Sister to Hakkasan, but serving just dim sum all day. Upstairs used to be a tea bar where you can wait for your table and try an exotic Chinese tea, but these days this room seems to be set aside as an overflow dining area, so busy is the restaurant. To give you a sense of scale, on a busy night they will process 650 covers. From what I have seen, pretty much every night is a busy night. The action is in the basement, which is less smartly designed than Hakkasan but still manages excellent lighting through a mix of candles sited in the walls, and a little galaxy of overhead spot-lights against a sky-like background. This is presumably intended to distract you from noticing the size of the tables, which are packed in like sardines. There is bench seating along the wall, and the chairs on the opposite side of the table are chrome affairs with just one low “arm” on one side – initially I thought this was some clever design effect, but I quickly realised that they are so small that normal human beings would not fit if the second side of the chair was built up.
At my most recent meal venison puffs had good pastry and rich venison filling. Har gau were superb as ever here (6/10), as were prawn and chive dumplings (5/10). Gai lan was beautifully delicate (6/10), and wild prawns with chill sauce were carefully cooked and had an excellent sauce, though were a little tricky to eat as they were served in their shells (4/10). Soft shell crab was decent and avoided any greasiness, but the potpourri like accompaniment made it a rather dry dish (3/10). Crab salad was nice, the salad carefully dressed, the crab with a spicy cocktail sauce (5/10). Vegetarian fried rice was also fine (3/10). We even made it to dessert, an apple pie with a lurid-green ice cream tipping tasting better than it looked (4/10), and coffee and chocolate cake also nice though a bit light on coffee flavour (4/10).
Service was uncharacteristically off-key today (I suspect they had fewer waiters on duty than planned). It was tricky to get attention, and we even ended up with an incorrect bill – this is quite different from the usually silky smooth service I have encountered here before, so is suspect it was a one-off issue. The food here is remarkably consistent, and the place was packed out throughout lunch.
What follows are notes from a 2011 meal here. The cooking is highly consistent.
As ever, the steamed dumplings were extremely delicate e.g. har gau with tender prawns (5/10). Char sui buns were extremely light and fluffy, with sweet minced pork inside (5/10). Salad of blue swimmer crab was pleasant, and the salad properly dressed, but somehow this lacked real excitement (4/10). The best dish of the night was halibut with red chilli and cabbage, the large piece of halibut cooked beautifully; plenty of Michelin starred restaurants would have done well to serve fish this precisely cooked (7/10). Malaysian noodles worked well (4/10) and for a change we made it to dessert. Baked cheesecake with blood orange sorbet had a good base and enjoyable filling, served with very well made sorbet, and pleasant but rather ordinary white chocolate foam (5/10). Chestnut and fig clafoutis with almond ice cream was also very pleasant (4/10). Service was very slick indeed, with waiters noticing every little detail. The bill was £70 a head, which seems to me fair for food of this quality.
Below are notes from meals in November 2009 and previously.
Fortunately the dim sum makes up for the relative discomfort. It is every bit as good as at Hakkasan, with superb har gau featuring very tender prawns and feather-light steamed dumpling surrounding the prawns (5/10). Prawns with chives were similarly excellent (4/10), as was a venison puff with lovely light pastry (5/10). Gai lan with ginger was lightly steamed and tasted of ginger (3/10) while char sui had a fine fluffy bun inside which was delicious minced pork with a hint of sweetnes (5/10). Singapore noodles were of thinner texture than usual but none the worse for that. Meat lovers can indulge in baked venison puffs (5/10) or excellent salt and pepper quail (5/10). One particularly impressive dish is stir-fried lobster with asparagus, which has lobster so tender that many Michelin-starred French restaurants would not match it (easily 7/10). Also excellent are almond prawns, large prawns deep fried and very tender, with a batter with a hint of almonds (5/10).
There is just one (Japanese) beer, but a wide range of green and black fermented teas. Curiously, just one jasmine tea is offered (when they have it), and although it is good I would give the nod to the one served at the Royal China. Service was friendly and fairly efficient, and dishes swiftly appear. Much has been written about their one hour and 45 minute table slots, but I have never found this to be a problem; you do not feel rushed. The bill can be a nice surprise, in one case just £55 for two with drinks for a hearty meal. The loos are distinctly cramped though they have rather pretty wash-basins, with water cascading down a series of steps.
Overall, perhaps the best dim sum in London (along with Hakkasan).