1 Newburgh St,
Soho

W1F 7RB

It’s a dumpling restaurant à la 2017 – that’s no bad thing.

Disclaimer: I am reviewing this restaurant largely so that I can tell you my dumpling joke. It’s a cracker, look out for it. Anyway, on with the review.

You are familiar with the well-trodden path along which Ugly Dumpling has travelled in order to arrive here. They started out as a street food stall, eventually appearing at various markets across London before securing permanent premises in Soho – the 2017 version of the “local boy done good”.

You already know what the restaurant looks and sounds like: a small space, lots of wood, many brass fixtures and fittings, craft beer in the fridge, a variation of house music on the radio (Deep? Tribal? Moving? Who knows or cares), and the chatter of fucking awful digital marketing execs filling the air. The staff are all very lovely and young and attractive, and the atmosphere is excessively casual and welcoming.

You also know the menu. It is small. An A5 piece of paper with minimal punctuation, comprising ten different dumplings and six sides– prices all rounded to the nearest pound.

The food too, you know well. Fusion. East meets west. Asian cooking methods tempered to a more western pallet using superior ingredients. Buzzwords? Oh yeah, they’re all there: slaw, pickled, glazed, burnt. There are many vegan and vegetarian options and an overall sense of healthy eating derived from absolutely zero evidence.

This is a London Millennials’ meat and two veg. We know this restaurant like the backs of our perfectly soft, avocado stained hands. Its location also fits nicely into the narrative. Until recently, 1 Newburgh Street was the home of the original Pitt Cue Co., one of the early luminaries in London’s Barbeque Revolution, which helped educate us into expecting more from our deep south fare than a rack of bright red microwaved ribs from TGI Friday’s; back when not everything was pulled – remember that? When not ALL fucking food was pulled. Pitt Cue Co. also started out as a street food joint that cashed in on the pauper food of another nation and kept its menu small, its ambience industrial, and its staff gorgeous and tattooed.

“The satay chicken dumpling was the only real let-down; I don’t know what I expected the filling to be, but mulch was not it.”

But Pitt Cue Co. has moved on and a new trendy restaurant has taken its place. Sun rise, sun set.

So, what of the food? It’s nice. Very nice. Not life changing, send-out-a-tweet-in-the-morning-wanking-about-how-good-it-was nice. But the sort of nonchalantly delicious food that London restaurants churn out. If you screwed it up and threw it sixty miles in any direction outside of London, wherever it landed, it would probably be the best restaurant around (unless, of course, it landed in Bray. Google Bray, it’s a ridiculous little town.)

I got a selection of dumplings that ranged from half-decent to exceptional. The satay chicken dumpling was the only real let-down; I don’t know what I expected the filling to be, but mulch was not it. The spinach & tofu dumpling was essentially spanakopita (a Greek spinach pastry pie affair), but lovely none the less. Pork belly and aromatic duck were both yummy; think char siu and Peking duck, shredded, and liberally stuffed into a lovely little-fried dumpling. Tasty. The star of the show though was the prawn & chive. The best dim sum I’ve ever had was at a place called Tim Ho Wan. I don’t go there a lot because, sadly, it’s in Hong Kong. The prawn & chive dumpling was reminiscent of the food there, and there really is no higher praise. I’ll go back to Ugly Dumpling at some point, perhaps when hungover, and order a great many of them for myself.

“Because mugging off bankers into thinking they’re eating lunch somewhere trendy is just too easy an offer to pass up”  

I also tackled a few sides: shredded broccoli & almond slaw, and beetroot noodle salad, cucumber, edamame. The Slaw was lovely: crunchy broccoli, chewy sultanas, a creamy dressing – it all worked. I don’t know if I need coleslaw with dumplings, in fact, I’m pretty certain that I don’t, but, whatever, it was a nice little side. The beetroot noodles were bright pink and ridiculously photogenic. I’m guessing they’ll be clogging up a news feed near you soon. Luckily, they were also tasty. Very savoury and nutty with sesame oil – chuck some of the fiery, slightly fruity house-made chilli sauce on them and you’re laughing; they made more sense as a side than coleslaw.

For dessert, I got myself some white chocolate & matcha dumplings. They were excessive. Three tortellini-esque dumplings, fried and covered in sugar, filled with a very sweet green liquid. They put me in mind of doughnuts and churros. I mean, I’m a glutton with a sweet tooth, so I enjoyed them but, yeah, they were excessive.

If Ugly Dumpling continues on its current trajectory, then it will eventually grow up and get a place within the square mile. The quality will be slightly diluted, the charm will vanish, any semblance of cool will be lost, prices will rise, and profits will grow – because mugging off bankers into thinking they’re eating lunch somewhere trendy is just too easy an offer to pass up. Indeed, it is where Pitt Cue Co. finds itself now. And if that happens, then a shiny new restaurant will no doubt take residence at 1 Newburgh Street, peddling a new food trend; seaweed spaghetti, maybe. Or skewers, a restaurant built around skewering stuff. Or regional Kenyan cuisine – we’ve raped Africa for everything else, we might as well cash in on their gastronomic heritage.

But right now we have Ugly Dumpling. And I see no reason, if you’re in town and want dumplings, not to come here. To summarise: it’s good. Now, here’s that joke:

You know what they say about Chinese dumpling restaurants, don’t you? You Dim sum you lose some. You’re welcome, everybody. You’re welcome.

Jackson Palmer