Don’t hate me. I fail to see what’s festive about a turkey, even with cranberry sauce, at Christmas. I’m French. I’m a foodie. I dream of delicate little bites, new associations, inspiration. Little did I expect to find that festive feeling in a dim sum place – the famous Ping Pong chain.
I arrived in a cheerful mood at their Soho address, after admiring Liberty’s windows (inspire by The Nutcracker ballet), taking a quick detour via Carnaby Street, my heart warmed with the neon messages of love and hope suspended above the crowd. There even were a few Christmas choirs on the way. Add to that good company, could the day get any better?
Oh yes. We first cheered to 2017 (would it be a blank canvas to start over? A black sky to pain stars on?) with a Chestnut Sour cocktail. A perfect balance of Chivas Regal 12 year old, chestnut, bitters, lemon juice and that superb almondy taste Disaronno can bring. Dessert like though nor sweet nor syrupy, a lovely fluidity: I just wanted to dip ladyfinger biscuits in it.
Followed a feast. We started lightly, on the healthy side with the Rice Berry Salad. It’s surprisingly, incredibly tasty, super satisfying, with a nice range of nuttiness. The base is riceberry rice, an organic Thai variety, long grain and purple in colour (now, that, to me should be on the 2017 food trends list!) – it simply melts in the mouth. Add to that smoked almonds, roasted cashew nut, black eyed beans, radish, sugar snap and rocket, a ginger and soy dressing… Your chopstick can’t click fast enough. We followed with potato and edemame cakes, nice and fluffy inside, crunchy on the outside… to be dipped in a wu xiang sauce, base on a 5 spice mix. It’s the perfect comfort food when it’s cold outside.
We then chose within the Christmas menu. Oh, where to start? Chicken and foie gras dumpling? Baked venison puff? Brussel sprouts and porcini spring roll? We settled for the soft shell crab bao, which is brought to your table as a little tower: a bamboo steamer basket, topped with a tray. In the first one the most tender buns you can think off, still hot. On the tray, the crab in a light batter, cut in half, pickled carrot and cabbage, and a sweet chilli mayo (good bye diet but oh, the delight!). It’s a DIY kind of dish – you balance your Asian sandwich as you wish. It’s the kind of treat you can never have enough of. I’m pretty sure we could easily have gone through 5 or 6 of those without pausing! Last but not least, were the lobster and prawn dumplings. The stunning red colour comes from a beetroot based pastry wrapped around generous morsels of sea food, shiitake mushroom and that, already would taste luxurious enough. But the added ginger, the buttered shallots take it to the next level. A wow one.
Now tell me – isn’t the Chinese version of Christmas more fun than the British one?