There’s not a lot that £8 will get you these days when it comes to a slap up, sit-down meal, in this great city of ours – and that’s talking lunch! A decent burger – minus the fries, a steaming hot bowl of ramen (extra broth, hold the chicken), or a pulled pork roll perhaps, as long as you take it away with you to eat at your desk. Cue a resounding state of shock and slight trepidation when a flyer is dropped on my desk declaring a lunch special of 8 items for £8. This would need further investigation…
Purveyors of steamed dim sum parcels, flowering teas and well shaken cocktails in the serene settings of a traditional Chinese teahouse, the folk at Ping Pong are the restaurant group behind today’s lunchtime venture. Welcomed heartily by the general manager as we entered the restaurant on London’s Southbank, the teahouse already had a buzz about it at 12:30, as columns of steam rose from punters indulging in one of their trademark beverages – the flowering teas. With flyer in hand, we were able to bypass the menu totally and move on to picking out tea – one of the 8 items from the Lunchtime Super 8 special.
Under the headlines of ‘rare & gourmet teas’ and ‘flowering teas,’ you are presented with some pretty impressive options, seemingly pulled out of tales from past Chinese Dynasties; ‘Organic Jade Sword,’ ‘Flowering Dragon Eye’ and the ‘Emperor’s Crown’ are just a selection of the teas on offer. We settled on the ‘White Peony,’ a thirst-quenching tea hung over the rim of the glass that exuded a sweet melon aftertaste. The other, ‘Emperor’s Crown,’ didn’t quite come across as a shining example to the sovereign ruler of the Chinese empire – if I were to best describe it, then a garden bulb in an empty glass would be the closest simile?! Pour over some hot water, however, and the bulb sprouts into life before your eyes, releasing a vibrant red flower crown into the glass, flavouring the water as it grows.
With 7 items still to come, it was a relief to see the lunch begin with just 2. Chicken wonton (dumpling) soup and the honeyed chicken rice pot were two heavy-hitting starters to get proceedings underway.
It seemed only right to begin with the soup, and so with our ‘tāngchí,’ (or Chinese soup spoon) at the ready, we dove into the broth that surrounded the delicate parcels of wonton. A light chicken broth flavoured with spring onions, soy and ginger was a good way to awaken the taste buds in preparation for things to come.
Next up, item number 3 came in the form of a honeyed chicken rice pot. Working out at just £1 an item you thought they may be serving half, or even quarter portions. Not here. With a dash of soy and a liberal sprinkling of chilli oil, I switched to the chopsticks and got to work. The chicken was moist and the vegetables crunchy. The soy was needed here as it would have been too dry if it had not been added, due to the generous helping of rice. Soy added and chopsticks chopping – the dish was devoured and, by the end, took on an almost jambalaya form. Now, I was getting full – 3 down, 5 to go.
The lunchtime experience was coming to its crescendo with the arrival of the final 5 items of the 8-course special. As Ping Pong’s website declares; “Steam is the key element at the very heart of Ping Pong,” so we were expecting big things from the steamed dumplings being delivered to the table in their traditional wicker baskets. Lifting the lid, looking through the cloud of steam, I was presented with chicken shu mai, seafood dumpling, spicy vegetable dumpling and chicken and cashew nut dumpling. Further investigation found our 8th and final item in the lower level of the basket, in the shape of crunchy, and of course steamed, broccoli. Each parcel, accompanied with soy and hot chilli paste, burst into life when devoured, and rounded off a lunch that, you can’t help but agree, was great value at just £8.
In regional Chinese dialect, the number 8 is viewed as such an auspicious number that even being assigned a number with several eights is considered very lucky. With 8 items, for just £8 in central London, you may leave feeling that little bit lucky.
Current Deals at Ping Pong (various locations):
Lunchtime Super 8: lunch menu of 7 items including a Chinese Tea only £8