The best way to compare two highly-touted ‘dim sum’ places: go to both of them one right after the other– and order the same items at each place. That’s what we did yesterday – our destinations: Phoenix Palace on Glentworth Street (a fave of Singapore’s last Prime Minister, it seems) and Royal China Club nearby on Baker Street. Both places were teeming with ‘dim sum’ enthusiasts yesterday – I thought such crowds at the reception/waiting areas of each restaurant could only be found in cities like HK or Singapore!
First up, Phoenix Palace – kitsch chinoiserie galore, from its red-and-gold Chinese dragon-phoenix décor, to silk ‘qipao’-clad waitresses. We had:
- ‘siu-mai’ (pork-shrimp dumplings) – average-tasting albeit slightly on the salty side;
- ‘har-gau’ (shrimp dumplings) – shrimps were fresh but tasted one-dimensional, gluey skin;
- ‘char-siu bao’ (steamed buns filled with caramelised BBQ pork) – stodgy, heavy dough. Very little BBQ pork filling. Don't like :-(
- ‘Luo buo gao’ (pan-fried radish cake cubes in Chinese XO sauce). The radish cake cubes were deep-fried beforehand before being coated with a spicy XO sauce which left my tongue tingling. It’s nice.
Next stop, Royal China Club – cool dining space in shades of mainly beige & brown, incorporating long aquariums displaying live Scottish lobsters. Wait-staff in black, as un-Chinese as you can get. What we had:
- ‘siu-mai’ (pork-shrimp dumplings) – interesting that salmon roe was used as a topping, which lends the dumplings a nice fishy tang. The marinade has a faint tiger-lily bud scent. Overall, not over-salted and retains a fine balance of flavors between the pork and shrimp content in the filling;
- ‘har-gau’ (shrimp dumplings) – very finely-chopped bamboo shoots gave the prawn filling an added flavour. The skin was light – but still stickier than the ones we’d find in HK or Singapore, maybe the type of glutinous rice flour used here or the hard water in the UK have a part to play in this – but, overall, not as gluey as Phoenix Palace’s version;
- ‘char-siu bao’ (steamed buns filled with caramelised BBQ pork) – Fluffier dough - *this* is what good ‘char-siu bao’ should look like. Unfortunately, the version here also contained very little BBQ pork filling, and was dry-ish. Don't like :-(
- The 4th dish we had here was steamed glutinous rice (with marinated pork/mushroom) wrapped in lotus leaves. The glutinous rice used was of good quality and had a lovely texture. The flavors were also just right – a winner here.
Overall, I’d rate Royal China Club a couple of notches above Phoenix Palace. The former seems to set itself up as a formal business dining spot, whereas the latter is a large, noisy family restaurant.
5 Glentworth Street
London NW1 5PG
Tel: 020 7486 3515
Royal China Club
40-42 Baker Street
London W1U 7AJ
Tel: 020 7486 3898
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