★★★★☆ / Chinese / Chinese Dumplings / Chinese Noodles

Ye Ye Noodle and Dumplings review: the Chinese gem tucked away on a City backstreet

Tubthumping noodles and dumplings that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.

There’s this scene in Kill Bill Vol 2 where the eponymous Bill, memorably played by David Carradine, goes off on a slight tangent by pointing out how Superman is different from other superheroes. Specifically, how the costumed character is the real person and the civilian identity, Clark Kent, is the artificial construct, rather than the other way around as with most other superheroes.

Comics aficionados will argue endlessly over the fine details of all that, but the thrust of Bill’s critique (more or less) is that the bumbling, hapless ‘Clark Kent’ identity is what Superman thinks other people will readily accept.

In a somewhat similar fashion, the Chinese food from the UK’s high street takeaways is an alter ego, a facade. It’s an alternate, heavily simplified form of what Chinese people actually eat, reshaped into something that sleep-deprived parents, skint students and lairy provincial drunks will readily accept and pay for. One-dimensional, undemanding, often deep-fried and/or overly sweet – this is the food that Chinese takeaway owners think we want. And, more often than not in high streets across the country, they’re right.

They can’t be blamed for that as they’re just trying to make a living. What is objectionable is that so many punters unthinkingly and unquestioningly lap that stuff up to the exclusion of anything else. In preferring that deep-fried sweet and sour caricature, over the continent-sized collection of culinary traditions that make up what Chinese people actually choose to cook for themselves, people are making a certain choice. They’re choosing to avoid one of the easiest ways of engaging with another culture, another worldview. After all, few things are easier in life than chewing and digestion. They’re choosing to engage with another cuisine strictly on their own terms, rather than on the terms of the people who actually make it.

Ye Ye Dumpling and Noodle is a small Chinese restaurant tucked away on a narrow side street in the City. It openly admits to adapting its short menu to British tastes, but there was still enough Sinophilic spirit evident in its dishes to pull in table-after-table full of Chinese speakers hungry for what Ye Ye has to offer.

Noodle soups at Ye Ye Dumpling and Noodle

Their signature beef noodle soup, for example, is not quite like either the Lanzhou- or Taiwanese-style beef noodle soups that I’m familiar with. The thin and cloudy broth was only mildly beefy at best. But the moderately thick, gently springy and round-sided udon-/laghman-/latiaozi-style noodles more than made up for this, while providing carby backing vocals for the real star of the show – the beef. Each chunk (of brisket and/or possibly rump) was generously plump and squidgy – a few were rimmed with connective tissue for even more succulent richness.

illustrative photo of the beef noodle soup at Ye Ye
Moo? Moo!

A dry version was virtually identical, but with the obvious omission of the soup. A puddle of moderately-spicy, oil-based sauce took its place – a welcome appearance that was all too brief.

  • illustrative photo of the dry beef noodles from Ye Ye
  • illustrative photo of the dry beef noodles from Ye Ye

I’m irrationally sceptical about ribs in noodle soups, for whatever reason, but I’ll have to reevaluate my objections in light of Ye Ye’s braised pork ribs noodle soup. The soup was reminiscent of tonkotsu in its fatty meatiness and umami. Although it wasn’t quite as full-flavoured and multifaceted as the best tonkotsu, it was still eminently slurpable. Tender swineflesh pulled away easily from the bone, while the just-cooked leaves of napa cabbage provided a clean-tasting counterpart to all that meaty richness. The noodles were just as udon-licious as before.

  • illustrative photo of the braised pork ribs noodle soup from Yeye
  • illustrative photo of the braised pork ribs noodle soup from Ye Ye

Noodle soup with braised pork balls was similar to the ribs variant, but even better due solely to the hulking presence of the titular swine spheres. Each boulder consisted of smoothly ground yet loosely packed meat that was succulently fatty with an almost fermented bean-like umami that was immensely addictive.

  • illustrative photo of the braised pork balls noodle soup at Ye Ye
  • illustrative photo of the pork balls noodle soup from Ye Ye

For pescatarians, there’s the sole seafood option. Plump, springy mussels and prawns were cooked just-so with a light saltiness that was evocative of the sea, bobbing about in a cloudily moreish soup.

illustrative photo of the premium seafood noodle soup at Ye Ye
The prefix ‘premium’ implies that there’s a non-premium version, which isn’t the case.

There’s also a vegan variant, with all animal protein replaced by wrinkly cloud ear fungus and seitan posing as chicken. The dimpled surface of the seitan, posing as chicken skin, lay atop a smooth solid mass that was more like steamed pork roll than chicken. While pleasant enough, it’s ultimately inferior (dietary choices permitting) to the seafood option.

illustrative photo of the vegan soup noodles from Ye Ye
Now I don’t believe in miracles and a miracle hasn’t happened tonight.

Dumplings at Ye Ye Dumpling and Noodle

If the beef noodle soup is one-half of Ye Ye’s eponymous flagship dishes, then the ‘juicy pork dumplings’ are most certainly the other. Only available in limited quantities each day (which may or may not be a clever marketing wheeze), these pan-simmered beauties strongly resemble Shengjian mantou which are uncommon in London as far as I can tell.

Thicker and doughtier than a gammon audience member on Question Time, the navel-like knots were especially hearty. The filling was mouthcoating in its succulent meatiness, dotted with mild hints of ginger. Those hints were often too faint though, so these dumplings could’ve done with something sharp and punchy to cut through all the relentless lustiness – perhaps some good ol’ chilli oil or a more generous supply of Chinkiang vinegar.

illustrative photo of a juicy pork dumpling at Ye Ye
These dumplings were so robustly hearty that a portion of eight dumplings was arguably four too many – and I’m saying that as someone with a usually insatiable appetite for dumplings.

The other dumplings available from Ye Ye were steamed/boiled with skins of a more garden-variety level of thickness. In all respects, they weren’t as outstanding as the juicy pork headliners.

‘Biang biang’ pork dumplings came stuffed with a reasonably dense and coarse meat filling. While the pork was dabbed with an oil-based sauce that flowed with modest levels of numbing spice, the ‘biang biang’ name was still tenuous at best with the mildest of resemblances to that noodle dish.

illustrative photo of the biang biang dumplings from Ye Ye
Biang biang? Nah, nah.

A variant filled with chives and prawns had more of the former than the latter. But given how satisfying that distinctive vegetal crispness was, these dumplings were none the worse off for it.

The earthiness of chopped yet taut mushrooms combined with the plump meatiness of surprisingly pleasing chicken to produce a dumpling filling that was second only to the juicy pork.

illustrative photo of dumplings from Ye Ye
Possibly the only time the words ‘chicken and mushroom’ will appear outside of a pie on this website.

Although bigger than the other steamed/boiled dumplings, the vegetarian variant was cursed by its cheap, bitty and unsatisfying filling of carrots, celery and cabbage.

illustrative photo of the vegetarian dumplings from Ye Ye
The vegetarian option as the poor relation once again, but from a Chinese restaurant of all places.

Side dishes from Ye Ye Dumpling and Noodle

Firm and bouncy pig ears came in a vinegary reduction which made for a tangy, toothsome treat.

illustrative photo of the pig ears at Ye Ye
I’m all ears.

The timid and the superficial may be put off by dishes such as the pig ears and the ‘salted water duck’, but they’d be missing out. The dimpled skins of the sliced duck were indeed salty, but never to an overpowering degree. The duck had an occasional earthiness which meshed well with the light taste of ginger, parsley and spring onions, as well as with the duck’s tender fleshiness which was occasionally rimmed with delectable fat.

illustrative photo of the salted water duck from Ye Ye
Like salt off a duck’s back.

Stewed tofu had an unexpected texture, akin to layers of hearty bread. But the whole shebang needed to be stewed in something more characterful than average-quality soy sauce.

illustrative photo of the stewed tofu from Ye Ye
I’m still stewing about that belowpar soy sauce.

Minced pork sandwiched between sheaves of lotus root came in a deep-fried coating that, while a touch too oily, was nonetheless remarkably fluffy. The crunchiness of the lotus root itself verged on hardness though, denting my enjoyment of this side dish.

illustrative photo of the fried lotus root from Ye Ye
Although my enjoyment of this side dish had been dented, thankfully my teeth were not.

Although steamed seitan posing as chicken was no more convincing as an ersatz meat when served as a side dish, rather than atop noodles, it was enjoyable enough in its own right. The dimpled ‘skin’ and smooth, lightly chewy mass was a good-enough conveyor for the mild numbing spice of the sauce.

illustrative photo of the mock chicken from Ye Ye

For an actual taste of chicken, there’s the deep-fried chicken wings. Although the meat underneath was a tad too greasy, the crispness of the batter and the hints of peppercorn were more than enough to make this a fine side dish.

illustrative photo of the deep fried chicken wings from Ye Ye
I’m just winging it with these captions.

Although perhaps not intended as such, I ended up scoffing the sweet potato balls as a dessert due to their, well, sweetness. What was most appealing though was the texture of these balls – crisp then lightly chewy and tuggable, they were almost like mochi.

illustrative photo of the sweet potato balls from Ye Ye
I do like popping these balls off into my mouth.
illustrative photo of the sweet potato balls from Yeye
What? Why are you sniggering?

The Verdict

While Ye Ye wasn’t quite superheroic, it was still far from being meek, mild-mannered or submissively subservient to an ignorant clientele. I do wish Ye Ye had the courage to prune the weaker dishes from its menu. Still, that doesn’t detract from the potent enjoyability to be had from Ye Ye’s beef noodles and its artful pork dishes. If you wanted to introduce someone to the world of Chinese food beyond that of a high street takeaway, then Ye Ye – along with a good dim sum restaurant – would be a fine place to start.

What to order: Beef noodles (with or without soup); Pork rib noodle soup; Pork balls noodle soup; Juicy pork dumplings; Seafood noodle soup

What to skip: Stewed tofu; vegetable dumplings

Name: Ye Ye Noodle and Dumplings

Branch tried: 14 Artillery Passage, London E1 7LJ

Phone: 0207 247 9747


Opening Hours: seven days a week, noon-20.30. 

Reservations? not taken.

Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £35 approx. 

Rating: ★★★★☆


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