Dim Sum is for life not just for lunch
Chinese food is slowly losing its reputation as a greasy after-pub stomach liner. Glitzy West End restaurants like Hakkasan, HKK, Bo London and Yauatcha get all the attention, but another up market alternative is Pearl Liang.
Located near Paddington, this restaurant is situated in an odd sunken garden area, flanked by chain eateries and office blocks. The floral decor and polished wooden furniture are attractive enough, while the atmosphere was quite loud and buzzy. Service was polite and attentive, although it became noticeably slower as the dining room filled up as the evening went on.
The extensive dinner menu is filled with lots of Cantonese favourites as well as more innovative dishes and a small subset of the lunchtime Dim Sum menu. I decided to concentrate on the latter two during my weekday evening visit.
I started with the lobster sashimi which, unlike other lobster sashimi dishes I’ve had elsewhere, does actually consist of raw lobster. The body meat was firm and smooth with a slight springiness to it, somewhat similar to that of raw sweet prawn or scallop. The taste was relatively bland though, probably due to the fact that it was served chilled and on ice. The portion is quite small too, despite its high price of £30. Overpriced and underwhelming.
Courgettes aren’t native to China, so it was interesting to see shavings of zucchini paired with prawns in steamed dumplings. The strips of courgette added a crisp, buttery quality to the big, meaty chunks of prawn, but it was a very subtle effect.
I haven’t seen xiaolongbao served at a Dim Sum restaurant before. Pearl Liang’s version had thick, slightly chewy skins filled with a large chunk of finely ground pork and some soup that had a gentle ginger taste to it. Although the portion was smaller than usual compared to other restaurants in London serving xiaolongbao, they’re still pretty satisfying. It’d be good to see more of the creative varieties available in Shanghai, Taipei and elsewhere though.
Steamed prawn and wasabi dumplings are a fairly common pairing nowadays. While Pearl Liang’s version doesn’t try to reinvent this modern twist on traditional steamed prawn dumplings, they’re satisfying enough. The large meaty chunks of prawn have a mild heat to them that has the distinctive nose-tingling flavour of wasabi.
There are a few vegetarian-friendly options on the evening Dim Sum menu such as the monk’s vegetable dumplings. The filling of steamed earthy mushrooms and slightly sweet corn kernels was pleasing.
Only one of my trio of steamed scallop dumplings was actually filled with a whole scallop – the others were more bitty, but all were firm, smooth and reasonably fresh. The addition of celery shavings was unusual, but their crisp, refreshing taste worked surprisingly well with the relative butteriness of the scallops.
For dessert I opted for the fried chrysanthemum custard buns which seemed like the most interesting option on a menu comprised mostly of other traditional Chinese desserts (including an oddly out of place tiramisu). The crisp exterior wasn’t oily at all and gave way to a soft, fluffy interior and a creamy centre which had a subtly sweet tea-like herbiness to it. Not the most extravagant of desserts, but an effective finish nonetheless.
The Dim Sum at Pearl Liang is roughly twice as expensive as a Chinatown restaurant. While it has the distinction of serving Dim Sum in the evening, the quality of the food isn’t dramatically different from the dishes available in Chinatown. However, the apparent lack (as far as I can tell) of MSG and pork fat, both common additions in the dishes of cheaper Dim Sum restaurants, will appeal to the health conscious. Meanwhile, the generally conscientious service will be a refreshing change from the brusque Chinatown standard. I’ll have to go back to sample the non-Dim Sum dishes, but Chinatown has little to worry about.
Name: Pearl Liang
Address: 8 Sheldon Square, Paddington Central, London W2 6EZ
Phone: 0207 289 7000
Opening Hours: seven days a week, noon-23.00
Reservations: probably a good idea
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £70 approx.