Peter Morrell samples the lunchtime Dim Sum menu at this smart Chinese restaurant
Eating habits have changed immensely in the UK over the last 10 years. The days of Service à la Russe, where three courses are brought to the table sequentially, is regarded as old fashioned. This style of service was introduced by the Russian Ambassador to France in the 19th century, before that everything was served together, so it isn’t a centuries old tradition.
Chinese cuisine, one of the oldest and most respected in the world, never had this interruption. It has always combined a range of dishes, to give diners a harmonious blend of textures, flavours and colours offering tastes from sweet to sour and from salty to bitter with some ‘umami’, that elusive moreish element that rounds out the entire experience.
One of the best examples of this cuisine is Dim Sum. This is a style of food served between noon and 5:00pm and is a range of small snacks, shared with friends. The literal translation of the term is dot or touch the heart.
I recently went to the Royal China restaurant in London’s Baker Street, which has reputation of being one of the best places in the capital to eat Dim Sum. The dining space was spacious and airy and the décor was quietly sophisticated. My dining companion and I settled and perused the extensive menu while sipping a Chinese Sun Lik beer.
The items listed in the Dim Sum menu are helpfully accompanied by pictures of the dishes. We wanted a selection that would complement each other in terms of the way they were cooked and how the textures contrasted.
We ordered seven things which had been variously steamed, baked and fried. There were prawns dumplings, spare ribs, crispy spring rolls, prawns in a rice pancake, honey roast pork puffs, fried minced squid and pork dumplings. If you want to adjust the heat or flavour of the food then four dips are available but please beware of the darkest chilli sauce!
It is traditional to drink Chinese tea with Dim Sum but my companion and I couldn’t resist a peek at the wine list which offered a good range with an average bottle price of £20- £30. Defying all the rules of wine convention we chose The Guru Enlightens, the house red, a 2011 Merlot from South Africa. It was excellent, with the complex tannins offering the perfect foil to the food and at £18:50 was very good value for money.
Service is friendly and efficient and our food soon arrived. I have eaten Dim Sum many times and I would regard the food at Royal China as the culinary pinnacle of this food genre. The steamed spare ribs with black beans and a hints of chilli were tender and juicy, the Cheung Fun, prawns wrapped in a rice pancake, added a different texture perspective but the real stand out was the honey roast pork puffs. These little parcels of flaky pastry revealed a delicious surprise of sweet pork in the centre.
There were dessert style Dim Sum snacks which are served with the savoury dishes but we chose to satisfy our sweet tooth at the end with Bubble tea. This has been a Taiwanese sensation that has swept the word. Originally flavoured teas drunk through a straw with chewy tapioca balls at the bottom there are now more fun and interesting variants. The Royal China version has fruit flavoured balls which burst in the mouth, my choice was mango and my companion’s was passion fruit.
This was a novel finish to what had been a very high quality dining experience. I had been impressed with the service, the care taken over the preparation of the food, the ambience of the restaurant and the very reasonable prices. Individual dishes are on average £4 each, expect to pay around £35 per person for food, drinks and service.
As well as Baker Street there are Royal China restaurants in Bayswater, Fulham, Harrow-on-the-Hill and Canary Wharf. If you can’t make one of them for lunch there is an extensive a la carte menu (which can supplement your Dim Sum) available in the evening.
Dim Sum has been six millennia in the making and a top chef can train for up to ten years to become a master, I can thoroughly recommend going to Royal China to experience this unique food heritage for yourself
Royal China Baker Street
24-26 Baker Street
Tel: 0207 487 4688