It is a brave restaurateur who opens a dim sum and cocktail bar in a back lane beside Clapham North Tube and calls it Fu Manchu, after the fictional Chinese homicidal maniac. Well, I say ‘bar’ — Fu Manchu’s website declares it to be ‘London’s New Social Experience’ with a ‘tortuous’ cocktail selection.
I’m a huge fan of flagrant copy-written piffle on restaurant websites. Clearly, London got its head around the experience of chopsticks, cocktails and bite-sized Chinese food some decades ago. Admittedly, until Fu Manchu I was yet to combine these things in a cavernous railway arch, perched on a bar stool and being stared down by an ambitious, 18ft-high mural of said psychopath.
Nor would I generally order cha sui bao from anywhere threatening to transform, post-10pm, into a ‘dim sum disco’ playing minimal tech and deep house. No. To my sensibility, food and nightclubs do not mix. I developed this aversion during the 1990s, when a de rigueur feature of any provincial nightclub was the smell of a deep-fat fryer churning out chips to the David Morales remix of ‘Space Cowboy’. Restaurants are for dining, clubs are for pulling and puking. And never the twain should meet.
Still, Fu Manchu is clearly hoping to attract diners youthful enough to have no meaningful grip on the 1990s. They made sure of this by shining a neon pink light in my eyes as I ate my plate of lor pak gou (turnip cake). It was a pink light that without warning would shift to an electric blue strobe, lighting up our faces like extras from James Cameron’s Avatar. It was a Thursday night at 7.30pm. Frankly, it was all a bit much.
I ordered something called Secret Essence of the Poppey Hill — sake and elderflower liqueur, apparently — which, according to the menu, helps the drinker ‘obtain immortality’. My friend Hugh had a Kwang Su Boulevardier made with Nikka from the Barrel whisky. Fu Manchu’s cocktails are completely decent, made with earnest care. The Dragon Fruit Palamo is a delicious smack of Sauza Hacienda tequila with Cocchi Americano apéritif wine.
Perhaps we should have stuck to cocktails. As it turned out, the dim sum served in this speciality dim sum nightclub are triumphantly slapdash. They resembled the sort of thing I might serve if I’d been on a day-long Beginners Dim Sum course and had returned home with a box of doughy blobs. ‘Wow, they’re really… wow!’ one would probably say, tactfully.
Shui jing jai gow, a spicy curried vegetable dumpling encased in a purple crystal shell, was the more delicately hewn of the bunch. In the xiao long bao, the pork and crab lacked both sauce and structural finesse. The cha sui bao pork bun was plump, weighty and entirely edible, if lacking in spark. The fried and baked dim sum reminded me of a jolly selection of Iceland Chinese party classics. The wai fa chi mar har — a prawn, water chestnut and sesame rice paper roll — sat unloved, unfurling on the table. The nan gua su, a trio of sweet pumpkin mush encased in heavy pastry, were, with the greatest of benevolence to everyone involved, utterly sickly. Let us never speak again of the steamed broccoli.
Service at Fu Manchu, it must be said, is wonderfully chipper, albeit chaotic, so if one wants terrible food delivered quickly, accompanied by several other unappetising dishes you hadn’t ordered but other diners are currently waiting for, Fu Manchu is for you. Surprisingly, the sweet selection was a bit better. Jin deui (sesame balls filled with custard) arrived with a sturdy portion of jai lai wong bao (crispy custard buns). Almost all custard, in any form, is affable. Frying, baking and sprinkling with more sugar only adds to the glutinous fun.
At 8.20pm I called a taxi. I was home and wearing pyjamas well before the minimal tech and deep house started down at Fu Manchu.
1 shui jing jai gow £3.80
1 xiao long bao £6
1 cha sui bao £3.80
1 sai lan fa £3.50
1 wai fa chi mar har £4.50
1 nan gua su £3.50
1 cha sui si £4.20
1 wanton tong £4
2 dessert £7.60
4 cocktails £36
15-16 Lendal Terrace, SW4 (fumanchu.co.uk)