Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Review: Phoenix Palace (Cantonese), London

Best dim sum in London ?

Technically speaking, the best dumplings are probably found at one of the upmarket places but as I'm not keen on spending £6.50 on a portion of three xiao long bao (Min Jiang) or being set a time limit for my meal (Hakkasan & Yautacha), perhaps the question should be reframed.

Favourite dim sum restaurant ? Mine is Phoenix Palace (on Glentworth St just off Marylebone Rd near Baker St tube). Its charms aren't immediately obvious from the slightly gaudy exterior and identikit Chinese restaurant interior design. However when it's busy and it usually is, there's a great buzz which combined with quality Cantonese cooking makes it one of my favourites.

On a recent visit, we ordered bbq pork bun (cha siu bao), beef ball dumpling (sai choi ngau), shanghai dumplings with pork (xiao long bao), bbq pork puff pastry (cha siu sao), octopus patty (mak yu beng), pork in yam croquette (wu gok), rice pasta roll with crispy dough stick (zhaliang) and from the specials menu, steamed wasabi prawn dumpling.

Being growing lads, we bulked out the order with a platter of roast belly pork & roast duck and some fried noodles with beansprouts. To finish, we ordered some egg tarts (dan taat) and cream custard buns (lai wong bao).

Highlights? The zhaliang transported me to Hong Kong - perfectly cooked cheung fun (rice pasta roll) filled with crispy (not greasy) dough stick. I don't usually care for fusion dim sum but the steamed wasabi prawn dumpling (the green ones in the photo) was different class with a real kick from the wasabi inside the dumpling. Of the desserts, the sweet dense coconutty filling of the steamed cream custard buns won us over.

We were also impressed by the quality of fried dim sum like wu gok - so much better than the greasy oily crap often served up in Chinatown. The Cantonese BBQ was spot-on too, particularly the crispy crackling on the roast belly pork (siu yuk).

The only off-note was the diminutive xiao long bao but I’m a fussy sod when it comes to these Shanghainese treats. In fact the only overall criticism was the Lilliputian proportions of some of the dim sum.

Sorry for the lack of photos but all too often the dish was finished before I had the chance to take a shot. Service was efficient and unobtrusive (tea was topped-up unprompted throughout our lunch).

Compared to Chinatown, the prices are a bit higher with dim sum starting at £2.60 - similar to places like Pearl Liang and Royal China - but cheaper than the really upmarket places where prices start at around the £4 mark. As we also ordered Cantonese BBQ and noodles, the bill (for three) crept up to £55 including tea and service.

Between writing this review and posting it, I went back for more dim sum and sampled classics like prawn dumpling (har gau), pork & prawn dumpling (siu mai) and sesame prawn roll (zhima har). But the star dish was a zingy salad of baby octopus tossed in chilli, garlic & lemon juice from the dim sum specials menu.

For more on dim sum, World Foodie Guide has great tips on what to order and where to go in London - although Phoenix Palace isn't on her list (at time of writing).

Verdict: I don't doubt that there's better dim sum served in more stylish restaurants in London but as long as their standards don't dip, Phoenix Palace remains my favourite.

Other Stuff: Unlike many dim sum places, you can make lunch reservations here – essential for the weekend when the must-order BBQ suckling pig appears on the dim sum specials menu.

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon

{Update Feb 2010 - for a review of dinner at Phoenix Palace, click here}


  1. Phoenix Palace used to be one of my favorites, and then two or three years ago, I had two bad dim sum meals in a row, so I gave up going. I laughed when I read the dishes disappeared too fast for you to take photos - I'll have to re-visit PP the next time I'm headed towards Baker Street.

  2. I've not been here before but your review of the wu gok has got my ears perked up. Going to try here next time I need a dim sum fix!

  3. Phoenix Palace used to be my regular Sunday destination for about 3 or so years when I lived in Marylebone, but I haven't been in many years because the quality of the dim sum started to go downhill and I haven't wanted to go back since. I've been meaning to cover it for my where to eat dim sum in London post, so maybe...!

  4. A-in-L - Both you and Helen touch upon a problem with dim sum in London - consistency - as dim sum chefs do move around a bit.

    Su-Lin - I'll be interested in what you think !

    Helen - I think you should give Phoenix Palace another try as their 'specials' board has some really imaginative dim sum.

  5. This place seems pretty decent indeed. Damn if if it wasn't for my bad planning, I would have visited here.

    I will go back to Melbourne again soon, hopefully can get to take some real pictures of the food I've eaten there. (Talk about regrets, as I did not take a single photo of food I ate there for the last 20 years!)

    HK Epicurus

  6. HK Epicurus - welcome! There's always next time. Although truth be told, if you're coming over from HK, I wouldn't bother unless you're feeling really homesick and want some dim sum! Hope you have a god one in Melbourne!

  7. I live above this place ! (literally)

    I am however less enamoured by it these days. Since the refurb it has got a lot more expensive - especially the a al carte noodle/rice stuff. But I 'spose the Dim Sum is still a fair price. (We had some amazing squid in prawn and garlic sauce last Sunday - highly recc'd!)

    I'm definitely going to try that Dong-po pork next time - looks a treat.

    Great Blog - My management at work has not given me anything to do so I'm having a WONDERFUL time reading all your stuff. Keep up the good work - it is much appreciated.

  8. Frank - I agree that it isn't cheap anymore, but for dim sum, it's still good amongst London's best in terms of a price/quality trade-off.

  9. Agreed - no arguments there. Also the staff are very friendly too.

  10. Perhaps I'm too price centric recently....:/

  11. I'll be heading to this place on your recommendation. Thanks very much.