the Finchley Road O2 Centre, but against the wider selection of Chinese restaurants that the capital offers, there’s something missing; the kind of spark that elsewhere inspires eager customers to traipse across the city in search of the perfect little dumpling or skewer. It’s certainly a solid effort, and we’d eat here again but would we come out of our way to do so? Well, maybe for the xiao long bao…
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Daniel Masters
To book a table at Shikumen Finchley Road, Unit 7A First Floor O2 Centre 255 Finchley Road NW3 6LU, call 020 7431 9389 or visit here.