Xiao long bao (小籠包) (steamed soup pork dumplings) are going down a storm in London following the long-awaited arrival of iconic Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) in the British capital, with an opening ceremony held early this month.
The brand’s first foray into Europe — which has been mooted since 2016 — is spearheaded by Singapore-based BreadTalk Group Ltd’s (麵包物語集團) wholly owned subsidiary Taster Food UK Ltd, which has entered into a franchise agreement to operate Din Tai Fung restaurants in the UK.
In 2003, BreadTalk won the franchise rights to operate the Din Tai Fung brand of restaurants in Singapore.
“We chose London as our first stop in Europe because it has become a fantastic and excitingly complex market, home to some of the best chefs and restaurants globally,” BreadTalk Group chief executive Henry Chu (朱興輝) said in an interview ahead of the opening ceremony on Dec. 5.
“Also, Londoners travel a lot, so they understand and embrace uncompromised flavors like ours. Not forgetting that many of our loyal fans in this city have been asking us to come for many years,” Chu said.
The new restaurant, which seats nearly 250 on two levels, is located in central London’s trendy Covent Garden.
Its design departs from the classic Oriental style found in Din Tai Fung outlets across Asia, featuring instead an “East meets West”-style wooden interior, as well as a large open kitchen.
The look is the brainchild of Taiwanese designer Song Yih (宋毅) of Song Yih Design Studio (宋毅設計事務所), the principal designer behind Din Tai Fung’s most iconic sites in Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
Another innovative feature at the London venue is the first-ever Din Tai Fung cocktail bar, which serves Taiwan-inspired concoctions.
“London is the perfect platform [for a cocktail bar] because the bar industry here is leading cocktail trends around the world, exploring lower-alcohol drinks, sustainable serves and, most importantly, food pairings,” Chu said.
Pearl milk tea is also available, as well as more traditional teas: Dong Ding oolong tea, grown in Nantou County, and Rainforest jasmine tea, sourced exclusively from Rainforest Alliance-certified Taiwanese tea farms.
Din Tai Fung UK director Bai Xuefeng (白雪峰) said the menu is not a “compromised version for the local market.”
“We believe that London being a foodie capital of the world wouldn’t accept any less than that,” Bai said.
So far, the latest addition to the burgeoning Taiwanese eating scene in the British capital is proving to be a hit, with diners lining up around the block for their fix of xiao long bao, along with other Din Tai Fung staples such as shaomai (燒賣) (a type of dumpling), noodle soups and steamed buns.
Din Tai Fung was founded by Yang Bing-yi (楊秉彝) in Taipei in 1958 as a wholesale cooking oil shop, but eventually business took a turn for the worse due to the increasing availability and popularity of tinned cooking oil.
On the advice of a friend, Yang and his wife responded by transforming half of the shop into an outlet specializing in soup dumplings and noodles in 1972.
However, he did not know how to make the dumplings, so he hired a cook, who later passed on his expertise to Yang’s son, current owner and chairman Yang Chi-hua (楊紀華).
The restaurant is now a global brand, with 153 outlets in Taiwan, Singapore, the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, China and Thailand.
A second London restaurant is expected to open early next year.
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