Char siu bun, tick. A plate of soft turnip cakes, nod. Siu mai, sure. Har gow, absolutely. See, dim sum is an irresistible meal. Irresistible in options. Steamed and savoury, deep-fried and desserts. It’s irresistible in the way you order it. Whether pointing at a cart (RIP) and nodding at the plates that take your fancy or, dangerously, crossing or ticking - Cross. Tick. Cross. Tick - this Cantonese lunch time special is truly in the upper echelons of all meals. These spots - from the lowkey, to the high-end, to the airport adjacent - are where you should be enjoying your dim sum in London.
12:00pm - 5:00pm
Quality and quantity is the expectation, but sadly not always the reality, when it comes to dim sum. In Chinatown you can find both of those things at truly affordable prices if you choose the right restaurant. Joy King Lau is one of those restaurants. The old school three-floored spot harks back to a different time, one where a using a public phone on the first floor landing of a heaving Chinatown restaurant in between digesting pork puffs and slippery Hong Kong-style cheung fun was just, like, a necessity. Of JKL’s enormous (and satisfyingly laminated) dim sum menu, few options steamed, fried, or otherwise do not hit the mark. The croquettes are stuffed with char siu and the whelks are perfectly curried. Plus, nothing goes much past the £4 mark.
12:00pm - 5:00pm
The original Royal China Club on Baker Street is a restaurant that plenty of people go a little misty-eyed about. It’s an institution where the chilli oil or hoisin-stained white table cloths can bring back all kinds of memories. And also, the steam from a tower of dumpling baskets can really fog up your glasses. Royal China’s lengthy dim sum menu is legendary for good reason. It ranges from the familiar (prawn cheung fun, say) to the fancy (crispy rolls with scallop and foie gras), so don’t be surprised that it can easily add up to west London club prices. That said, this is a club where everyone has always been welcome and sometimes you deserve some dim sum with a difference.
A relative newcomer on the scene that Londoners are wondering how they ever did without, Dimsum & Duck has quickly become a must-visit restaurant for Cantonese cuisine. Unlike many dim sum restaurants in London, the little King’s Cross spot makes and serves their peerless xiaolongbao, heaving char siu, cheung fun, and bobbing wonton soup day and night. This is obviously good news. Not least because in careful crafting and fantastic flavour, it’s perhaps London’s best dim sum - plus it’s at a very affordable price.
12:00pm - 5:00pm
Despite its glassy exterior, its proximity to Paddington station (undoubtedly a bottom three London terminus), and its misfortune to have the words Toby and Young appear in relation to a review of it, Pearl Liang is a fine choice for dim sum. The business-feeling-but-not-business-priced restaurant keeps everything around the £4 - £5 mark which reflects the satisfactory standard of siu mai, cheung fun with XO sauce, and the comforting spicy prawn ravioli in broth. AKA, prawn wontons. FYI they also offer a dim sum set menu of 8 items for just under £12, which is very reasonable.
12:00pm - 3:00pm on weekdays, 4:00pm weekends
Imperial in name and imperial in price, four pieces of siu mai will set you back £8 in this sedate St. James’s restaurant. Other than pins dropping and reverential Peking duck servings, what you’ll notice at Imperial Treasure is how unbelievably, totally, eye-wateringly good everything tastes (and costs). The sesame prawn toast comes in form of a chunky minced prawn head down in a sesame covered roll, while the golden net prawn cheung fun - filled with youtiao (crisp deep-fried dough) and hunks of meaty prawn - is easily one of the best dim sum plates you can eat in London.
12:00pm - 4:45pm
Understanding that you can’t order everything from Orient’s 70-something item strong dim sum menu can be hard to come to terms with. Not just because of greed and want, but because any menu operating on a pen and paper system is frankly never-not-dangerous. But regardless of whether you order one dish here (the XO fried turnip cake, FYI) or several (the Orient mixed cheung fun and roast pork puffs are particularly excellent), you’re going to be satisfied. Aesthetically, the Chinatown restaurant feels slicker and shinier than some of its old school, canteen-like counterparts. Not that that’s reflected in the prices. £10 on two dishes goes a long way here.
If Din Tai Fung could have trademarked the xiaolongbao they more than likely would have. But while they are perhaps the most world famous name associated with the soup dumpling, they aren’t the very best around. Nonetheless they are still better than most London examples of precisely pleated buns with scorching broth and meat inside. It means that, without the queues, Din Tai Fung is an appealing place to eat in. A spread of soup dumplings, jiaozi and shao mai will rarely put you wrong.
12:00pm - 5:00pm
If you’re looking for the excess and affordability of Chinatown dim sum in a restaurant with a difference then look no further than Yi-Ban in Docklands. The difference at this big Thames-side restaurant is that while your spare ribs in black bean sauce might just be alright, you’ll also see a Embraer E190 taking off from City Airport mid gnaw. While things oscillate between decent and delicious (safe steamed bets like crystal dumplings and pork buns are the way to go) the view is never in doubt. Besides, airport restaurants are in their own category - and that makes Yi-Ban top notch.
In the USA, or in certain London restaurants, dim sum can feel a little bish, bash, bosh. We’re not talking about the food but in the way it comes. Plates on plates being plopped from trolley to your table, steaming towers of dumplings appearing out of nowhere. It’s flustered and filling and thoroughly fantastic. This is not what Yauatcha is like. Yauatcha is slick and shiny and extremely specific. The dim sum, nonetheless, is very good. Of course the venison puffs cost £12 a pop and naturally so does a spicy pork Szechuan wonton. No, it’s nowhere near close to ‘cheap’. But yes, it does taste good.