Whether you're a dim sum daredevil or a play-it-safe type, you'll find London's thriving dim sum scene has something for you. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Top five dim sum restaurants in Chinatown
Never tried xiao long bau? These Shanghainese dumplings, sometimes called ‘soup dumplings’, are steamed parcels containing both filling and ‘broth’ – so make sure you pop them in your mouth in one go. Here they’re a house speciality, prepared by a line-up of chefs behind a glass pane. Skip past the ‘spicy pork’ version (made to a mouth-numbingly hot Sichuan recipe) and keep it classic with the likes of plain pork (the broth a heady ginger infusion), or vegetarian (this time with a garlicky number). Elsewhere, there are thick squares of moreish fried turnip cake and quivering cheung fun (stuffed rice pasta).
Though this Chinatown veteran isn’t as reliable as it once was, and the surroundings look a little tired, it’s still worth a visit, if only once. Don those rose-tinted glasses and picture it in its heyday: from the long approach over a dinky carp-filled pond to the double-height ceilings at the front. Though we’ve had dishes that were a touch doughy or bland, we’ve seen moments of brilliance too: from the perfection of a steamed prawn and chive dumpling, with its delicate case and aromatic filling; to moreish Vietnamese spring rolls, the golden deep-fried casing giving way to a dense, meaty centre.
Terrifying and brilliant in equal measure, Joy King Lau is run in the manner of a mass-market sports shoe outlet. Having been ushered into the large space (spread over several floors), you can sit, slack-jawed, as your order is conveyed via walkie talkie and headsets to the kitchen, who respond in kind by sending plates into the dining room via motorised dumbwaiter. By comparison, the decor and menu are fairly old-fashioned, but none the worse for it. Dim sum is excellent, from the huge (and hugely good value) single parcel of glutinous rice, to the crisp edges of the grilled dried shrimp cheung fun.
One of the few places in town to still offer a dim sum trolley service, this old-timer is about as close as you’ll get to the frenetic pace of lunchtime in Hong Kong. It looks the part, too, with hanging lanterns adorning huge red and gold dining rooms spread over several floors. One highlight from the trolley was the full-flavoured chunks of char sui (roast pork) stuffed generously into fat rolls of rice noodles (though the pastry itself lacked the correct amount of elasticity) – this inconsistency was a theme of our visit, but given the low prices and traditional ambience, New World remains worth a punt.
There may be roast ducks dangling in the window, but this is the smartest of the three Young Chens, complete with proper tablecloths and dark glossy furnishings. The laminated picture menu acts as a handy ‘Dim Sum for Dummies’, while the availability of more obscure dishes (curried octopus, satayed whelk) will satisfy those in search of adventure. It’s not all perfect, with low points including our tepid taro croquettes, but other dishes, such as the generously filled glutinous rice parcel and a set of shimmering steamed dumplings packed with sweet prawns, chopped chives and tiny diced water chestnuts, were worth returning for, especially given the keen pricing.
Top five dim sum restaurants elsewhere in London
A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, this restaurant on the Royal Garden Hotel’s 10th floor is a serene spot to enjoy high-end Cantonese cooking. Take in the views across Kensington Gardens while choosing from classic dim sum. It may play it safe – you won’t find any chickens’ feet or ducks’ tongues here – but is none the worse for it, with every item, from our beautifully textured seafood and pumpkin steamed dumpling to our crisp-edged pork, prawn and asparagus rolls, exceeding expectations. But these standards, combined with stellar service, come at a price: expect a bill that’s double what you’d pay on Gerrard Street.
Dark and swanky, with a jazzy cocktail bar and slick staff, this Cantonese expert in ‘new Paddington’ is good for a business lunch, though you don’t need an expense account to go for dim sum. Our favourites include the steamed dumplings, from one with a meaty pork and watercress filling to a clever pumpkin and ‘mock shark’ option – where slippery pieces of al dente noodles stood in for slivers of controversial fin. Elsewhere, there are prawn dumplings laced with modish wasabi and steamed ox tripe dumplings cut with ginger and spring onion. If you can’t decide, the £10.80 for 10 items ‘dim sum sampler’ remains a winner.
Tucked away on a quiet North Marylebone side street, this opulent Cantonese restaurant caters to all-comers. By night, luxurious and exotic ingredients (from abalone to ostrich) can be teamed up with pricey French wines, but by day, the high-quality, excellent-value dim sum is a reason to visit in itself. There’s a varied selection, from dependable favourites (roast pork buns; steamed vegetable dumplings; deep-fried sesame-crusted prawn rolls); to lesser-seen options (octopus patty) or the more traditional (black egg and salty congee); all of which deliver on freshness, taste and texture – belying the speed at which they exit the kitchen.
Thanks to its well-staffed dining room, upmarket interiors and smart Mayfair address, the a la carte prices at this Northern Chinese restaurant are unsurprisingly on the steep side, but come lunchtime and the Cantonese dim sum menu, and it’s an altogether more affordable affair. On our visit, steamed chicken and mushroom buns combined a depth of flavour with a light, bouncy texture, while a trio of giant rice noodles came stuffed with tender pieces of beef, a scattering of enoki mushrooms and tiny pieces of diced water chestnut. Is it fit for a princess? Absolutely.
This original – and for many, still the best – branch of Royal China is a crowd-pleasing middleman. Vibrant enough to compete with Chinatown on atmosphere, the upmarket gold and black interiors also makes it smart enough for special occasions – but without breaking the bank. This especially applies at lunchtime, when the great-value dim sum means that weekend queues are a norm. Recent favourites include lacy-edged taro croquettes, their starchy casing giving way to a juicy, meaty centre and the impeccably-crafted steamed dumplings, their opaque, stretchy casings holding in fillings such as sweet, juicy prawns and fragrant chopped chives.
Despite the name, the entertainment here comes not from clowns in collapsible cars or daring young men on the flying trapeze but from a new breed of cabaret acts: the long banquet table doubles as a catwalk-cum-stage for fire-eaters, burlesque acts and dancers. The food is pan-Asian, with dishes ranging from sushi and sashimi, dim sum, tempura and som tam salads to mains of miso black cod, baby chicken with white miso, truffle, lotus root, spinach and teriyaki, and Chilean sea bass with chilli, black bean, shaoxing wine, garlic and ginger. Desserts travel further afield – think churros with vanillia poached peach, or a chocolate and caramel fondant. The drinks list delivers classic cocktails with a twist: bellinis made with blood peaches, margaritas made with hibiscus juice and agave nectar. It gets quite clubby at weekends with regular DJs and, more often than not, dancing on the tables.
"Valentine's Day. Stunning three-course menu with Perrier Jouet Champagne cocktail at £75 per person. Email us to book!"