Saturday, 9 July 2016

My Neighbours the Dumplings, Lower Clapton Road

My Neighbours the Dumplings is the second of two interesting small-scale new openings on Lower Clapton Road. It's fascinating to observe which restaurants thrive and dive on this strip of road. More than half the new food and drink businesses that have opened here in the last few years have failed, but those that get it right do a roaring trade. P Franco, Yard Sale and 119 Lower Clapton are the big LCR success stories, and My Neighbours the Dumplings has smashed straight into the Top 5.

My Neighbours have been popping up around Hackney for a few years now - a regular gig at Palm 2, a residency on Wilton Way, and then a few nights at Klub Trop. They opened up their permanent place on Lower Clapton in April, and it's been busy every night since then, which is quite unusual without a big name and reputation.

Dumplings here are of the dim sum variety, and are mostly faithful to traditional recipes with a few interesting flourishes and using high quality meat from the Rare Breed Meat Company. Fancy provenance Asian food is proving popular across town (a trend spurred on by my absolute favourite from San Francisco, Mission Chinese Food), and the instant success of MNTD is proof of what a gap in the local market this was.

The menu is relatively short - a few steamed dumplings, a few fried dumplings, a couple of salads, and an assortment of other dishes including fried turnip cake (savvily: a vegetarian and non vegetarian option), steamed whole fish of the day, and crispy pork belly.

The Siu Mai dumpling is the classic pork, prawn and chive steamed dumpling. It is perfectly formed, generously stuffed with tasty filling and comes topped with fish roe.

On the fried front, we love the potstickers - think gyoza with northern Chinese flavours. We have both the lamb and coriander potstickers and the aubergine and sesame. Both deviate far from common expectations about Chinese flavours - the North has a large Muslim population and the cuisine wears the influences of Central Asian countries.

More traditional (and also fried) is the turnip cake. We opt for the meaty version, with pungent Chinese sausage, shiitake and dried shrimp. All of these strong flavours are subtly cut through the turnip cake, chopped fine so as not to distract. This is a couple of levels above the turnip cake at Dalston's long established Shanghai restaurant.

We get six decent size bites of pork belly for £8.50. It's been slow cooked, and is incredibly moist and tender inside while crispy on the outside and full of meaty flavour. The plum sauce is fruity, sour and spicy. The prices generally are a bit more expensive than you'd find in an old school dim sum joint, but the quality of ingredients easily makes up for it. It's still a relatively affordable eat - we end up paying about £26 per person for lots of food and two drinks each.

Drinks include a number of sakes, sake based cocktails, a house red and white from Borough Wines, Asahi beer, and the mildly sake-infused Japanese craft beer Hitachino Nest White Ale. The latter is particularly tasty.

The service is friendly, but slightly overwhelmed later in the evening. The day before they have a four star review in Time Out. It's a blessing, in a way, to not have all your small plates dumped on your table in one go, but there were definitely times we felt like we'd been waiting a while between dishes. It's also quite noisy - the music's pumping, the kitchen is open to the restaurant, and the communal tables notch up their volume accordingly.

With its current popularity I'd advise getting there before 7.30 at the latest to avoid waiting too long for a table. But it's worth it - a great addition to Lower Clapton's food scene.

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