Phoenix Palace is known to many Londoners as the very 'Chinesy' restaurant near Baker Street. With its Chinese lanterns, curves wooden dividers and other artifacts including a Guan Gong idol, Phoenix Palace indeed triumphs over Royal China, which actually is on Baker Street.
Interestingly, Phoenix Palace is known to Singaporeans as the Chinese restaurant in London with the picture of our former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (or Chok-Tong Goh in this part of the world). While I didn't note whether that photo is still up on the celebrity board, I did notice the ornamental fish tank tucked in a corner though; anyone who dines in a restaurant with a toddler in tow would know that a fish tank with attractively coloured fish that you have no names for can easily occupy the little one long enough for you to gobble down your food.
Obviously, I get less opportunity to practice my Mandarin in London and seize every opportunity to do so. I greeted the harried looking host at Phoenix Palace in Mandarin who promptly replied us in English. Subsequent attempts of using Mandarin were rebuffed by him as well – another reason for me to brush up my Cantonese.
We were fortunate to have reserved a table earlier in the morning as Phoenix Palace was packed throughout our meal. There was a persistent queue of hungry customers who had only the celebrities’ photo board to occupy them.
Among the common searches that descended on both London Chow and London Expat is the search for “child friendly restaurants in London”. Ironically, Chinese dim sum restaurants in London are generally considered child friendly even though their staff typically pay no heed to children (unlike The Blue Legume), neither are there free balloons for the toddlers (unlike Giraffe). Chinese restaurants, especially popular ones are noisy, tipping towards rowdy. You can count on the din to drown out any baby’s cries. So yes, in that respect, Phoenix Palace is child friendly.
We were feeling a bit adventurous so we went for one of the specials – crispy fried seafood wrap (£4.20). The wrap looked very much like a flattened spring roll. With rice based glutinous gel made up the bulk of the filling, the only seafood I notice was the small prawns, which fell out of the wrap. The sweet sauce that came with it hardly masked the fact that the wrap had been fried in old oil.
Barbecued pork buns or charsiew buns (£2.80) were up next. I have acquired a rather unsightly habit when consuming this snack that I had since I was a kid. Instead of reaching for my chopsticks, I tend to handle the bun with my fingers, tear it apart slowly, take a whiff of the fillings before taking a nibble followed with a huge bite. Not exactly the most gracious dining habit, I'm afraid.
Phoenix Palace charsiew buns didn't quite deliver. The dough was fluffy enough but that was about it. The charsiew filling had that unpleasant synthetic taste that reminded me a bit of the ones at Joy King Lau.
We couldn't resist the salt pork and century egg congee (£4.40). We thought the serving was quite generous until we noticed that the consistency was rather watery. Saltiness was just right and there were actual slices of century eggs, not the misery bits like what we had elsewhere.
We should have stopped there but thought that the congee called for some fried dough (£2.80). Like I said, we shouldn't have ordered it as it was terrible. Instead of lightly crisp, it was downright brittle and hard. To make things worse, it was deep fried in, you got that right, oil that should have been discarded. So what we ended up with was two small sticks of hard dough that left a queasy taste on the tongue.
As a stomach filler (or 'main' if you will), we asked for seafood horfun (£10.80). It's key for a horfun to have that 'smoky' taste and that was clearly missing in Phoenix Palace's. Furthermore, the horfun were still clumped together and that added to the misery. Prawns, squids and scallops were fresh but that did little good. For a decent one, I'd probably head to Royal China instead.
Egg tarts (£2.80) was our final dish. Other than the fact that they came out lukewarm, the tarts are crumbly and custard silky. That was perhaps one of the decent dish that we had at Phoenix Palace that afternoon.
In his Times column, Giles Coren was rather taken by Phoenix Palace's dim sum. He was lamenting that he would need to wean his son of them. Really, it shouldn't be too difficult. On a serious note, though the dim sum fare at Phoenix Palace cannot compare with the likes of Hakkasan, a full meal would cost a fraction of what it would cost at the Tottenham Court Road one Michelin star Chinese restaurant. And yes, Phoenix Palace is definitely more child friendly than Hakkasan.
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