While cult-favourite Euro-Asian fusion restaurant Yam’Tcha is being transformed into a more expansive location (set to open later this year), its Michelin-starred chef Adeline Grattard and her graphic designer-turned-tea wallah husband Chi Wah Chan have converted the original 40sq m Paris location – between Les Halles and Rue Saint-Honoré – into La Boutique Yam’Tcha, a Chinese tea room with a takeaway window selling steamed buns. Called bao in Chi Wah Chan’s native Hong Kong (the city where Grattard trained at three-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation under that city’s most iconoclastic chef, Alvin Leung), I’d vote these unassuming dumplings among the French capital’s best bites.
Chinese cuisine does not normally top my Paris to-do list but a local foodie friend writing a book about French chefs insisted I drop by. Merci, Adrian, because without you my palate would still be in the dark about Grattard’s radical rethinking of these dim sum classics, which she fills with Comté fondue and sweet onions, or Stilton with Amarena cherry.
In the minimalist tearoom, I sip black pu’er between bites. A midday line forms down the narrow lane. Some purchase just a single bun (€3-4), while others stock up on the assortment of five (€16) to warm up at home, or the bottles of house-made XO dried-shellfish sauces (€15). Most days, Grattard herself can be found fussing over the colossal bamboo steamers imported from Hong Kong and stuffing her exotic concoctions into soft mounds of delectable wheat-flour dough.
The dark horse of the duo, Chan, proves an excellent professor of tea leaves, and from our mélange of Mandarin Chinese, French and English I learn that tea in China was first introduced as a medicine. He speaks with the reverence of an oenophile, holding up rice paper-wrapped teacakes from Jiangxi and Yunnan for my inspection, speaking of vintages and encouraging me to let the warm infusion linger. I sit long enough at the raised walnut-wood table to find room in my stomach for Grattard’s dessert dumplings (€3-4), made with rice flour and stuffed with pineapple and passion fruit or, my preferred version, melted chocolate.
I did think to thank Adrian, the friend who wisely guided me here, with a box of these delights, but about halfway between the charming gourmet grotto and his office around 2.5km away, my greedy self intervened. A merci will have to suffice.