10 November 2010

Pearl Liang, London - Review

We had just touched down at Heathrow and the hunger pangs that started at check-in in Oslo were now becoming an incessant, gnawing irritation. Must. Find. Food. On the Heathrow Express all thoughts of first dropping off the luggage at the apartment rapidly vanished. Must. Find. Food. Now! A few clicks on my phone and a quick scan of the interweb revealed a well-regarded Chinese restaurant close to Paddington station. Did they have a table for two available in 15 minutes?

So that is how Mrs. Nibbler and I arrived, luggage and all, at Pearl Liang, located in what estate agents euphemistically call 'Paddington Central' – a newish development of shops, offices and flats in what used to be a triangle of no-man's land, bounded by the railway line, Bishop's Bridge Road and the A40 flyover. Not the most obvious place to find exquisite dim sum, but find it we did.

Pearl Liang opened in 2007 and is owned by Humphrey Lee and Paul Ngo, the former manager and head-chef team of the acclaimed Mandarin Kitchen in nearby Bayswater. Together they have created a real gem of a Chinese (Cantonese) restaurant. For what it's worth, Pearl Liang was recently voted Britain's favourite Chinese restaurant in Tsingtao's third annual Legacy of Taste competition, ahead of over 500 other contenders.

We arrived at the tail end of a busy lunch service and the tables seemed to be packed with office workers finishing off plates of vibrant looking Cantonese food. The interior was an odd mix of glamour and corporate blandness – think of Hakkasan in a Holiday Inn Express and you'll get the idea. But by this point we were too hungry to notice, and almost before we were even seated we started rattling off our order from the extensive dim sum menu. I'm by no means an expert on yum cha, so I played it fairly safe and stuck with things I was familiar with. This was hardly the time for experimentation; we had appetites to feed! After a short pause the food started to roll out of the kitchen in double time and we were rewarded with stunningly fresh dim sum. As the first few delicious bites began to appease our ravenous bellies I could start to relax, safe in the knowledge that this would be a good meal.

First to arrive was prawn cheung fun (£3.20) served with a sweet soya sauce that was pored over it tableside. The slippery rice noodle rolls were packed with moist king prawns and the dish was a real delight.
Pan fried turnip cake (£2.70) was crisp on the outside and the soft interior was laced with pieces of pork.
Next, some plump, bouncy har gau dumplings of barely cooked prawns (£3.00), which were delicate and delicious.
King crab and egg white dumpling (£3.20) were fantastic. The rich crab meat was lightened by the egg whites and the whole thing was topped with roe.
Then, my favourite dish of the meal: delicious xiao long bao (£2.80), soup-filled pork dumplings, which burst in your mouth, their scalding hot contents bringing a tear to my eye.
Next, some barbecued pork puffs (£2.70). Triangles of puff pastry slicked with a sweet sauce and filled with jammy and savoury pork.
We also had some pork shu mai (£2.80) but I don't seem to have a picture of it. But these had a good balance between the fatty pork and lighter flavoured prawns. By now we were pleasantly full and so had to skip noodles and dessert.

The whole lunch, including the charge for the brusque, but efficient service, a bottle of Tsingtao beer and water, came to £30, which left Mrs. Nibbler and I giggling like schoolgirls at the seeming absurdity of it. Maybe I've been in Norway for too long, where £30 will probably cover one main course in a semi-decent restaurant in Oslo, but Pearl Liang seemed like an extraordinary bargain to me, and served some of the best dim sum I've had in the capital. Suffice it to say that I think I now have a new favourite dining ritual for when I am fresh off the plane in London.

Food:         8 / 10
Service:      7 / 10
Ambiance:  7 / 10

Pearl Liang
8 Sheldon Square
London, W2 6EZ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7289 7000

Pearl Liang on Urbanspoon
Square Meal