Saturday, 16 May 2009

Phoenix Palace

I find it rather tiring when people keep badgering on about the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Personally I feel strongly that MSG is pretty much part and parcel of the cooking process in Chinese restaurants and we should all accept it without fuss. However the main culprit of this so-called syndrome is in actual fact the bill! The majority of restaurants who resort to unsavoury tactics that surreptitiously include hidden charges and latent gratuities to your final bill are simply ignominious. Unfortunately it’s difficult to contemplate boycotting a restaurant that indulges in this kind of practice if its kitchen keeps dishing out delicious food. Look at the bill below, we were charged tea for four when there were only two of us for lunch today.

It was just as well that I had a snapshot of the itemised bill; I only noticed the irregularity when I was selecting the photos to upload for this review. The VAT bill that you’re entitled to keep is as usual vague as hell (last photo), one total and nowt else for correlation purposes. Moral of the rant is to check your bill very carefully before typing in your card pin or you’ll be pulling your hair out.

Phoenix Palace despite the balls-up is rather good. It’s also one of only two places (the other being Harbour City in Chinatown) in London that my daughter and I enjoy going to for Dim Sum. The dim sum that we feel most comfy with has to be traditional and more like what you’ll find in the grande dame restaurants in Hong Kong. By traditional I mean no play or improvisation on ingredients (like venison in Yauatcha) or exotic twists (like Dover Sole Cheung Fun at Royal China). For a more comprehensive guide to eating dim sum in London please visit Helen Yuet Ling’s wonderful post, she’s better versed and unlikely to ‘by enlarge’ like I always do. I believe that Phoenix Palace is the Chinese restaurateurs’ restaurant for yum cha (I can’t be bothered to explain, just take it as another term for dim sum eating) in London. A certain Mrs L, who owns a massive eatery in Chinatown, passed on this trivia to me; I guess she knows a thing or two about her steamed prawn dumplings, so best not dispute.

The road where the restaurant is located is perfect for vehicles attempting three point turns in order to avoid joining the hellish traffic on Marylebone Road.

Upon entering it’ll be difficult not to notice the photo gallery of celebs who come here. From the photos it was quite obvious that this is Tony and Cherie Blair’s local Chinese joint.

The dining room is erring on posh chinoiserie but lacking any final conviction on style. The service is not the friendliest (the guys who work here always have that ‘bad day at the races’ look about them!) but marginally efficient (damn that 12.5% charge).

Ordering your lunch is relatively painless, tick what you want and hope for the best.

Pork and Yam Croquette

Yes this is a true croquette. Wavey and I agreed these are the best Wu Goks (Cantonese name) we've encountered in London. The colour is right and the filling of delicious pork was spot on.

Boneless Chicken Claw in spicy vinaigrette
If Fergus Henderson were to include chicken feet in his restaurant it would probably resemble something like this except that he'll use balsamic vinegar, fresh tarragon, Halen Môn salt and charge the earth for it! I defy you to give it a go, it’ll make you run faster! Fiendishly good.

Crispy fried squid
Child's dish and not my kind of thing. Surprisingly this was well executed, good batter and tender fish.

King Prawn Croquette with salad cream
How can anyone not like these fried dumplings (gawd knows why Phoenix Palace calls them croquette?). Is one enough for a pig like me...swine flew!

Crispy Dough Stick
This was erroneously ticked, I actually wanted the same thing but wrapped with a rice flour cannelloni that’s known as Char Leung. It wasn’t too bad but too expensive for something that’s inherently bland and greasy. Read my past post on fried dough stick here.

Today's special of Salted spare ribs and preserved vegetable congee
I do hate that word congee, it should be porridge or at worst, gruel. Like Jewish chicken soup, this dish puts a smile on one’s face. Excellent.

Shark Fin Dumpling in Soup
I wholly acknowledge that this dish is unethical, but I don’t order this every week. Besides it’s worth reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s view on shark’s fin. Think of the dumpling as a decadent lobster ravioli but only more delicious and cheaper. Yum!

Cream Custard Bun
Refreshingly soft and fresh, wonderful eating and a perfect end to the meal.

Although this review of Phoenix Palace is based purely on the dim sum lunch, I’ve also been here a few times for dinner. Dinner here is generally expensive and average at best, the best kind for à la carte dining can be found instead at Min Jiang or the Peninsula in Greenwich (although their dim dum bores me). My recommendation for this place is only for the dim sum. Truth be told there’s currently no defining dim sum restaurant for me in London, but I’m au fait with Phoenix Palace. Just watch your bill!

NB Phoenix Palace's Roast Pork and Char Siu are amazing, don't forget to order them as well.

5 Glentworth Street
London NW1 5PG


Hollow Legs said...

Interesting... I always go to Peninsula for dim sum which I like; I've heard their evening meals aren't very good. Further inestigation needed.

(Did they refill your teapot? Maybe that's why they charged for 4)

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

I stopped eating at Phoenix Palace about 5 or 6 years ago for both dim sum and dinner after it was my local for years. I was really excited about it for ages, but I think the standards dropped and when I moved away, there was no reason to return. Try Yum Cha on Chalk Farm Road! It's just been added to my dim sum recs list.

Sung said...

I rate Phoenix Palace for dim sum. Their specials board include some real gems (albeit marked-up gems) like prawn and wasabi dumpling.

I agree that their char siu and siew yuk are excellent but for a special treat, you should try their suckling pig - it's available as a lunchtime special with or without jellyfish at weekends.

bellaphon said...

Lizzie- Charging for refills, surely that's not constitutional!

HYL- Read your post on Yum Cha, suppose the inevitable has to be tasked. Actually it's close to the Central School of Speech and Drama where my daughter goes to, will visit sooner rather than later, thanks.

Sung- Now that you've reminded me I should've mentioned that the dim sum here is not cheap either. Jellyfish, I love that.