Friday, 2 December 2011

Dim Sum in London - December 2011 Update

The most popular post on this blog is, by a country mile, the Dim Sum in London guide. However, a year has passed since I wrote it, so it's definitely time for an update. Whilst there isn't, in my opinion, a definitive London dim sum restaurant, there are a number of places that I enjoy visiting. Having said that, it's important to keep up to date, so I've eaten dim sum at each of my recommendations on at least one occasion during the past year. It's a tough job, I know, but someone has to do it! So without further ado, here's my list of six of the best dim sum joints in London:

Wasabi prawn dumplings @ Phoenix Palace
The One That's Like Being in Hong Kong
Joint 1st: Phoenix Palace - Full Review (October 2009)
Phoenix Palace's buzzy atmosphere brings the cliché - it's just like being in Hong Kong - to life, which is why for a long time it was my favourite dim sum restaurant in London. Don't get me wrong, I still adore it, but nowadays it has to share the gold medal with Princess Garden.

Top Tips: check out the specials menu where delights such as wasabi prawn dumplings and baby octopus in chilli, lemon, and garlic sauce lurk. Classics such as har gau (prawn dumplings) and cha siu sou (BBQ pork puff pastry) are also top notch. And don't forget the excellent Cantonese BBQ as epitomised by the must-order weekend lunch special of roast suckling pig.

The Downside: service can be variable and there's the odd mediocre dish (the siu mai and xiao long bao are distinctly average). Prices have also crept up, and the dim sum here is easily the priciest of my recommendations, with individual dishes priced upwards of the £3 mark.

Baked cha siu bao @ Princess Garden
The Classy One
Joint 1st: Princess Garden - Full Review (June 2011)
I'm still kicking myself that it took me so long to get round to sampling this elegant Mayfair restaurant. Whilst its dim sum is more expensive than many places, it's arguably better value given the higher standards of food and service. So much so, it has rapidly become my (joint) favourite dim sum venue in London.

Top Tips: check out dim sum that is rarely seen in London such as golden cuttlefish cheung fun, baked cha siu bao, and paper-wrapped prawns with preserved egg. And for those of you with a sweet tooth, the baked custard buns are a must.

The Downside: the Cantonese BBQ selection is limited to roast duck and that the porky delights of cha siu (honey roast pork) and siu yuk (crispy pork belly) are absent from the menu.

The One That's Like Being in Shanghai (Added March 2013)
?th: Bright Courtyard - Full Review (March 2013)
With a sister restaurant in Shanghai, Bright Courtyard offers a glimpse into where aspirational Chinese like to eat out. While the a la carte is more Shanghai, the dim sum is largely Cantonese. I'm not sure where to rank this restaurant, as I've only been once but there's a case for it to be up there at No.1.

Top Tips: As befits a Shanghainese restaurant, the xiao long bao are top class, and the scallop siu mai and har gau are must orders.

The Downside: Some may baulk at the price although I think it's worth it. If anything, it's the slightly-muted, genteel atmosphere that detracts ever so slightly from the dining experience.

Fried chrysanthemum custard buns @ Pearl Liang
The One With The Fancy Wallpaper
3rd: Pearl Liang - Full Review (May 2010)
Pearl Liang is widely recognised as one of London's top spots for dim sum. So why isn't it my number one choice? The thing is the atmosphere can sometimes be like the restaurant equivalent of the old 'Highbury library'. And whilst I was impressed by how inexpensive lunch was during my last visit (in mid-Nov) prices have increased since then.

Top Tips: leave room for dessert, as the fried chrysanthemum custard buns and black sesame balls are to die for. The classics are amongst the best in London, and I also like their fried watercress meat dumplings.

The Downside: as I alluded to earlier, the ambience isn't all that it could be and don't get me started on the 'IKEA does Hakkasan' interior design.

Various dim sum @ Imperial China
The Suburban One
4th: Imperial China - Full Review (September 2010)
The only thing you need to know about Imperial China is that Ma and Pa Noodles love it. They're better judges than most of us will ever be, so let's leave it at that! By the way, this Teddington restaurant is unrelated to the Chinatown restaurant of the same name.

Top Tips: stick to the classics, you won't go far wrong. Dishes like har gau (prawn dumplings) and cha siu bao (honey roast pork buns) are excellent. And despite being quite old school, there are a few interesting fusion-style dishes, with influences from Japan and Vietnam, that are worth checking out.

The Downside: Teddington is in Zone 6 and isn't exactly the easiest place to get to. Also be prepared to queue on Sundays unless you arrive early.

Village dumplings @ Dragon Palace
The One With The Special Noodles
5th: Dragon Palace - Full Review (December 2010)
I still can't believe how Dragon Palace managed to stay under the radar for so long. This Earl's Court restaurant feels like it ought to be in Chinatown, except that it's too good for Gerrard Street.

Top Tips: Order the fish-filled village dumplings and remember to ask about the weekend specials. They also make their own 'silver-needle' noodles that are exceedingly rare in London. I'm also a big fan of the pan-fried cheung fun, which is also rarely seen on these shores.

The Downside: whilst undeniably tasty, some of Dragon Palace's dim sum lack the finesse that the same dishes have at the restaurants ranked above it.

Fish balls & turnip @ Tai Tung
The Old School One
6th: Tai Tung - Full Review (October 2011)
The Purley Way that skirts Croydon isn't where one might expect to find a restaurant serving decent dim sum. But Tai Tung (part of the Wing Yip Centre) certainly fits that bill with its old school charm.

Top Tips: All the old school classics are present and correct. Of particular note are the scallop dumplings and the fish balls & turnip.

The Downside: This isn't the place to try out the chef's specials or the latest dim sum from Hong Kong. And I never thought I'd say this, but it's a bit too old school.

For those of you who might be a bit nervous ordering dim sum, don't be, as all of these restaurants have dim sum menus and order sheets (where applicable) in both English and Chinese. In the case of Tai Tung, the order sheet is in Chinese only but it can be referenced to a menu in English. In terms of prices, budget around £15-£20/head (including tea and service) although light eaters can probably get away with spending £10/head at Dragon Palace. Having said that, gluttons like me can quite easily order enough for the bill to creep up to £25/head at Phoenix Palace.

This isn't an all-encompassing guide to London's dim sum scene; I don't have the capacity (quite literally) to check out the capital's myriad options. For instance, none of my choices are in Chinatown, and nor have I featured Michelin-starred places like Hakkasan or Yauatcha. The thing is I haven't found a Chinatown restaurant that I'd wholeheartedly recommend for dim sum, and in my opinion, there's something fundamentally wrong with the price-point and atmosphere of ultra-posh dim sum joints. However, if you'd like to get some further tips then check out my original Dim Sum in London post, which has links to other bloggers' reviews of a wider range of restaurants.

PS: Do shout if you think there's a dim sum restaurant in London that should be on my radar.


  1. Ooh, once again my appetite for Dim Sum in London is whetted. I must not, MUST NOT, let it slide this time. I really like the sounds of your joint first options. How close together are they? Is it possible to have savoury in one and sweet in another. We did something similar in HK, and it was a great way of doing things...

    Most of all, what would I give for a good dim sum restaurant in East London. Does anyone know of any?

  2. This post makes me incredibly excited. I moved to London from Seattle and got used to going to Vancouver for show-stopping dim sum. I haven't found anything that even approaches it here and have had a lot of mediocre dim sum on the way. If ever you want a dim sum stalwart to come and assist you in your research you just tweet me.

  3. I was going to recommend Dumpling's Legend to you (in gerard st). However it got shut down by H&S recently for having a cockroach infestation (loverly) So glad I didn't!

    I may have to give Phoenix Palace another run as I literally live above the place. :)

  4. Gworm - two-stage dim sum. I like it! It's about a 15 min walk from Phoenix Palace and Princess Garden, but the thing is I'd end up having sweet & savoury at both. There's a restaurant called Shanghai in Dalston that serves dim sum. Not sure if it's any good though.

    Susan - Vancouver has to be a candidate for the city with the best dim sum outside of Asia, so it's no surprise you find London's efforts underwhelming. I can't promise any of my tips are as good as what you're used to, but I hope they're an improvement on what you've encountered so far.

    Frank - I found Dumplings Legends underwhelming when I went for dinner. So much so, I didn't bother returning for dim sum. Mind you, it seems I might have to wait a bit longer to check it out anyway!

  5. When I saw Imperial China on your list I had a 'wtf??' moment cos I thought you were referring to the Chinatown one. THEN I saw teddington. Phew. Saved.

    Imperial china in ctown was without doubt the WORST dimsum experience I had.

    Can't help with new dimsum restos but if you find one that serves liusha baos please blog about it!!!

    To Grubworm, check out peninsula in Greenwich, lotus floating restaurant in south quay.

  6. Another great dim sum round up!

    1) I've googled but have absolutely no idea what you mean by "Highbury library"... please put me out of my misery and stop me wasting rest of the night drilling down into Google pages about libraries and (weirdly) football stadiums!

    2) Please please please won't you take me with you on a dim sum excursion? I want to learn more about dim sum, I love love love it but an Indian girl from Luton can hardly be said to know it very well. I'll even call you @grrnoodles if you do!

  7. What an excellent post, Sung, I am craving dim sum NOW!! Princess Garden is next on my list, what a shame I missed the outing.

  8. Phoenix Palace would not be my top choice, I much prefer princess garden and my recently ventured Grand Imperial with their all you can eat.

  9. I have to check out Princess Garden!

    What do you think of Yauatcha, is it me or it's going downhill a bit?

  10. Nice one Sung. Very helpful. I can vouch for that Phoenix Palace suckling pig, though it definitely helps to have you there for the ordering! Any chance you could do that ultimate dim sum menu (top things to order and where they're best at?)??

  11. Vix - my Chinese skills are not so good, but if liu sha bao = 黃金流沙飽 then these are availaible at Phoenix Palace. In English, they are listed as 'egg custard liquid buns' on the dim sum specials board (weekends only). I liked them, as they had a slight salty grainy quality. Having said that, it's my first time trying them (I usually have standard custard bun 奶皇飽) so I have nothing to benchmark them against. BTW - what was so bad about C-town Imperial China? I always like to hear about car crash dining experiences.

    Kavey - when Arsenal used to play at Highbury, the atmosphere was sometimes muted despite there being 40,000 fans in attendance. I feel the same way about Pearl Liang where there's a distinct lack of buzz even when it's busy. I have some dim sum venues on my list, so I'll be sure to extend an invite in the new year.

    Ute - it'll be interesting to see how you think they compare, as I know you like Phoenix Palace.

    Kay - I've visited both Princess Garden and Phoenix Palace three times each in the last year or so, and I really can't separate them. BTW - how does the 'all you can eat' work at Grand Imperial? It seems a little incongruous to me that somewhere so posh does this kind of deal! Having said that I am intrigued.

    Ning - I've never been to Yauatcha, but places like that don't appeal to me. I think the prices are too expensive and aren't renao 熱鬧 (lively) enough for my liking.

    Ed - a good idea, and one I may get round to doing in the new year. In the meantime, my review of Pearl Liang (click here) offers hints on 'how to order dim sum'. If you combine the hints there with the recommendations in this post then you should have a good idea on what to order.

  12. Great post.

    I have now actually been to the top 3! Though haven't been to Phoenix Palace for over a year and need to go back. Was very impressed with Pearl Liang (but the atmosphere is, as you say, not great) but I now have a special place in my heart for Princess Garden.

  13. Oh I see! I get it! Thanks for explaining and yes, definitely up for dim sum in NY. x

  14. Another great Dim Sum round up. It's the one thing I have been meaning to eat more of this year, but alas just haven't managed to get my arse in gear and do it.
    It's kinda interesting to see that some of the above have risen their prices, when a lot of places are keeping prices as low as possible.

  15. Sharmila - thanks. If only there was a one-stop dim sum joint that served Phoenix Palace's wasabi prawn dumplings, Princess Garden's golden cuttlefish cheung fun and Pearl Liang's chrysanthemum custard buns then I'd be a happy man.

    Kavey - no worries.

    Mzungu - thanks. Whilst prices have gone up at Pearl Liang and Phoenix Palace, I still think they're good value based on the quality of their food. Using har gau (prawn dumplings) as a benchmark, these cost £3.30 at Pearl Liang / £3.50 at Phoenix Palace - compared to the £3.75 that the execrable Ping Pong charge. And dim sum in general is great value compared to tapas and other small eats.

  16. Lotus Floating Restaurant down in South Quay on the DLR - go on, give it a try. Rammed to the gills on the Sunday I went at 2.30pm and in my limited experience though they turned out some good stuff - and quickly. Worst dim sum? Tuli on Tooley Street. Farking awful !

  17. Great that you have updated this post - it was certainly my go to guide when I was in London. And nice to have been to one of the places with you!

  18. You found liushabao!!! I love the salted egg custard all oozy and gooey when u bite in and the sweet-savoury mix is just yum! Have to make a weekend trip to PP now...

    Imperial china ctown.... Hmmm where do I start?
    This was a couple years back now but it's put me off forever.
    1. Ordered steamed beef tripe. Item came out at ROOM TEMPERATURE. it hadn't been steamed enough.
    2. Har gao. Bf popped one in and bit into it and started wondering why it was so gummy and toothpastely. Spat it out. I took one and dissected it on my plate to see what was wrong. The prawn filling was grey and not just undercooked, it was NOT COOKED at all.
    3. Egg tart. Have you ever bit into an egg tart and have the filling leak out? This one did. I could pour out the custard onto the plate and see the strands of uncooked egg white. The custard wasn't just unset, it was not cooked.

    Oh and all three happened at the same meal. All the staff did was take them away and offer new ones. No comp no taking it off the bill.

    Whaddaya reckon?

  19. SO many places I need to try! Thank you for the excellent round-up :D

  20. Richard - you're quite the ambassador for SE London. First, Greenwich Market, now Lotus Floating - you're still in credit, so I may give it a try! Was Tuli that bad? I've heard mixed reviews, but sounds like you had a real shocker.

    GChick - thanks! Dragon Palace still going strong. A great stand-by if you're in that part of town. Hope the travels are going well, and who knows, one day I may see you in Melbourne!

    Vix - glad to be of service. Do let me know how these buns compare to those you've previously had. OMG - your meal at Chinatown Imperial China sounds like a world class shocker (BTW - I would like to reiterate that the Imperial China on my list is in Teddington, and is independent of the one in Chinatown).

    Pavel - thanks! The thing is, though, my list is just the tip of the iceberg (or should that be dumpling) and there's heaps more dim sum places to explore.

  21. I think that you will not find Lotus anywhere near the same league as Phoenix Palace or Princess Garden.

    Whilst I like Lotus as it is local to me, the dim sum there is pretty average (I am not saying it's bad!) but it is good value for money so can't complain really!

    What's Peninsula in North Greenwich like nowadays? I've not been for years as there was always a wedding banquet on the Sundays that I ventured there. It used to be really good there!

  22. Thebao - Lotus sounds like many a place in Chinatown - not the best quality but good atmosphere and VFM. Still not been to Peninsula (that's the one on the GF of a Holiday Inn, right?) as it's a bit of a pain to get to for me. That said, from what I hear it's really buzzy.

  23. I suppose being a British Chinese doesn't make me the best judge but by far the best dim sum I've had is at Yauatcha. I don't believe that the prices are that steep for the quality of food they produce. Not somewhere for regular dim sum (Joy King Lau would be my preference there) but definitely worth a visit.

  24. swml83 - I think being British Chinese makes you a very good judge (word is they make great bloggers, too) of dim sum. I've yet to visit Yauatcha, but do plan to go sometime to check out their afternoon special deal.

  25. Apologies for making this addition to your post. I noticed in your last post that you mentioned more out of London dim sum joints.

    I am in the midst of putting together a list of dim sum places in the North London area and I would appreciate peoples' input into this:

  26. Hi there! Check out "Jia" in South Kengsington if you have time. I personally think it's one of the better places for dim sum in London!

  27. Andytizer - North London is a bit out of my way, but I'll be sure to check out some of the options.

    cattymojito - thanks for the tip. A little off the beaten track, but I'll add it to my list.

  28. Phoenix Palace, Pearl Liang and Princess Garden are all reliable choices I've eaten at many times. You missed the other Imperial China in Lisle Street (which also has a branch in Watford). China Palace Excel is the best choice anywhere near E14. However hands down the best dim sum is at Alisan opposite Wembley Stadium (I was tipped off about this place by a waitress at Pearl Liang). Park at the retail park next door and make sure there isn't an event on at the stadium before travelling.

  29. James - welcome and thanks for the tips. I've heard good things about Alisan at Wembley, and it's definitely on my list. China Palace is a bit out of the way for me, but reports are also good. In terms of the Lisle St Imperial China, it's not so much I missed it. I do know of it (and eaten there a long time ago) but I've seldom heard good things about it or its sister branch in Watford. Scroll up to Vix's comment to read about her shocking experience there.

  30. eissh Tai Tung? Really? That place is stanky. In the way that the food just isn't that good. I went there last week on a non-busy weekday and the food is just horrible! The dumplings in soup were far too salty and none of the stuff was hot!

    I've heard if you really to go outside london to eat, Glasgow See Woo Restaurant is supposed to be pretty good at dimsum. However, I don't know whether my uncle who lives there is just deprived of other dimsum joints or it actually is good. LOL

    1. I can only go on my own experiences (most recently yesterday) and I think Tai Tung does pretty decent dim sum. Perhaps you went on a bad day, and I got lucky a couple of times! Thanks also for the Glasgow tip.

  31. Great post. Don't have a username but you can call me B2.

    Agree there's no definitive all-rounder. From British Chinese dim sum lover, my favourites in no particular order -

    Gerrards corner - a family favourite with unbeatable cheung fun

    Joy king lau - another favourite, best for fried savouries, only let down is the queue chaos when busy oh and my favourite prawn and chive dumpling has been pork in my last 3 visits

    Phoenix palace - agree it should be up there with 1st place

    China garden in brighton - my joint 1st, though haven't been since summer 2011. The closest to a great all rounder

    Royal china canary wharf - love sitting by the river outside in the summer. Has a reputation for being inconsistent but I've never experienced it. Best char siu puffs and great steamed dumplings. Had some of my best dim sum meals there

    Haven't tried princess palace or yauatcha. Avoid new world in Chinatown like the plague - in fact anywhere that's insane enough to serve dim sum on trolleys!

  32. I'm so glad you mentioned Phoenix Palace as it is my go-to spot for good dim sum! I was introduced to it by a friend who lived not too far away and since then I've passed on the message to many (regrettably - as it seems much busier than it used to!)

  33. Have you tried Crispy Duck in Chinatown? My HK friends love it there - wondered where it would rate with you?

    1. Sally - I have eaten at Crispy Duck but not for dim sum - the food's pretty good. For dim sum, though, Chinatown hasn't been a serious dim sum destination, in my opinion, for a long, long time.