If Instagram is anything to go by, it would appear that a large number of Londoners carry a line of thought similar to what was my own prior to venturing to Novikov. Waxing lyrical via picture post about being pleasantly surprised by my not-so-hidden gem of a find, many responded with a level of wariness and uncertainty. Surely Novikov is completely incapable of producing good food, let alone noteworthy dim sum!
I can’t say I ever imagined I would find myself sitting down for lunch, much less with a reservation I had jumped online for and made myself. Perhaps the most surprising part about the whole thing, however, was the fact that I actually enjoyed it. A lot.
…So it is Russian-owned. The clientele are not my cup of tea [albeit, I must say, the crowd seems better at lunch]. The menu reads a little ridiculous, with every second dish seeming to contain caviar, truffle or foie gras. And I don’t really understand the overall concept – a restaurant duo within a single venue, one of which focuses on Italian cuisine, the other ‘Asian’. What?
Everything aside, overall the place serves up some really solid food. Furthermore, the lunch time dim sum offering is an absolute steal at just £25 for a selection of 5 portions, each of which contain 4 pieces. If you are super hungry, you can go all out and go for a selection of 8 dim sum for £36. You are losing money if you don’t go! Especially considering that the same individual portions served during dinner service range in price from £6.25 up to £14.75.
My friend Jameth was visiting from Sydney and as he is a fan of anything in dumpling form, Novikov seemed to be perfect. We ran down to Mayfair one sunny Saturday afternoon and settled in for lunch. As soon as we were seated we were offered warm hand towels and a little box of crudités with a delicious creamy dipping sauce that tasted as though it had been laced with tangy ponzu and a hit of spice. We were also brought two small glasses of the days’ fresh pressed juice, which happened to be cranberry and pomegranate. Nice touch!
To get the ball rolling, we jumped on the sashimi of Scottish hand-dived scallop with black truffle (£18.50). I am an absolute sucker for scallop, raw or otherwise, so for me this was just perfect. The scallop was sweet, oceanic and supple and the undertone of truffle set everything off nicely without being too overpowering. A great start!
Food Expectations had recommended the green salad with truffle (£10.25). Given she is yet to let me down, plus the fact I always need something green to grace the table at one point in any meal, I happily threw it into the order. I am so pleased I did! A tumble of mixed leafy greens and freshly shaved truffle blanketed a treasure trove of tomato, avocado and edible flowers. A simple salad made special, the zingy truffle-laced dressing was a delight.
Wanting to take advantage of the beautiful market selection on display, we opted for razor clams (alongside a handful of Portuguese clams) wok-tossed with chilli and coriander. I missed the snappy texture that I had previously enjoyed with these shellfish and although good, I sadly found these to be a bit forgettable.
Onto the dim sum part of the meal! Yay!! Fortunately, we got the worst pick of the bunch out of the way first. Although flavoured nicely, the duck rolls with Peking sauce were dry and simply not as good as they had sounded on the menu. NEXT.
THESE, on the other hand, were a dream! Definitely one of the highlights of the meal for both Jameth and I. Wonton wrappers encased a well-seasoned, truffle-spiked chicken mince filling studded with generous pieces of morel mushrooms.
Up next were the spicy prawn moneybags. Another winner! They certainly didn’t skimp on the seafood filling here and bouncy whole shrimp were contained in a thin dumpling skin. The underlying chilli heat was perfect and added an interesting element to each bite.
Having heard that Novikov dish up some of the best xiao long bao in London, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. Definitely no Din Tai Fung! Don’t get me wrong, they were some of the best I have had in town, with the flavour good and the soup being plentiful. However, for me the sizing was a little big and the skin a little thick.
The final set was another favourite of the afternoon: steamed prawn, foie gras and truffle. Looking like a smooth rice noodle blanket, the ‘skin’ was in actual fact thinly sliced daikon radish and it did a wonderful job lightening the mouthful and adding some texture. A great combination and utterly delicious.
I can see why people are quick to judge Novikov. Indeed, I was one such person. However, having now tried and tested the end product (the Asian version, anyway – I cannot comment on the Italian side of things) it is safe to say I am a fan and I will definitely be going back for more. Perhaps it is a case of high performance based on rock bottom expectations…or perhaps Novikov simply does dish up some damn fine dim sum that could rival most in the capital.
Who really cares when it tastes this good. I am sold!
UPDATE: to be doubly sure I wasn’t too easily swept away by Novikov (so deeply felt were my past pre-conceptions), I grabbed The Influencer and we skipped back down for round two last Sunday. I found myself impressed once more by my selection of dim sum favourites – namely the moneybags, siu mai and the steamed prawns with truffle and foie…all a must-order! However, I did force myself to branch out and try a few other menu items too.
Scallop ‘olives’ arrived as four perfect little parcels, each containing a sweet steamed scallop filling. The surface of each round had been criss-crossed with batter and lightly fried, providing a welcome crispy exterior. I would definitely order these again!
Although very pretty, I found the black cod dumplings to be less successful. I cannot deny that they were tasty, but the soft dumpling wrapper, coupled with the soft fish filling, left me wanting for texture.
Having loved the green salad with truffle on my last visit, we decided to try something a little different and went for crab and avocado salad (£18.50) under the recommendation of our helpful waitress. Firm, generously meaty chunks of fresh-picked Alaskan king crab nestled up to thick cuts of creamy avocado, with the tangy dressing providing a nice accompaniment. Right down my alley – I would [more than] happily eat this again.
Crap. Still sold.