It would be fair to say that of the many dim sum experiences we've had, the best have been in establishments where we were loathed to use the cutlery. Originally a form of Chinese peasant food, the steamed dumplings - filled with everything from roast pork to octopus - have been making their mark on the capital for a good few years now, with some of the most notable including Alan Yau's Yauatcha and Hakkasan, alongside the chainier Royal China and Ping Pong.
One of our favourites, Min Jiang, is tucked away on the top floor of Kensington's Royal Garden Hotel. A corporate block of a building set on the edge of Hyde Park, there's something more meat and two veg about it than haute-oriental cuisine, but don't let looks deceive. Serving top-notch dim sum for the past few years, the restaurant offers stunning views over the city, a lethal cocktail list — the watermelon notes of the Oriental Mojito made for one of the best we've ever tried — and, as of last week, a brand new tea menu, which we were first in line to sample.
Each of the three courses on the set menu come, as is tradition, accompanied by a different type of tea. The first, steamed course consisted of three dumplings. The crumbly, nutty pumpkin offering was streets ahead of the slightly flabby prawn parcel, while steamed crab meat made a substantial filling for the third and final dumpling. Though we could have done with a few more morsels, the low-caffeine Tieguanyin Tea with which the course came pared was light and fragrant.
The fried course — despite a lightness of touch and lack of excess grease — was a little less sparkling on the palette. The buttery, baked Char Siew puff was a shadow of its steamed compare, though the crispy prawn and asparagus roll was fresh and full of flavour, and the dense tannins of the eight-year-old Aged Pu Er Tea cut through both dumplings' oily residue with ease.
The final course of Min Jiang style fried Noodles was basic, but tasty nonetheless, while the Eastern Beauty tea (to which our waitress did not appreciate being compared) was jasmine-laced, light and delicious.
At £25 per head, including tea, the tasting menu is a reasonable way to spend a rainy afternoon, and with courses served at lightning speed, tea re-poured the moment cups are drained, friendly staff eager to explain every bite in detail and not forgetting the aforementioned cocktail list — you could find that the afternoon turns very quickly into evening.
The dim sum pairing Chinese tea menu is now available at Min Jiang, Royal Garden Hotel, 2-24 Kensington High Street, London W8 4PT, from Monday to Friday. www.minjiang.co.uk
Words by Teo van den Broeke