Fragrant food, tatty divine?
There is no shortage of Dim Sum places in and around London’s Chinatown. Although haute cuisine purveyors Hakkasan and Yauatcha get all the plaudits, cheaper and more informal eateries deserve no less attention. The Euro Hedgie and I decided to try out Harbour City, which sits at the east end of Gerrard Street, purely on the basis that we hadn’t been there in years.
If you’re expecting stylish, tasteful decor then Habour City won’t be for you. The beige, slightly tatty multi-floor dining space is clearly in need of a facelift as well as some common sense – rolling legless tables into a corner of the room and leaving them in plain sight is just plain ugly. By the standards of Chinatown, which is infamous for its efficient if brusque tableside manner, the service at Habour City was reasonably friendly. A waitress even said ‘have a nice day’ at the end of our meal which would have been an incident worthy of joyful jubilation a few years ago. Having said that, some of the staff still have both a limited grasp of English and a limited supply of patience, so it’s not an ideal place for Dim Sum virgins.
As usual for a Sunday, The Euro Hedgie was nursing a mild hangover so he wanted some grease to soothe his head. He therefore ordered the Singaporean prawn ho fun stir fried noodles despite my protestations. The dish was ‘Singaporean’ purely by the addition of curry powder which probably has nothing to do with the city state since a Singoporean chum of mine had never encountered it before coming to London. The dish was relatively ungreasy to the Hedgie’s chagrin and the small prawns were more like shrimp, but at least the noodles were firm. Not bad all things considered, but if the kitchen is going to shaft us on the prawns, then some respectable vegetables rather than scraps of onion and beansprouts would have been a good consolation prize.
I’m pretty sure there’s nothing Singaporean about these Singaporean fried noodles.
Shumai and har gau are old Dim Sum staples and every Dim Sum restaurant worth the name should be able to do them at least competently well. Shumai is a steamed pork, prawn and mushroom dumpling served in a thin beige opaque wrapping. Har gau is a steamed prawn dumpling with thicker partially transparent rice flour skins. Both of them were tasty and competently made and while their renditions here won’t set the world of Dim Sum alight, at least Harbour City didn’t screw them up.
What’s so ‘king’ about king prawns anyway?
The appearance and nature of whelks, a sea mollusc, and tripe, cow stomach, will put off many but the Hedgie and I can’t enough of them. The whelks here were steamed in curry sauce and had just the right texture – neither too firm nor too soft. The curry sauce was mild and peppery, but could have done with more character – at times it was bordering on chip shop-style curry sauce. The steamed tripe should’ve been served in black bean sauce, but there was precious little sauce in our dish. The tripe was still tender though and went down a treat.
Whelk-come to my blog
There’s not much black bean sauce in this tripe and black bean sauce dish
The appearance of shark fin dumplings on the menu may enrage opponents of the unethical and unsustainable trade, but Harbour City’s bargain basement version of the dish doesn’t actually contain any shark fin. This is probably because it’d make the dish too pricey rather than any ethical qualms on the part of the restaurant management. Salted pork and pickled vegetables are used instead to simulate the fibrous texture of shark fin, although the end result reminds me more of a dodgy prawn loaf I had once in Lincolnshire. Not bad, but unmemorable.
No sharks were harmed in the making of these dumplings
More successful were the deep fried pork balls. The outer shell was crispy giving way to a fluffy, surprisingly sweet interior with a small amount of tangy pork in the middle. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our lunch.
Who knew deep fried pork balls could turn out so interesting?
Another success was the steamed choi sum dumplings. Choi sum is the stem of a popular Chinese vegetable and is more commonly served steamed or stir fried on its own rather than inside a steamed dumpling. The tender stems and mild, spinach-like flavour lends itself well as a dumpling filling though. If nothing else it’s a refreshing change from the usual dumpling fillings used in Chinatown restaurants which are often a variation on prawn and pork.
With the exception of the choi sum dumplings and possibly the deep fried pork balls, the food at Harbour City was merely satisfactory and uninventive. However at a cost of just £15 each this is to be expected. As long as you know your way around a Dim Sum menu, Harbour City is an inexpensive way to fill up on decent dumplings, but there’s little to set it apart from all the other Dim Sum restaurants in Chinatown.
Name: Harbour City
Address: 46 Gerrard Street, London W1D 5QH
Phone: 020 7439 7859
Opening Hours: Monday-Thursday noon-23:30, Friday-Saturday noon-midnight, Sunday 11.00-22:30 (call to double check Dim Sum serving times)
Reservations: not necessary on weekdays, but probably a good idea on weekends.
Total cost for one person including Chinese tea: approx. £15