This is a version of an article published by the Financial Times.
I visited Shikumen, the Chinese restaurant which opened six months ago as part of the Dorsett Hotel on Shepherd’s Bush Green, west London, on three different occasions. But it was the number two that kept recurring throughout.
This is most obviously because, as with so many restaurants that serve Cantonese food, it does so via two completely different menus. The first, available principally during the day, is their dim sum menu. In the evening a much more expansive à la carte menu is offered, although it includes a dim sum platter as one of the first courses.
But while this is a professional challenge common to many Chinese chefs, the layout of Shikumen presents its management with one of the most awkward obstacles any restaurateur has to face: the restaurant has two separate entrances.
Every restaurateur will try to avoid this set up because it cannot be managed either easily or inexpensively, with even the most obvious solution of having two separate receptionists being less than satisfactory on several counts. Here the problem has been created by the fact that one entrance to Shikumen runs from the hotel lobby while the restaurant has its own entrance about 100 metres to the north. It is advisable to enter from the latter, particularly as from our experience the hotel concierge is not fully aware of the association with the restaurant. Another unforeseen consequence of this unfortunate design is a constant stream of customers walking across the restaurant in two directions in search of the receptionist and their table.
This is the second Shikumen in the UK, the first having opened in the Xanadu hotel in Ealing in August 2014, both of them under the collective management of John Woo, Simon Chai (a former partner of Alan Yau in wagamama and Hakkasan) and Jerry Huang, who collectively also found commercial success with several much larger Chinese buffet restaurants located in London’s suburbs and provincial cities. This is the first London hotel to be opened by the Hong Kong-based Dorsett Hospitality Association that has hitherto found success across Asia. Their second London hotel is due to open in the City in 2016.
The name Shikumen is the amalgam of three Mandarin words that translate as ‘stone gate’ and the intention is for the restaurant’s interior to reflect some of the style and architecture associated with Shanghai in the 1940s. My overall impression is that this still needs further refinement and may even be impossible to reproduce given this large, ultra-modern interior. But the restaurant’s two particular gastronomic attractions – its dim sum and its Peking duck – really benefit from physical attractions that are not normally associated with Chinese restaurants in London.
Unusually, at Shikumen there is plenty of natural light to eat by. There is space between the tables and room for small children to wander within their parents’ vision. The service is actually friendly; for probably the first time in any Chinese restaurant I have ever visited I was actually complimented by a Chinese waiter on the range of dim sum I ordered! The downside, however, of Shikumen’s being a Chinese restaurant that is part of a hotel, neither of them generically famous for caring too much about the subtleties of the art of the restaurateur, is having to listen to a sound system that plays the most mind-numbing music imaginable.
But we were here for the Peking duck and the dim sum and neither disappointed. The former is as good as that served at Min Jiang, the Chinese restaurant on top of the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, hitherto my London benchmark for this dish, and is presented with the same ceremony.
Here too, the duck is brought out to the table to be sliced, on both occasions by a smiling, young female chef and then served in three different styles: the initial few pieces of skin with sugar; then most of the duck with pancakes, spring onion and cucumber; and finally, with the diced duck cooked with rice and served as a separate dish afterwards. The only significant difference at Shikumen is the presence of gua bao, small steamed buns that are served as well as the pancakes and which I found even more appetising as a vehicle for wrapping the slices of duck in as they even more readily absorb the sticky plum sauce.
Although the restaurant requests that the duck be ordered in advance, we discovered that this is not strictly necessary, particularly as the range and quality of dim sum provide such fine distraction while waiting.
Over two lunches we ranged widely. The more common char siew buns and har gau; colourful chive and prawn dumplings; plump venison puffs; crisp fried turnip cake; xiao long bao, Shanghai dumplings, full of steaming stock; slithery cheung fun, one serving filled just with prawns the other with prawns topped with bean-curd skin, dishes that I always enjoy but which continue to demonstrate my lack of dexterity with chopsticks; and, finally, a dish of spicy, vegetarian, Singapore noodles.
The drinks list has been sensitively compiled, too, with an interesting range of sake alongside wines from Berkmann Wine Cellars. Three excellent-value whites include the German White Rabbit Riesling 2014 (£23.20), a Hungarian dry Furmint 2012 from Sauska (£24.20) and 2012 Lune Blanche, a dry white bordeaux from Domaine de Chevalier (£40.50), alongside, for red wine drinkers, Ronan 2010 Pomerol from Château Clinet (£37.80). There are more than just two reasons to return.
Shikumen Shepherd's Bush Dorsett Hotel, 58 Shepherd’s Bush Green, London W12 8QE; tel 020 8740 9978
Shikum Ealing Xanadu Hotel, 26-42 Bond Street, Ealing, London W5 5AA; tel 020 8567 2770