PEARL LIANG: A JEWEL ON THE GRAND UNION CANAL
When it comes to Dos Hermanos doing dim sum, there are of course rules to be adhered to.
At least six steamed dishes, at least six fried dishes. Some cheung fun, some roast meats and something wobbly and a little scary for dessert.
Not much to ask. But, amongst the fraternity of Chinese restaurants in the capital, there is a huge gulf in the quality of what hits the table.
At the top , Hakkasan and Yauatcha, of course. Hugely expensive, snotty service but taking dim sum to a new level.
At the bottom end are the standardised offerings of Chinatown with many of the items bought in from neighbourhood supermarkets, sloppy preparation, poor frying and surly service.
Then, there is the middle ground which to this point Royal China has had to itself. Decent quality, reasonably priced and freshly prepared without trying to recreat the wheel. Hence the fact all the branches have queues coming out of the door when it is Dim Sum time.
Well, in terms of mid range Dim Sum, I am pleased to say that there is a new sheriff in town and Royal China is going to have to look to its taro stuffed Laurels.
Open for a mere five months, Pearl Liang is hidden away in the new development of Paddington Central sitting uncomfortably next to a running shop, a couple of chain restaurants and the inevitable Subway franchise.
But, it is well worth seeking out for a quality of cooking that, based on recent visits, is at a much higher level that Royal China.
Turnip cakes, Pork croquettes and taro wrapped crispy prawn showed frying of the highest order. The lack of greasiness and crispness of the batter showed a chef who knows he basics and it was little surprise to hear that he was formerly a chef at The Golden Palace, the long gone but fondly remembered restaurant in Harrow on The Hill.
Steamed dumplings were equally good with even bog standard staples like Shu Mai showing a deft hand.
Three things on their own however, would make the trip across to Paddington worth the journey.
Plates of roasted duck and crispy belly pork were as good as I have had in any Chinese restaurant in London. The pork was fatty with a gloriously crisp crackling that fizzled away like space dust when you took a bite and the duck showed none of the sliminess that is so common in Chinatown.
Best of all, however were the Shanghai soup dumplings. It is so rare to get the real thing in London, but these are the real deal. A dumpling with a bite, just the right amount of liquid, a meaty filling and the required vinegar sauce. To bite the top of these, slurp out the soup with a little of the sauce and then chomp down on the remainder is one of the greatest pleasures in all eating and these hit the spot.
The scary dessert was, in fact, the reasonably benign sweet black bean stuffed sesame balls and brought the bill to a mere £55 which included a 12.5% charge for service so amiable they will be drummed out of the “what the fuck do you want?” Union for unpleasant Chinese restaurant staff. What it did not include was a charge for limitless refills of excellent Pu Er tea which came free, gratis and for nowt. Quite right too.
The main menu is seafood heavy which is no great surprise as the main chef comes from The Mandarin Kitchen in Queensway. There is enough of interest on there to make me think that a revisit in the evening may be worthwhile. For the moment, however, it is just a pleasing thing to be able to report that The Royal China has some serious competition in the Dim Sum stakes.