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Jan 24, 2010 01:57 PM

Three Dim Sum places, London

• Jade Garden, Chinatown

DaveMP's post about the quality of their dinner made me think about trying them for dim sum. Excellent pan fried turnip cake - good turnip flavour, soft on the inside, crisp but not overly greasy on the outside -- worth going for this.

Interesting combination of crab, bamboo shots, prawn and possibly dried scallop in the crab dumpling with a nice slightly chewy skin. Scallop shu mai was backed by the prawn and pork filling, and was decent overall. Ok sugar cane prawns, a Cantonese rendition of the vietnamese dish. Yuba/bean curd skin rolls filled with alternating crunchy/soft textures of bamboo, black fungus and prawn under a starchy glossy sauce. Spongy steamed custard buns with hot oozing custard.

Noticed that some of the fried items were pre-fried and kept warm under a lamp in a display case, so I skipped those.


• Penninsula, Greenwich

Very solid all round performance in a vast array of items that we had. Nothing disappointed and all were at least good.

Well made skins on the dumplings (e.g. har gau and the prawn/chive), with just a little bit of resilience. Hearty meaty siu mai. A fairly smooth congee with preserved or thousand year old eggs. Porky fried chitterlings, crispy on the skin side. Rice sheets (cheong fun) warpped around a crispy crullers were a good example of this dish, no mushy texture in the cheong fun. Spring rolls had a certain lightness, despite the deep frying -- both the prawn filled ones, as well as the more blistery Vietnamese ones (cha gio, iirc). Good fried prawn meat balls as well. An interesting glutinous and chewy bun filled with honeyed char siu.

For a rich sticky and stocky experience, I really liked the duck web with minced prawns and bean curd sheets, rounded by a savoury sauce probably based on a deep "master stock".


• Phoenix Palace, Marylebone

Prawn and chive dumplings here use a skin similar to the ones in the crystal dumplings, thicker, more chewy, with a grainy translucence, rather than the thinner style a la har gau. That and the vegetarian crystal dumplings (filled with a variety of finely chopped vegetables and mung bean vermicelli) were indications of good timing at the steamer.

I liked the braised beef dumplings the most, really captured the beefy essence, highlighted with watercress.

Prawn spring rolls with paper-thin skins were quite nicely fried, and coated with sesame seeds for added aroma. Char siu pastry was a bit ordinary, somewhat flakey, but nothing exceptional.

Another hot oozing custard bun, the soft centre given a delicious grainy texture and salty note with finely crumbed salted egg yolk, judiciously applied for a good salty-sweet combination.

Tieguanyin for tea, nothing special, a bit on a flat side.

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  1. limster, where can I find the BEST dim sum in London, or rather - if you can try only ONE dim sum restaurant in London, which would it be? I'd love to try that on my next visit.

    The only dim sum I really enjoyed before in London was at Hakkasan back in 2004 thereabouts (?)

    7 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      Well, I'm not Limster but by far the best I've had in London is Pearl Liang in Paddington. I sometimes hear good things about Yauatcha, but refuse to go on principle because of their 90 minute rule. :-)

      1. re: deansa

        Deansa: do they have a 90min rule at lunchtime? I have been quite a few times and it was never mentioned, although i don't think I have ever had a Dim Sum meal that lasted for a really long time.

        Pearl Liang is very good (Giles Coren reviewed, and liked it, it last Saturday), but I found Yauatcha to be slightly better, the food seemed a bit fresher, and IMO dim sum is best when it is made to order, and even better when the dumplings etc. are hand made on the spot....and at Yauatcha's prices they should be!

        1. re: PhilD

          Everyone tells me they have a ninety minute rule. I haven't been though, so can't comment on how it's enforced.

        2. re: deansa

          Thanks, deansa - I'll definitely check on Pearl Liang.

        3. re: klyeoh

          I'm anxious to try Min Jiang in Kensington. Limster first mentioned it awhile back.

          1. re: klyeoh

            My best experience so far has been Min Jiang in term of refinement and quality but their menu is small and the best items I had were Shanghainese (e.g. their Shanghai style siu mai, and a xiao long bao that was as good as or better than a version made by a former head chef of Liu Bo Long). I'd also say that their weakest point were probably the Cantonese steamed dumplings -- they were still excellent, but the other items were more compelling.

            Pearl Liang was also excellent, if not as refined as Min Jiang. I'd put Yauatcha and Hakkasan a hair behind Pearl Liang, given that their technique was roughly in the same ballpark if slightly less nuanced, and that Pearl Liang was more generous with the quality ingredients like king crab. Yauatcha and Hakkasan were overpriced given that they cost significantly more than Pearl Liang and even Min Jiang. Tea prices at Yauatcha were exorbitant if one looks at the higher end teas.

            I think of Peninsula as being very understated, making "everyday" items, but all at a steady high quality, even if not as elegant as some of the other places. Yumcha in Camden and Dragon Castle also deserve similar praise. Beyond that, different places offer a couple of standout items that are worth going for, such as the turnip "croissant" at Shanghai Blues.

            Let's hear what others who haven't chimed in yet have to say, since my comparisons are based on experiences that are nearly a year or more.

            1. re: limster

              Thanks, limster - I'd need to do both Min Jiang and Pearl Liang (also recommended by deansa) on my next trip to London.

              BTW, I still can't Hakkasan's dim sum platter out of my mind, even after 5 years (pic below)

          2. I really enjoyed Peninsula when I went. One of the most consistently good dim sum experiences I've had. I also had a superlative deep fried custard/coconut pastry thing. I would definitely go back.

            1. Limster is my hero. The 'hound is indefatigable.

              4 Replies
              1. re: steve h.

                Nah, just hungry. Should qualify that these places were from the last couple of months, not in a span of days. And thank you for your kind words.

                1. re: steve h.

                  I'd second that - limster's the go-to guy for UK eats :-)

                  BTW, limster, is your contact still I tried emailing you last Oct whilst in London to ask if you'd like to join me for lunch at Malaysia Student Hall, but the mail bounced back. I had an absolutely great Malay meal there though - 100% authentic! Haven't found anything close to that elsewhere on the continent. You guys in London are so lucky.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    I'm grateful for the positive reinforcement; but to be honest, my experiences have still been rather limited-- London alone has kept me busy that I have barely eaten elsewhere -- there's a lot more to the UK. And even in London I've not really had any in-depth experience in most places, usuallly just a meal or two. Besides, the great thing about chowhound is that it's not about individuals, but rather about how the a large number of people can sample and report their empirical experiences way beyond that of any single person.

                    Howler's been raving about the Malaysian Student Hall as well. Been wanting to go, but somehow haven't made it yet.

           email hasn't changed...been getting responses for the Local Friends chowdown. Have had one or two in spam traps, but never a bounced mail.

                    1. re: limster

                      I'll try & contact you again on my next trip Q4 this year. I try to do around 20 restaurants in 2 weeks whilst on my annual trips to the UK. In the meantime, give Malaysian Student Hall a shot. P.S. - Best Singapore Hainanese chicken rice I found this time was at Kiasu (I think Kiasu's Malaysian-owned, despite the Singapore-sounding moniker).

                2. After a long period waiting for the opportunity we finally tried Peninsula in Greenwich.

                  The place is a bit difficult to get to for people not familiar with light industrial terrain. You have to go out of North Greenwich station through the bus part, dont follow all the people going down the (more visually appealing) path to the stadium. Then it's about 10 minutes down bleak highways to the Holiday Inn where the restaurant is most of the ground floor.

                  The restaurant is massive in the everybody-goes-on-the-weekend dim sum palace style. It's a friendly atmosphere, family casual and not a bit elegant.

                  The dim sum itself is more traditional and rustic than we have been used to in London. The chicken feet were a bonus for lovers of garlic and anise. Fried stuff was done the way it should be done. The egg custard tarts were as good as one could hope for them to be. I'd say there was nothing overly thrilling but nothing to be dissatisfied with at all. Our group of five ate a good deal more than we should have with drinks for around £60.

                  The overall verdict: worth a try certainly, in particular if you are in Greenwich anyway. We may very well make another trip out that way. But it was not so sublime that we will trekking our way across the vastnesses of that landscape all the time.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Gordito

                    Great - thanks for the update - have you been to Princess Garden in Mayfair? Lunched there and thought it was roughly in the same league, but more pricey, probably due to the real estate.

                  2. How does Pearl Liang compare to the Royal China Club (or the Royal China)? I must admit I have been wanting to try Pearl Liang & Phoenix Palace for some time but keep getting drawn back to the RC restaurants...

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: frogprince

                      Haven't been to any of the Royal China restaurants, have been to Royal China Club on Baker Street. It's not like we sampled very broadly over all the menus, but my impression was that Pearl Liang was roughly at the same level as Royal China Club in terms of the number of items that I really liked, but Royal China Club seemed more expensive.

                      I remember being particularly fond of the custard buns (more of a dumpling really) at Royal China Club, superbly delicate skins, soft but not mushy.

                      1. re: limster

                        Thanks for the comparative review, Limster; that's very useful. I too feel that RCC is decent quality (esp. fish dishes) but they are borderline expensive...though not in the same category as Hakkasan/Yauatcha.

                        My one gripe with the RC group of restaurants is how they invite you to leave a Gratuity even though the Service Charge has been included. I was with an Italian business colleague who gave an additional 20% Gratuity in addition to the Service Charge before I had the chance to advise him. I did mention this to the manager but I think he thought it was a 'fair' policy.

                        1. re: limster

                          Live across the street from Baker St Royal China. it is not a patch on many New York dim sum places and much more expensive. I wouldn't waste my money again. funnily enough I have never tried Phoenix Palace ( also close) because it is just easier to wait until I get to New York

                          1. re: judithuk

                            Jade Garden isn't bad for dimsum but it's not a place to linger. There have been several times where my dining companions & we asked to clear the table as soon as we paid our bill so that they could seat people in the queue.

                            I haven't been to too many other places in Chinatown for dim sum but if you don't mind schlepping down to South of the river and braving the Elephant & Castle roundabout, I highly recommend Dragon Castle. It's as close to Hong Kong Dim Sum, by way of Vancouver, that I've found in London.

                            1. re: judithuk

                              Just to double check -- you were referring to Royal China and not Royal China Club (these 2 places a a block apart, and part of the same group).