Words: Mallory Legg
It takes a talented hand to craft a simple dumpling skin into a magnificent parcel supporting an incredibly curated amalgamation of flavor, aromatics, and edge. That's why Dim Sum is my favorite food style. It's one of those meals where when it's good, it’s not just good; it's fantastic. It's comforting while maintaining a light and airy elegance. It’s distinct, outstanding, and an entirely special and memorable flavor experience when done right. So here they are, the London dim sum restaurants that do it right.
Din Tai Fung
For many, the first spot that comes to mind when the words ‘dim sum’ are uttered is Din Tai Fung. And rightfully so, Din Tai Fung has established itself as the gold standard for dim sum menus everywhere with authentic recipes and outstanding craftsmanship. Despite only opening its London flagship in 2018 and being new to the list of restaurants that stand on a podium supported by the Michelin Guide, this notorious name has surpassed and consecrated itself as the dim sum hub in London. It is not often that I can so daringly defend a restaurant subject to such hype, but Din Tai Fung is special. I suspect that its reputation, along with its arguably perfect Xiao Long Bao, will long bathe in deserved infamy in whichever city you might find them in.
I find that those who are avid about dim sum have a favorite that doesn’t show up on many guides, one that they stumbled into one day and have since been a loyal customer. Mine is Beijing Dumpling, right in the heart of Chinatown. Something about the street window looking into the dumpling prep area grabbed hold of me and hasn’t let go since. I’d be lying if I said I don't think about this joint whenever I feel a tinge of hunger. Duck pancakes, cucumber salad, and, quite frankly, any dumpling on the menu are my go-tos. It’s consistent, it's fast, and it’s high quality. But, my high mark for dim sum comes from an exquisite xiao long bao, which can be found at Beijing Dumpling.
I love a place that specializes in a specific dish because that simple dish and the ways in which they make it memorable makes or breaks the entire joint. Bun House is an example of this. Cantonese steamed buns envelope some of the best fillings that London has on its menu: sweet or savory. Try the BBQ pork belly bun and the Custard bun for dessert. The fillings are strikingly rich and robust in flavor but balanced by the light, fluffy, impartial, yet exceptional dough that hugs it.
Dim Sum & Duck
Now, here’s a place that has been promoted from the ‘if you know, you know’ list of London restaurants, a place that is no longer a cult favorite but simply a favorite and a place that has earned long queues from the second the doors open at noon. It is called Dim Sum & Duck, and if you’re willing to wait in the queues for this walk-in-only, pantry-sized, modest spot, I assure you, the food more than makes up for it. With the most delicate dumpling wrappers in the city that work only as a bolsterer for the flavor of the filling, they are not to be missed.
Try the prawn and chive dumplings or the Cheung Fun in all of its glassy and slippy glory. They’ve earned their reputation in this competitive arena, and better yet; they’ve maintained an ere of unpretentiousness that is hard to come by once restaurants start getting shouted about in the streets.
With the skill it takes to perfect dim sum as well as the popularity it has gained in cities worldwide, there are spots in London that have established themselves as excellent and have climbed up the ladder, putting them on par or above the Michelin-stars that are so rarely earned and so scrupulously worked for in the culinary industry. A. Wong is among 17 restaurants in London that have earned 2 or more stars. In the past ten years, Wong and his team have garnered incredible distinction alongside curating superb menus, one of which, the dim sum a la carte menu, is of general impressiveness. Inspired by Hong Kong tradition and then interpreted, as Wong does with all of his dishes, to be unique and innovative, each dish is particular to the restaurant.
Judging from its impeccable reputation and fine dining flair, this menu is relatively moderately priced for this environment. That said, the more you order, the better; it is an experience to save up for to get stuck into the affair truly rather than just simply going. A Wong uses his restaurant to highlight Chinese culinary technique and its openness to the diverse and rich ranges of cuisine that have streamed in from its borders. A. Wong and dim sum is a celebration of culture.