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Dim Sum @ Phoenix Palace, London [Restaurant Review]

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

After Kang’s three consecutive blog posts on dim sum, I had severe cravings to get some myself and promptly arranged to get some the next available weekend. As Mr Noodles has been consistently singing the praises of Phoenix Palace, I figured it warrants a try.

For more background information on dim sum, Kang and Mr Noodles have both written excellent recent pieces on what it means to them both; as they pretty much echo my own thoughts, I’m not going to plagiarize emulate them but just direct you to their write-ups. Meanwhile, although World Foodie Guide is now sadly defunct, her guide to dim sum in London is a superb concise summary.

I think that’s enough references for now…

Phoenix Palace is located centrally just off Marylebone Road and just a couple of minutes away from Baker Street tube station. The store front merely hints at the décor inside, filled with shiny lacquered wood and traditional Chinese decorations and engravings looking very much the epitome of the old school opulent Chinese restaurant.

phoenix palace

Advised by my aunt, we arrived fairly early at 11:45 and to our surprise, found it already open and actually serving some people already. While waiting for my other two dining companions to arrive, we started ticking some options on the paper menu to hand over to the waitress and got a pot of lovely chrysanthemum tea to keep us warm.

Dishes arranged in order of arrival to the table, which is fairly random from my understanding.

phoenix palace 1

Char siew sou (叉燒酥) – baked Cantonese style pork buns - whilst the filling was decent enough in terms of taste, there was disappointingly little of it to be found. The pastry itself seemed a little dry as well. Overall a little disappointing (the definitive char siew sou is still Yauatcha’s venison version I had in 2008, but I haven’t sampled it since whilst there are mutterings in the wind that the quality has dropped).

Lo bak ko (蘿蔔糕)– fried turnip cake – the slightly crispy outside gave a nice texture while the taste itself was also surprisingly good. My only complaint is that the chilli sauce provided was too sour.

Ming ha gok (沙律明蝦角) – deep fried prawn dumpling with salad cream – fresh from the wok, the deep fried little goodies were nice and hot and the prawn filling was tasty and well seasoned.

Char leong (炸俩) – crispy fried dough in rice noodle rolls – the noodle casing was soft yet springy and most importantly, not overcooked. The yeow char kuai inside was still crispy and not greasy at all. My only question/complaint is the astonishingly little amount of soya sauce provided although I do appreciate them separating the sauce from the dough so it doesn’t get soggy.

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Har gow (虾饺) – steamed prawns in dumpling – we felt the dough casing was a wee bit tough, but the prawn contents were tasty enough.

Gau choy gau (韭菜餃) – steamed chives and prawn dumpling – this one meanwhile was perfect all round in terms of textures and taste. An excellent example of a traditional common dim sum dish.

Shanghai Siew long bao (上海小籠包) – Shanghainese pork dumplings – pretty dismal overall from the rather thick pastry to the dry filling (for the uninitiated, there is usually a little bit of soup within the dumpling).

Siew mai (烧卖) – steamed minced pork and prawn dumpling - in the top of the picture, it was pretty decent although fairly unremarkable.

phoenix palace 7

Char siew pau (叉燒包) – steamed Cantonese style pork buns – rotating clockwise to the right now, this suffers from the same problem as its baked version as there wasn’t enough of the meat filling. Looking past that however, it was overall pretty good and I ordered another portion later.

Pei dan sau yuk juk (皮蛋瘦肉粥) – porridge with century eggs and lean pork – I had a sudden craving for this but was a bit of a let down, mainly as there wasn’t any salted eggs inside. Nearly there, but not quite.

Lap mei fan (臘味饭) – glutinous rice with waxed meat - one of my favourite dishes to eat back home in Malaysia. Unfortunately, this didn’t match my previous experiences and lacked the black Chinese sausages to really give this dish its proper flavour. The rice was also a bit underseasoned and a bit on the hard side as well.

phoenix palace 6

Si chup jing pai gwat (豉汁蒸排骨) – pork spare ribs with black beans – one of life’s little pleasures, the tender little pieces were excellent to gnaw and chew to get the maximum amount of meat off the bone.

Fong chau (鳳爪) – braised chicken feet - the last in this picture at the bottom. Unfortunately, the skin was more akin to rubber with its chewy nature and while edible, not exactly desirable. We didn’t finish the dish.

phoenix palace 8

Wasabi prawn dumpling – from the special menu and one of Mr Noodles recommendations, this unorthodox piece was actually quite nice. The mild zing of wasabi complemented the modified har gow well.

phoenix palace 3

Lao sa pau (流沙包) – liquid custard bun - another from the special menu, the PigPig was highly interested in trying this as the custard filling was supposed to stream/ooze out. In this case I suppose it failed as it merely sat in the bun while we poked at it. The filling was also very rich and buttery but had a slight sandy texture to it. Altogether a rather odd little thing.

phoenix palace 5

Sou zha nai wong pau (酥炸奶皇包) – deep fried custard bun - similar to the one above, this custard filling was sweeter and more to my tastes. Pretty good and comparable to other places.

phoenix palace 4

Dan tart (蛋撻) – egg tart – I was a bit apprehensive at first as it looked slightly burnt, but it tasted well and the custard’s consistency was just right for me. However, it was lukewarm in temperature when it arrived on the table so it was probably sitting around somewhere else for a while.

Mango pudding – one of the few I’ve seen lately that doesn’t come in the shape of a goldfish, I’ll prefer it this way if it gives me a bigger sized piece.

Sai mai lo (西米露) – sago and yam in coconut cream - I took a spoonful, struggled with a second, then gave up. There was just too much coconut within this version.

Altogether, the bill came up to £21 each but we did order and eat a huge amount of food. Service was prompt and as friendly as a traditional Chinese restaurant can be, even when the 250 covers were all occupied and the entire room was a huge bustle.

Food – 5.5
Service – 5.0
Atmosphere – 6.5
Value – 4.0

We managed to sample a wide range of dishes, and overall they were mostly average to good quality overall although there were a couple I strongly disagreed with. However, I think that for nearly the same price, Pearl Liang has the better quality for nearly all the dishes.

Best bit: the sight of big families having lunch together, chatting away at the top of their voices without a care who was listening; just like home.
Worst bit: the sai mai lo was terrible.

Phoenix Palace Chinese Restaurant
St John's Wood / Lisson Grove
3 Glentworth St
Tel: +44 020 7486 3515
Official website

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon

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