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Tuesday 23 February 2010

Seeking the Best Dim Sum in London - Phoenix Palace

Phoenix Palace

After a disappointing dim sum experience at Royal China Bayswater (until now my gold standard dim sum venue in London) over the Christmas period, I thought I should broaden my repertoire and so recently decided to give Phoenix Palace a try.

Louise of Penguinette Cooks and a few Italian friends accompanied me to this well known Chinese restaurant in the Baker Street area. Despite our 2pm booking, we waited in the restaurant’s cramped entrance for 45 minutes before being seated.

As a table of 6, we could order a large variety of different dishes. Carefully chosen by Louise, who is a native Cantonese speaker, these were:

“Spicy baby octopus in chilli, garlic and pickled onion dressing” @ £3.80 – this was a recommendation by Mr Noodles and was indeed one of the best dishes we had – the octopus was very soft, it was also sour and sweet from the marinated sauce with a gentle burn from the chillies.

“Salty pork and black egg congee” @ £4.20 – I love congee, and this was as good as the ones I tried in many cafes in Hong Kong.

“Pork and prawn turnip cake” @ £2.60 – this was disappointing as the texture was slightly floury and there was little pork or prawn to be seen.

“Cheung fun with crispy dough stick” @ £3.40 – I normally go for prawn cheung fun, but this was a pleasant change – I enjoyed the crunchy texture of the crispy dough stick against the delicate cheung fun skin.

Some of the fried items like “Sesame prawn roll”, “Mashed prawn in soya pastry roll” and “Octopus patty with vinaigrette” all @ £3 were competently made but were rather unexciting.

“Prawn and chives dumpling” @ £3 – I always order this dish but Phoenix Palace’s was a big let down. The skin was white and very thick and filled with little if any chives or prawns. They looked like they had come straight out of the freezer.

“Shanghai dumpling with pork” @ £2.60 - this was the most disappointing item on the table – the skin was again very thick and the dumplings were completely devoid of broth. They ought to go down as the worst Shanghai dumplings I have ever eaten.

“Noodles, beef brisket with ginger and scallions” @ £7.50 – the brisket was very tender and sweet, making for a delicious dish that went well with our choices of dim sum.

“Glutinous rice in lotus leaf” @ £3.50 – these were smaller than the ones from Royal China and with an ungenerous filling. I would not recommend this at Phoenix Palace.

“Egg tarts” @ £2.60 – I am not a huge fan of these little tarts, preferring the original Portuguese “pastel de nata”. Phoenix Palace’s version had a strong taste of eggs yolk (not custard); they were lacking in sugar and were not to my taste.

“Mini onion pancake” @ £2.60 – we were expecting small, flat pancakes and were surprised when these little morsels arrived. The pastry was crisp and delicious, and filled with fried spring onions.

“Pork and prawn dumpling” @ £2.60 – these were hard and rubbery, and tasted as if they had been sitting on the steamer for a few hours.

“Char siu pork bun” @ £2.60 – these were surprisingly light and with a delicious filling of char siu pork.

“Black sesame glutinous ball” £2.80 – the glutinous outer layer was a tad thick on these sweets although I enjoyed both the texture and nutty flavour of this dessert.

Front of house staff were unfriendly and brusque – when inquiring about our table, we were simply told to “be patient”. It baffles me why the restaurant would bother taking bookings for dim sum if these cannot be honoured.

Since my visit to Phoenix Palace I read a positive review of their a la carte menu by Mr Noodles of Eat Noodles Love Noodles which made me think that standards might be better at dinner time. I hope to try this later in the year and report back.

Cost: total bill came to £75.60 (or £12.80 per person) including £9 for tea, and 12.5% service @ £8.40.

Likes: large & spacious restaurant, good central location, some recommended dishes are spicy baby octopus in chilli, garlic and pickled onion dressing, salty pork and black egg congee and cheung fun with crispy dough stick.

Dislikes: rude service particularly front-of-house staff, not honouring bookings, slightly pricier than other venues in Bayswater or Chinatown, some dishes to avoid are the Shanghai dumplings and the pork and prawn dumplings.

Verdict: Mediocre and forgettable dim sum experience, rude staff,  pricier than other similar venues. To my surprise, the place was heaving. Not recommended.

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon


  1. Interesting review and whilst it remains my go-to place for dim sum, there's no denying you had a bad time of it at PP. Whilst not excusing the piss poor treatment you endured, I wouldn't eat dim sum at 2pm on a Sunday as most places tend to be hell on earth at that time. If you're going to do dim sum at the weekend, I'd tend to make it brunch and go early.

    That said your review does confirm one thing and that is there isn't a definitive Cantonese destination restaurant in London.

  2. Very thorough review Luiz; do they recognize you now? You are going to be the next Zagat in the UK.

  3. Interesting to read about the different experiences here. I just wish one chinese restaurant could have good service and great food consistently, it would make life so much easier : )

  4. i was scrolling scrolling scrolling and then got stuck on the egg tarts. they looks gorgeous even if they aren't to your taste but I agree.. portugese tarts are something else all together!

  5. Good review - i know very little about Dim Sum so it was really interesting reading about some of the creations - even if the execution was below par. Out of interest, what are "Cheung fu" - some sort of pancake?

  6. Such a shame, I remember this place getting great reviews in the past.

    Being half Chinese and growing up in Hong Kong, I love going for dim sum, both for the delicious food and the nostalgia of it. There's good dim sum at Royal China Club and Princess Garden, although both are on the more pricey end of the scale. Otherwise I think good dim sum is further out from Central London. I haven't been to Dragon Castle but heard it's good. If you really don't mind a trip though I would go to Mandarin Palace in Gant's Hill. The location and even the restaurant itself don't look that promising, but the dim sum is very good! I can still remember the taste of the venison puffs just thinking about it...

  7. Oh dear. That's the saddest xiao long bao I've ever seen. I don't bother ordering them anymore, unless I'm at Leong's Legends.

    Have you tried Peninsula at the Holiday Inn, North Greenwich? That's a family favourite.

  8. @ Mr Noodles - it is interesting how different people can have completely different experiences at the same restaurant.

    I normally go for dim sum early (ish) at weekends but since PP take bookings I did not think I would need to worry that much.

    Personally I didn't think 2pm was too late for dim sum but 3pm (when finally got served) definitely was. Anyway, regardless whether it is midday or 3pm, I think they should try and be consistent with the quality of their food and service.

    I am thinking of going back there again, I am surprised that we have had such different experiences and they might have been having an off day when I visited.

    @ Taste of Beirut - <>, thanks, you are too kind...

    @ Tom - in my experience, PP was thoroughly consistent i.e. bad service AND bad food!

    @ Catty - i know, egg tarts is one of those things I have been trying to learn to appreciate, but everytime I try them, I kind of come to the same conclusion, they taste and smell of eggs (not custard), the pastry is ok and crumbly (but not buttery enough), Sorry!

    @ Grubworm - hi, cheung fun are made of an incredibly light outer "skin" (made of water and rice flour) which is quickly steamed and then rolled with fillings of prawns or char siu pork or in this case a crisp dough stick. It is a very tricky dim sum dish to make and restaurants need someone who is specialised in this dish as it takes great skill to get the correct texture, and not to tear the "skin" once the cheung fun is steamed.

    I learnt how to make this in Vietnam where they do a similar roll but my attempt was a complete disaster. Cheung fun is all about the texture and lightness of the skin. I thoroughly recommend it.

    @ Antonia Eats - hi Antonia, nice to hear from you again, and thanks for the recommendations. I have recently eaten at Yum Cha in Camden Town, I will be posting the review early next week. The dim sum was fantastic there and cheaper than PP. I will try these places you recommend, thanks.

    @ Lizzie - my heart sank when I looked at the XLBs, and you are right, Leong Legend's were the best Shanghai dumplings I have ever had in the UK. I have never tried Peninsula but will add to my list of dim sum joints to try. Thanks.

  9. I can also vouch for Peninsula, having been with Lizzie. Some of that food looks so awful! Tired and skanky. What a shame.

  10. Hi Helen, I will try to go to Peninsula soon, thanks for the tip. Have started a new separate list for Dim Sum places to try... such a lovely Sunday thing to do!

  11. There is only one thing better than shopping in Hong Kong, and that's eating. From small noodle joints to upscale French restaurant, you will locate all sorts of restaurant, eating hall and snack stall on earth in Hong Kong. Here I found small amount of Hong-Kong-styled snacks online (yummiexpress.freetzi.com). This is definitely a good choice before I have $ for another trip.

  12. Hi Luiz,you should try the dim sum restaurant at the Wing Yip supermarket (in Croydon or Cricklewood). It's called Wing Tai. That's authentic dim sum!

    Alisan in Wembley is also a good place for dim sum, with refined, often original dishes.

    I'm sorry, I know I'm biased as a Taiwanese, but I really don't like Leong's Legend. If you have had real Taiwanese street food, Leong's Legend just doesn't compare. It may be that I'm hung up on the simplified Chinese characters on their menu, and the clearly non-Taiwanese accents of the staff. I haven't tried the XLB though. I may brave another visit for that one day.

  13. Hi Luiz,

    I also recommend that you try the dim sum restaurant in Croydon. I believe the actual name is Tai Tung not Wing Tai as above. Growing up in Sydney I was spoilt for choices for yum cha and luckily I now live very close to Wing Yip. You won't be disappointed!

  14. A new one in London China town, called NEW LOON FUNG. A must try. I bet it has beaten all these fancy restaurant especially royal china in queensway because I had a same bad experience.


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