In common with many restaurant chains, it’s very easy to have a pop at Ping Pong. So I’m going to start my review with a few positives. The branch I visited (on Great Marlborough Street) is stylish and buzzy. The menu is well presented with a ‘dummies guide to dim sum’ and brief descriptions of all the dishes. In addition to the à la carte, there are also set menus that enable solo diners/small groups to sample a wide variety of dim sum. And I have nothing but praise for the efficient and friendly service. So far, so good, but just how far can a restaurant go on style without substance? Well let’s find out.

Baked & Fried Dim Sum

As I was dining alone (I took it for granted I couldn’t persuade anyone to join me at Ping Pong), I went for the Ping Pong Collection (£9.95) in order to try out ten different dim sum. The baked/fried dim sum came out first, and my first impressions were that the spring rolls were stingily filled and a bit ‘supermarket’. Of these, the crispy duck one was the pick of the bunch, whilst the less said about the Vietnamese rice paper prawn roll and mixed vegetable spring roll, the better. In contrast, I liked the roast pork puff, which had a well-seasoned filling enveloped in a crisp pastry.
Steamed Dim Sum

As mediocre as the spring rolls were, they were positively stunning when compared to the steamed selection. In general, the dumpling wrappers were too thick and had a claggy texture whilst the fillings were underseasoned. Moving onto the dumplings individually, the shortcomings were myriad. The har gau (prawn dumpling) was so overcooked that the wrapper fell away from the prawn upon picking it up with chopsticks. The fillings in the chicken & cashew nut dumpling and spicy vegetable dumpling were too grainy.

I haven’t finished yet! The green chive dumpling did contain prawns as promised, but there were no chives, just a load of other random filler. The chicken shu mai (sic) was a bit dry, which is why this open-topped dumpling is usually made with fatty pork to give it a juicy quality. And to cap it all off, the vegetable sticky rice was bland and stodgy. In short, this bamboo steamer represented the Room 101 of dim sum.

Half-Decent Bao

As I feared the Ping Pong Collection might not sate my appetite, I also ordered a portion of cha sui bao (sic). I actually enjoyed these, as the buns were nice and fluffy and the filling (the same as the roast pork puff) was well seasoned. However, in comparison to other Chinese restaurants, £2.99 for two buns is a bit of a rip-off when most places serve three for a similar price.

To drink, I went for vintage pu-erh tea (£2.25). This was high quality stuff, but it was served in a glass. This meant no refills, and as the glass had no handle and I don’t have Teflon hands, it was very tricky to drink. In total, the bill came to £17.38 including 12.5% service. Whilst not exactly exorbitant, there are loads of places where you can eat more and better dim sum for the same price.

Two, maybe three, acceptable dim sum out of eleven is pretty lamentable, and the food was as poor as I remembered from my previous visit to Ping Pong a few years ago. This is a pity, as there’s definitely a niche in the market for an accessible quality eatery to attract those who might not otherwise check out dim sum the old school way. In fact, there is a risk that some are put off dim sum altogether by Ping Pong. And that really would be a crying shame.

But let’s not single out Ping Pong, or even chain restaurants for that matter. Other cities have top quality chains that I’d love to see in London. Just imagine if instead of Ping Pong, we could eat dumplings from Din Tai Fung and wouldn’t it be great if we could slurp noodles at Ippudo instead of Wagamama? We can dream, but as long as Londoners settle for second-rate crap, they will be locked in the chains that they deserve. Or to put it in the words of some Welsh blokes: IF YOU TOLERATE THIS YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE NEXT.