Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Ping Pong, Soho


Before we go any further, Full Disclosure. I didn't pay for this meal. I was invited by the PR lady to try their new Autumn menu after I made some (unprompted) positive comments about it on Twitter, and of course I was happy to accept. But believe me or not, I have always had a soft spot for Ping Pong. Whether or not the traditionalists like it, dim sum lends itself extraordinarily well to post-pub dining, and although Yauatcha was probably the first place to promote the peculiar idea of serving food when the customers might want to eat it rather than when the restaurant decides is convenient for them, the raft of mini-chains that have followed in its wake (including Dim T) have proved that it's not that peculiar an idea after all.

When you think about it, it's obvious. A group of friends, some more hungry than others, some more drunk than others, some leaving early, some arriving late. Imagine trying to make a booking at a restaurant in Soho last-minute - "Yeah, between two and twenty of us, some not eating, some not drinking either. We'll be there any time in the next four hours." Not going to happen is it. But here stands Ping Pong: vast, reasonably priced and welcoming. Sure, you'll have to queue in busy periods, and it can get quite boisterous later in the evening, but for a reliably fun place to share food, sip fruity cocktails and not completely drain that month's budget, I can hardly think of anywhere more suitable.



We started small, with nibbles of Sichuan pork cracklings (not very Sichuan-y - in fact they tasted just like your average pub pork scratchings, albeit served with a really lovely chilli oil) and tamarind prawn crackers (the tamarind sauce was lovely and sharp, and the crackers themselves looked pleasingly rustic) while we supped on our largely successful house cocktails (my lychee martini was pretty good, although the Earl Grey julep was odd).



Seafood puff was a little low on filling, but what was there was tasty. The mooli and spring onion puff is described on the menu as containing 'a hint of garlic' but was so overwhelmingly garlicky it almost drowned any other flavours. Slices of smoked duck were a bit flabby but full of smoky flavour, and one of the new dishes, 'Beggar's Chicken' looked the part and tasted great with its sharp hoi sin dressing.



I won't detail everything we ate - you've probably had enough of the blow-by-blow style after El Bulli and the Sportsman - but some highlights were the char sui buns, usually a good measure of a dim sum restaurant and which passed that test perfectly, being light and gooey and with a great tasting sweet pork filling. The seafood dumplings also tasted as good as they looked, folded into a cute tortellini shape and stuffed full of sweet prawns and scallops. Unfortunately I didn't think much of the honey-glazed spare ribs, which looked a bit over-marinated and bedraggled, and although the crispy prawn balls looked spectacular in their nest of deep-fried egg pastry, there was simply too much grease for me to wade through to find the prawns.




Desserts, so often an afterthought in Chinese restaurants, were surprisingly good. Admittedly had I been paying I probably would never had ordered them, but the mango pudding was lovely and fresh tasting - straightforward but deliberately so - and the "Ping Pong Delights" (which I'm told are also known as mochi) were great fun, with a spongy pastry coating three radically different flavours of ice cream. We particularly enjoyed the vanilla and mango with a quite unexpected chilli heat. Only the chocolate and wasabi mousse was a bit of a let-down, the fiery horseradish sitting very uneasily with the sweet chocolate.


If you've ever been out in Soho or Oxford Circus and been looking for somewhere to eat, chances are you've already found Ping Pong and none of this is news to you. And in fact they seem to have struck a chord with Londoners at large, judging by the alarming growth rate of what was once a mini-chain - there are now twelve branches. Ping Pong is a fine example of the way London can enthusiastically adopt a cuisine from another country and twist it just subtly enough to meet its own local needs. No, it's not strictly "traditional" to eat dim sum in the evening, but this is after all London, not Hong Kong. We do things differently here.

Ping Pong on Urbanspoon

13 comments:

tehbus said...

I love Dim Sum, and although not offended by the food at Ping Pong (I actually quite enjoy it), the eventual cost and value for money is disappointing. Dishes are way overpriced compared to many other dim sum restaurants in London. However, it is definitely convenient and the multiple chains make getting my dim sum fix a whole lot easier. Cos sometimes, you just gotta...

Graphic Foodie said...

I went to Ping Pong a few months ago and started with that very cocktail at the top with the rosebud! Pretty :)

Yeah, I was with a big group of people and the interior is nice. I agree with Tehbus about the overall value for money - can think of a lot of better places to eat for a similar budget.

But it is good for a big group of people to pile into where the evening is more about the company you are in rather than the food.

Gourmet Chick said...

I am happy to eat dim sum anytime of day but have to say I am not a fan of ping pong having had some very papery tasting dumplings there. Should say though that the cocktails are excellent.

Pete said...

From a business point of view, I wish I'd come up with the Ping Pong concept. It seems to be going down really well with Londoners, and I suspect most people think it's brilliant.

Of course it is style over substance, and anyone, whether Chinese or not, who has tasted authentic dim sum will recognise that. I'm the first to admit that being half-Chinese and a food obsessive, I'm incredibly snooty about dim sum. That said, the fact that the chain has introduced new diners to dim sum is a good thing. Perhaps after a first experience at Ping Pong they will go on to explore what Chinatown and Bayswater have to offer and realise that you can better elsewhere at a fraction of the cost.

I still think the sign of a good dim sum restaurant is not what's on the menu, but how many Chinese families are eating there on a Sunday lunchtime.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought their dim sum was average (though not bad!), but very few Chinese restaurants can serve a decent cocktail so it still gets my custom on occasion. Mostly I agree with tehbus' comment.

Mr Noodles said...

Dim sum at night is not just a London thing. You can get late night dim sum in its birthplace of Guangzhou (Canton). This is known as going to 'yum ye cha' (lit. drink late tea) as opposed to the normal 'yum cha'. It's served from 8.30pm onwards and is seen as a snack to kick off or round off an evening out.

Considering myself a bit of a traditionalist and dim sum snob, it's not so much the evening serving or the inauthentic dim sum offerings that annoy me at Ping Pong. From my one visit, I found the dim sum to be poor quality and overpriced although I admit it has nibbles & cocktails appeal.

But I agree with Pete in that Ping Pong is a good thing if it acts as a pathway to better quality dim sum in London.

Kavey said...

I have to confess, I'm not a fan of Ping Pong myself. For me, it's just too dark and loud and trendy and focused on the drinking. The food (and service of it) seems very secondary. I just didn't rate the food highly at all when I went, once only and not again.

But your experience sounds much better.

mathildescuisine said...

The char sui buns are my favourites and I think that this is one of the reasons I like to go to Ping-Pong. It may be not the finest chinese cuisine but I like the fact that you can order different dishes and their cocktail list is quite good. A good concept

Laissez Fare said...

I've actually always had a soft spot for Ping Pong too...have been numerous times and have never left feeling disappointed...some of the dim sum is average, and I've had a few sub-par ones, but a lot of it is really pretty good. If you order cleverly (or go for their all you can eat deal on Sundays), it doesn't cost all that much in my experience. Some of their cocktails are nice too. I agree with Graphic Foodie that it's a good place for groups.

foodrambler said...

I've only been to Ping Pong once - after that Brazilian wine tasting at Guanabara and a long walk around the area finding that most places were too full to take in 10 bloggers. Maybe I was drunk by the time we ate, but I wasn't overly impressed with the dim sum that time. Apart from some really yummy aubergines.

Mei (Family Styles) is cooking for our Dim-Sumptious Rambling menu this Sunday & we spent the day yesterday making fortune cookies - great sense of silliness comes from making up fate!

Craig said...

I'm with you in the pro Ping Pong camp. Think it produces decent dimsum at a reasonable price.

Although to be fair that is only in comparison to some of the other places i've had it such as Dim-T and a couple of other places in Hampstead, which weren't great.

Must try some of the more authetic places...

ian.douglas said...

I absolutely agree. There are better places but Ping Pong's really not bad. For every weird sausage roll thing that tastes like it's been in the fridge for too long there's something like those lovely steamed char sui buns or the fantastic soft shelled crab.

David McCarthy said...

A good review, liked the pictures too. It would be useful to understand what the indicative cost is, but particularly your score out of 10.
Keep up the good work. I have walked past ping-pong many times, so have often thought about going there, and probably will now.