Chain is not a dirty word. In an era where we’re all looking for backstreet “authentic” tastes of foreign cuisines, it’s important to remember that these restaurants have their place – and many offer as genuine an experience as any hidden gem.
Ping Pong launched in London 12 years ago on Great Marlborough street and is known for its dim sum, Chinese tea and cocktails. But it might surprise you to know it was the brainchild of Russian Igor Sagiryan, who saw a gap in London’s melting pot of restaurants for family-friendly dish-sharing built on the increasingly popular “dim sum culture.”
More than a decade on, Ping Pong has 9 locations across the capital, including 2 floors in the heart of London, at the Southbank Centre. It’s certainly a savvy business decision; the restaurant is packed and there’s a queue of people out the door.
Ping Pong recommend approximately 5 dishes per person and each dish is designed to share. Dish types range from fried, baked and steamed dim sum to soups, salads and Ping Pong’s signature dishes, giving you plenty of variety. We settled down with a lemongrass and lime cocktail (with generous lashings of vodka and lychee sake) and a gin and Pedro Ximénez tonic, served with fresh lavender, to quench our thirst.
The service is super-fast – my tip would be to order a couple of dishes at a time as they all come out fairly close to each other. If you’re like me and can be daunted by mountains of food on one small table, stagger your sharing plates – you won’t be waiting long for the next ones.
We started with roast pork puff. It was so sweet it was almost like a savoury dessert. It would benefit from a bit more filling, but it was a solid start. The prawn and scallop sticky rice was interesting in that the scallop was the strongest flavour – something that surprised me. The dish was wrapped in a banana leaf, adding an element of theatre to the meal as we unwrapped the sticky parcels.
There’s nothing worse than a soggy spring roll, so I was happy with perfectly crisp and well packed duck spring rolls accompanied by its best friend, hoi sin sauce. If more robust dishes are what you’re after and you have a real hunger, then go for the crispy aubergine rice burger sliders – they’re incredibly dense and filled with flavour.
Asian cuisine can be known for its sweet and sticky sauces, and I’m on board with that – to a point. The chicken and cashew nut dumplings were a tad too sweet for me. Though they were balanced nicely when paired with the dipping vinegar.
Ping Pong’s known for its black prawn dumplings – and it’s easy to see why. The explosion of flavour matches the dim sum’s striking appearance and they were a real highlight in this whistle-stop tour through Ping Pong’s extensive menu.
Large or small; meat, seafood or vegetarian; baked, steamed, fried or griddled; dim sum diversity is the name of the game here at Ping Pong and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. If you’re looking for an authentically good time with varied and innovative takes on dim sum and beyond, then leave any misconceptions at the door and come on in.
Ping Pong – Southbank
Festival Terrace, Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX