a Ding Dong for Ping Pong
You are forgiven for initially thinking I was referring to the recreational version of table tennis, commonly called 'ping pong', which many of you probably know was invented by the English in the late 1800s. Although, back then it was played with a line of books as the net, a rounded top of a Champagne cork or knot of string as the ball, and a cigar box lid as the paddle. And to think it has now grown to the second most played sport in the world. See, the empire really does strike back!
Yet, I am not talking about that ping pong, but rather the new chain of dim sum restaurants bearing the same name that are popping up in the bastions of trendiness that are Westbourne Grove and Marylebone Village. The original is on Great Marlborough Street near Liberty's. And there are a further 23 branches set to open within the next five years.
On the face of it Ping Pong serves up, (ah! so that's where the name comes from). It offers good value at an average £10 per person, with an excellent drinks list all at £5.50 for deceptively potent long cocktails or martinis. They only serve one beer called Sun Lik, but it is a pleasant Asian-like Pilsner. The major downfall to the drinks selection is the limited and overpriced wine selection including standard Aussie and New Zealand wines priced at £21-£25 which are £5-£9 at Thresher's...much better value in the 3 for 2 offer. Stick with their specialty, the Kumquat Mojito.
The best dishes are the steamed dumplings, rolls and buns. The fried ones are pretty average, and pretty greasy. My favourites were the prawn & bamboo and spicy chicken dumplings, the Chinese leaf wrap, and the spinach & pork wonton. Although these are sparsely filled, and largely bulked up with dough. The steamed buns are tasty but even more dense, none offering a low-carb choice. They recommend 3-4 dishes per person, which is plenty, and at £2.80 each you can come out at under a tenner. And herein lies the appeal.
So I see why the formula works, for now. The setting provides expectations of fun and big city eating all at good value. Low lighting, big group tables in the center, discreet banquets to the sides; all screams "I am in a Sex and the City episode" until you remember that Carrie is no longer, and SJP is pushing a pram around NYC and married to Ferris Bueller. You still end up leaving with a rather full wallet, a good few drinks down you, and enough carbs in your system to keep you bloated and spoken for.
But whilst sure it is edible, it doesn't leave me desperate to return. The experience is more like a first date where you get through the evening, but would rather get back for Newsnight than sit through dessert. I just don't see it doing the same thing for dim sum that Wagamama did for the noodle.
Best (if pressed) of the three locations:
10 Paddington Street, W1 (off top end of Marylebone High Street) because it has outdoor seating. If outside is not available ask to be seated downstairs. The space is bigger and upstairs is small and usually crammed with prams.