Dim sum has been “in” since Alan Yau’s flashy, all-day dim sum dining experience Yauatcha opened its door in Soho. Though, recently, Yau sold his Yauatcha and Hakkasan to an Middle Eastern investor, his legacy of re-hyping Chinese food remains. Dim sum is now everywhere, from the high street Ping Pong and Royal China, the budget and mid range independent eateries Joy King Lau and Pearl Liang, to the very high end Hakkasan. But, if you’re only after a good dim sum meal but do not know much about this little dumpling thingy, where can you go to make it worth the money and the calories? On previous occasions I blogged about dim sum at Lotus Floating Restaurant in Canary Wharf, at Yauatcha in Soho and at the two Leong restaurants in Chinatown, so this blog will be an addition to my dim sum experience in London. Hope all my choices won’t overwhelm you!
ROYAL CHINA CLUB
This is the upmarket spin-off of the popular Royal China restaurants. Expect posh ambiance, dimmed lights, immaculately laid out tables, spectacular live seafood tanks on entrance and, of course, the 15% service charge. The dim sum menu is extensive and different from other traditional dim sum restaurants in London. That said, Royal China Club isn’t serving dishes inclined toward innovative fusion like Yauatcha or Hakkasan, but more of rare, very decent quality Chinese treats, such as abalone and sea cucumber. Flavour-wise, this is one of the most lavish and most authentic you’d get on this side of the world. I mean, if you have a plump wallet…
Dishes in Detail:
First Round: (1) Deep fried lobster dumplings (2) Ostrich meat hand roll and (3) Dover sole cheng fun
The lobster dumplings were full of succulent meat. The flaky semi-circular, puff pastry was crispy and greaseless. The filling, which was a mixture of lobster meat, coriander, carrot, celery and water chestnut, was flavoursome and well textured, yet it could benefit from a touch more of seasoning. The ostrich hand roll was not as memorable. The dish followed the same principle as, say, a Hoi Sin Duck Wrap from M&S, just with the strips of ostrich meat replacing the duck, batons of crunchy cucumber and salad leaves. I was not sure if the accompanying dribble of mint dressing worked with the wrap itself. And, £4 for this half-portion tiny piece was unacceptable. The cheng fun fared better. The meaty sole was steamed to perfection; there was this mild aroma from the chopped red pepper, coriander and spring onions. It was a shame the sauce was a hint to sweet – overpowering the delicate fish – and a touch too much on the plate. As we were taking our time savouring the dish, the sauce seeped into the cheng fun loosening the flat noodle wrapping making it so hard to pick up with chopsticks.
Second Round: (4) Braised Sea Cucumber with Fish Maw (5) Poached Peking Dumplings and (6) Chinese New Year Special “Snowballs of Wealth”
The sea cucumber and the fish maws were of the best quality, the most authentic I’d eaten in the UK. The sauce,usually that of chicken and ham stock with rice wine and oyster sauce, lacked depth and, to me, let the premium ingredients down. Not bad, but nowhere near the dish I had at Lung King Heen. And, if you fancy learning more about sea cucumber, it’ll be in the HK post, I promise. The poached peking dumplings, which were essentialy of prawn, pork and Chinese cabbage mixture, served submerged in chilli soup were ace – the dish one must order at Royal China Club! The wrapping for the dumplings was texture perfect. The bite was retained but to the minimum but complimented the bouncy filling well. The soup was excellent – hot, fragrant (thanks to the garlic and shallot) and lightly vinegary. It re-activated my appetite and I couldn’t help asking for another helping of this! The Chinese New Year special was not as good. It was, basically, cuttlefish balls with pork and sea moss dumplings. The texture and the aroma of the cuttlefish balls was near perfection. The filling wasn’t strong enough to add anything to the ball, apart from bites. The glutinous rice coating was way over-steamed and contributed nothing but heaviness.
Third Round: (7) Char Siu Sou and (8) Pan Fried Mince Lamb Buns
The Char Siu puffs are the basic of all dim sum. Unfortunately, Royal China Club couldn’t quite get them right! As much as I loved the flake-perfect, mille-feuille like pastry, the filling was excriciatingly sweet. If you look closely, there is a pool of muddy gravy inside but not as much pork. Enough said. The pan fried mince lamb buns, however, scored some redemptive points. Almost greaeless, unlike the ones I had at Leong’s Legend, the buns were soft and the filling rich in flavours. The aroma of the lamb came through brilliantly. To me, they were just second to the poached peking dumplings.
Final Round: (9) Taro Moss Dumplings (10) Egg Custard Tarts with Bird’s Nest and (11) Pan Friend Pumpkin Cakes.
The taro and moss dumplings were my favourites. These square toro-flavoured baskets were coated with coconut flakes, filled with purple sticky rice and finished with a drop of coconut milk. It was just lush – not too aggressively sweet kind of desserts – and texture perfect. The egg custard tarts were interesting. Decent custard filling but I was not convinced with the use of short crust kind rather than the puff pastry. The bird’s nest was not high quality but for this price I couldn’t really ask for a more decent one. Last but not least was the pumpkin cake. Lightly fried for a crispy skin. The filling was that of pumpkin puree – mildly sweet and very moorish.
The service on my most recent visit wasn’t worth 15% off the bill. Our Johnny was abrupt to us, intimidating to the Japanese, and horrifically rude and unhelpful to the Frenchies next to us. We asked him three times for another pot of tea during the meal and it came, well, just before the bill. This, however, did not represent the standard of the overall service as we did get help from other more accommodating staff.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
ROYAL CHINA CLUB
40-42 Baker Street
Tel. 020 7486 3898