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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Seeking the Best Dim Sum in London - Royal China Baker Street

Words & Photography by Florentyna Leow and Luiz Hara

Where: 24-26 Baker St, Marylebone, London W1U 7AB, http://royalchina.rcguk.co.uk/rcg.html

About: The Royal China Group, founded in 1996, has 6 restaurants in and around London with branches in Queensway, the flagship restaurant (reviewed here), Harrow, Docklands, and Fulham. On Baker Street, there are two Royal China restaurants including the Royal China Club, the premier restaurant of the group and one of my favourite dim sum places in London (reviewed here).

Dim sum at the Royal China Club will cost on average 50% more than you would normally pay anywhere else, but the quality is outstanding and worth the price tag in my opinion. Its poorer sister, the Royal China Baker Street is only a block or so away, and on a recent weekday afternoon with a serious dimsum craving and a little less cash to spare we decided to pay it a visit – even at 3pm, we were impressed to see that it had a steady stream of customers.

Royal China Baker Street looks like a slightly luxe Chinese restaurant, or one that would have been a decade and a half ago - one doesn’t get much carpeting in restaurants these days. It’s clean and large, but the decor is a little faded, and the whole place is a little too dimly lit for my liking.

We ordered a mix of familiar favourites and special items, along with Iron Goddess tea (Tie Guan Yin) to wash it all down. Royal China has a wine list, but Chinese tea is a far more appropriate accompaniment to a dim sum lunch in my opinion. Be sure to prod your waiter/waitress for the various kinds of tea such as Tie Guan Yin and Bo Lei that they will most definitely have, as the menu doesn’t list anything beyond ‘jasmine’ or ‘Chinese’ tea.

What We Ate: Service is fairly fast and efficient. Our plates of dim sum arrived in quick succession - no sooner had we begun on one than a second, third, fourth arrived. Most were good, some utterly delicious and worth repeating. Nothing was below average. One of the highlights of the meal was the pork and radish dumplings (£3.50) - a partially translucent, glutinous skin encasing a pork, chestnut, carrot and coriander filling. It was a crisp-crunchy, delightful excursion in textures, one that the home cook would be hard-pressed to replicate.

Another favourite was the prawn and chive dumpling (£3.80) - fresh and sweet, it was perfect with a dab of chilli sauce. I would have happily ordered a portion just for myself.

The crab meat dumpling soup (£4.80) - which will take around 30 minutes to arrive, so plan accordingly - was also quite lovely, each dumpling stuffed to the brim with crab. Even more enjoyable than the dumpling was the soup it came bobbing in - a sweet and delicate double-boiled broth with the faintest hint of Chinese herbs.

My personal favourite was the deep fried garlic prawn beancurd skin rolls (£5.20). I would recommend this only if you enjoy eating garlic by the mouthful, which I do. It is exactly as its name suggests: sweet, juicy minced prawn and garlic in almost equal measure, wrapped in beancurd skins and deep fried. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Royal China doesn’t stint on the garlic, particularly on their specials menu. Boiled pork dumplings with chilli oil (£4.90) were also wonderfully garlicky, sweet and a little spicy, and doused in a vinegary sauce which reminded me of the Japanese Nanban style of cooking.

Any good dim sum place should serve up steamed turnip cake (£3.50), and Royal China’s version was a fine one – it had clean flavours and a smooth texture, with lovely crispy fried edges.

The glutinous rice in lotus leaves (£4.20), was a very pretty example, the lotus leaves infusing the surf n’ turf combination of dried shrimp and pork with a subtle earthiness.

If you’re craving a hearty, dry noodle dish, you could order the sliced beef Ho Fun with soya sauce (£8.50), it had decent wok hei (breath of the wok) and was delicious.

The other dishes were good, if not life-changing. Prawn cheong fun (£4.80), for instance, was quite tasty, even if the house-made skin was a little thick for my liking.

The crabmeat XO dumplings (£4.80) were delectable, but could have used more XO sauce for that extra kick.

Spare ribs in black bean sauce (£3.50) - another dim sum classic - were adequate, but not terribly memorable.

There’s usually not much in the way of dessert at Chinese restaurants, but their almond beancurd with fruit cocktail (£3.50) made for a smooth and refreshing end to a meat-heavy dim sum meal.

Royal China’s egg tarts (£3.60 for 4) were well made but compared poorly with the very same tarts served at a few doors down at the Royal China Club.

To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, we ordered custard mooncakes, these were baked in-house, were served warm and were rich and scrumptious.

Likes: the pork and radish dumplings, prawn and chive dumpling and crab meat dumpling soup are very good, but the deep fried garlic prawn beancurd skin rolls were exceptional. There are some excellent teas if you ask for them.

Dislikes: their selection of fine Chinese teas available should be readily available in English. Service was efficient but patchy and could have been friendlier at times.

Verdict: The Royal China Baker Street is a good place to enjoy freshly made dim sum in Marylebone, as well as being a more affordable option than the swanky Royal China Club further up the road. Recommended.

Furo-chan, my partner in crime for many London dinners, dim sum lunches and Japanese Super Clubs, you are missed! X

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