26 March 2009
South Bank Centre
Dim Sum is traditionally served in the mornings along with tea but, as we all know, eating traditions are floundering all around us: we no longer laugh at the sign saying All Day Breakfast. Enter Ping Pong, a Dim Sum all day place that has taken London by storm, quickly rising up to establish itself in the Top Ten Dim Sum restaurants league table selected by the Chinese community themselves.
An Asian girlfriend has taken me for Dim Sum a few times before and I've never been overly impressed, so I wasn't expecting too much at Ping Pong. I'd seen the place, next to the Festival Hall, but never found myself wanting to go inside. It looked a bit gimmicky, a little bit franchisey. And it is. But they have a good gimmick - good atmosphere, good menu and fresh food cooked just right.
I would describe Dim Sum as Chinese tapas; lots of little dishes for sharing. Ping Pong says they are: Little Steamed Parcels of Deliciousness, and they are not wrong.
They have edited out some traditional Dim Sum dishes such as chicken claws, which I have had before, and refined the steamed dumplings so they are not so 'gloopy', as the woman at the adjoining table defined them, so the menu is more attuned to sensitive British tastes. Even so, Dim Sum still gives the traditional Chinese food fan the opportunity to be a bit more adventurous when there are no noodle or rice dishes to choose.
Ping Pong has an excellent selection of meat, fish and vegetable options, all ranging from between £2.50 - £4.50, which is very reasonable considering the area, with the Dim Sum looking as hand-made as it says in the menu. No factory produced fodder here.
Splendidly steaming away in their bamboo pots, the scallop and shitake dumplings were as fine a combination as pie and mash. Just as tasty were the crab dumplings and pork shu mai. All - as it says in the advert - Little Steamed Parcels of Deliciousness.
My favourites, though, were the salmon and basil spring rolls.
Truly scrumptious. Also in my selection was the soft shell crab. Not for the squeamish. This is the crab, the whole crab and nothing but the crab, with nowt taken out as they say in some places too far away to bother about.
Follow that up with the small but luscious pork fillets that had enough spice to leave a tingling in your mouth and you are well and truly sated. Was there a down-side? Not really.
If I had to get picky I'd say the pak choy was a bit chewy, but my partner for the evening, and Dim Sum expert, said this is because it was steamed and not stir-fried; and I probably wouldn't experiment with crispy asparagus again. It had lost a lot of the flavour and texture that I know and love in asparagus. And the Chinese are not known for their desserts, are they? When was the last time you ordered dessert at the local takeaway? They have a short range of desserts and we went for the two chocolate options. They were okay.
Ping Pong is a busy, buzzy place, with lots of fashionable black wood around. It was crammed out with predominantly young punters and when I visited the loo I saw one actually rearranging one out-of-place-hair with such care and precision that it defies definition.
The kitchen hid behind those Oriental screens that Bond would throw an international villain through or Bruce Lee would karate chop down to get to another 50 enemy out to kill him. Ping Pong is Chinese tea house with a modern twist, the twist being a pleasant, smiley, young T-shirted team rather than white-faced Geisha girls serving.
There is music but it is hardly worth it as the hum of conversation sidelines it to an inaudible drone. It has café style seating inasmuch as two people could be placed on a large round table with another couple or group, giving an opportunity for making new friends.
The bar people were animated making and shaking cocktails. I went for a bourbon and raspberry concoction that my non-alcohol drinking partner said tasted like cough medicine. She was wrong. It was very fruity. Never trust a teetotaller.
Tea is served in a very innovative style and in tall glasses. Alas, you can't pick the hot glass up to drink the tea as it has no handle. Doh!
The food here was good. I will go back to try some of the tempting dishes that I couldn't fit in on this visit. Ping Pong is very reasonably priced and if I didn't have the cocktails and puddings for the sake of News readers the bill would have been about £15 less.
There are set menus on offer and a Lazy Sunday set piece for those around town at the weekend.
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