PRINCESS GARDEN: DIM SUM ROYALTY
I’m not really sure how Princess Garden passed me by: it’s been swanking it up in Mayfair since 1982 and I adore good Chinese food (yes, I do know that’s about as meaningful as ‘Italian food’), and especially the bliss and ritual of yum cha or eating dim sum and drinking tea.
Perhaps it’s because it’s in Mayfair, a part of London I’m becoming increasingly allergic to. Possibly because it makes me feel like a poor relation (and we Taureans don’t like that). Or possibly because it has almost stopped feeling like London at all, more a homogenised hotch-potch of in-yer-face conspicuous consumption for the kind of people whose cars are armoured and who think we’re some kind of cute, theme park, third world country.
Anyway, after my review of the revamped Royal China in Bayswater appeared, talk on Twitter turned to favourite dim sum joints in London and was warmly recommended this oh-so-sleek joint by @Erik_ME. It looks, with its glossy bar, picture windows, carved screens and vitrines full of expensive artifacts, like the sort of place you’d find off the lobby of a five star hotel in Hong Kong. Staff, in natty suits, are notably pleasant – I mention that, because snotty service was my major bugbear with Royal China.
Princess Garden says it specialises in ‘Pekinese’ cuisine – ‘sea blubber a la Peking’, anyone? Its trademark duck is suitably wonderful, all the little pancakes wrapped for you as though you’re some kind of handless potentate, but the dim sum chefs are from Hong Kong. Smart move.
It’s a long time since I’ve had dumplings of such delicacy and artistry. The baked char sui buns pictured above are some of the loveliest I’ve eaten anywhere in the world: light, sweetish dough stuffed with perfectly judged, syrupy barbecued pork – they’re so flawless that we’re compelled to have the fluffy, steamed rice-flour and flaky pastry versions too. All stellar.
There are little seafood and nut parcels, the translucent dough of the utmost delicacy*; lettuce to wrap up a fabulously savoury mix of chicken, soy with the refreshing crunch of water chestnuts; hefty northern Chinese dumplings, the satisfying squidge of the boiled pastry and pork (sorry, more pork) contrasting beautifully with their soup of chilli and soy. Meat croquettes have the lightest, fried crust and a filling that exemplifies Cantonese delicacy: pale, with notes of seafood.
Princess Garden feels like a discovery: the other customers are the inevitable hedgefunders, wealthy Chinese tourist families with surly teenagers glued to iPhones, and tables of Middle Eastern ladies-who-lunch. I’m almost reluctant to tell you about it. It lacks the endearing freneticism of the favourites – Phoenix Palace or Pearl Liang – coming over as a swish oasis of sophistication. But our bill, with a clever little Alsace pinot gris, is about sixty quid and we’re stuffed like little har gau. I’m going back every chance I get.
(Click the photo for link to the website.)
*I’ve just been told by @waiyeehong on Twitter that these - pictured in the steamer - are Chiu Chow-style fun gwor.