Many people will recognise Ping Pong as a high street Chinese restaurant, there are nine outlets scattered across London. Ping Pong always looks quite edgy and hip, with wooden block tables and dim lighting to create a lounge-style atmosphere.
Jack and I were invited along for a feast at Ping Pong Southbank, right next to Festival Hall. Depending on when you visit, you may get a little distracted at this location as the paved area outside plays host to food festivals pretty frequently. But trust me when I say this place is worth a visit and you should be pretty hungry!
This restaurant had the typical Ping Pong feel described above, block tables, minimalist, yet a little cosy with the plants and lighting and large open bar adding atmosphere. The tables were a bit too close together, I’m on the larger side and had to embarrassingly ask Jack if he’d mind moving to the back as I couldn’t fit my behind through the gap. But once settled, we felt comfortable and relaxed and despite the small gap, not too overlooked by our neighbours.
Right from the offset the staff were friendly and extremely polite. They will circle back every 5-10 minutes to check you’ve not run out of things / need anything, although will only actually interrupt you if they need to ask a question – a good balance. Towards the end of the meal, one of our waitresses really shined, demonstrating her knowledge of the different desserts and teas and the company in general – enlightening us about the restaurant’s competitions for staff to design new cocktails for example.
The fair at Ping Pong is a rather extensive dim sum range. They recommend that you order 4-6 dishes each, although it depends on what you order in my mind. It is very easy to get carried away with ordering, although just as easy to eat your way through the delights. Here is our low-down on (a large majority of) the menu, they are in a mixed order as the dishes come out when they are ready!
Garlic and black pepper prawn crackers with spicy mango sauce (nibbles) – I know that a lot of people resent ordering prawn crackers after years of experiencing Chinese takeaways chucking them in your order for free, but trust me, they are worth it.
You can also order a set of dips, which will become very good friends of yours throughout the meal too:
- Plum – the only word to describe this is sweet!
- Chinkiang chilli bean – could be described as a very thick version of hoisin, a good amount of spice to it too. Different to the sickly, gloopy stuff you get with duck and pancakes, it was much more pleasant to pair with things and very unusual
- Sweet chilli – whilst a lot of these are much of a muchness, I did find that this wasn’t as overly sweet as some others that I’ve had in the past
- Spicy mango sauce – like the plum, this was a very sweet sauce, although the mango had a bit of a kick to take that super-sweet edge off. It was also very runny, making it harder to stick to things
Chilli pork tenderloin (special) – this is for those that like a good hit of spice! It was a very spicy dish, although the lettuce works well at cooling and balancing the meat filling. The pork was cooked to perfection and absolutely melted in the mouth.
Roast pork puff (baked) – there is no other way to describe this than the Chinese version of a sausage roll. Although significantly less greasy than its English counterpart, the puff pastry is very sweet and light and the filling a sweet, char sui pork mix, not too unlike pulled pork.
Honey-glazed spare ribs (special) – I am a big fan of ribs in every way, shape and form and these did not disappoint in terms of delicious, mouth-watering meat, falling off the bone. The sauce, however, was not all that strong and I found myself wanting to dip them for a bit more flavour, not an issue Jack felt the same about though.
Chicken wonton soup (soups) – the broth was a bit lacking in excitement, flavours of soy and spring onion, but not much else. I imagine this would be a dream-come-true if you were in bed sick as the level of comfort would be amazing, but not much ‘punch’. The dumplings were beautifully made and whilst I couldn’t finish up the soup, I ate every last dumpling out of it!
Char Sui [pork] bun (steamed) – these are a very traditional Chinese street food and something which I have to admit I find hard to eat due to their sweet and stodgy nature. Although compared to a lot of others of these that I’ve sampled, they were far lighter and the filling delivered a nicer flavour, with the same pork mix as the pork puff.
Honey-chilli chicken rice pot (rice) – I had feared this dish would be very sweet with the mention of honey in the title, but actually it was extremely well balanced. The chicken was moist and very flavourful, with lots of fresh broccoli and mushrooms to accompany it. The sticky rice was an easy-to-eat consistency and had soaked up a delicious amount of sauce. The rice pot dishes are great to order if you want something a little more filling among your feast.
Steamed Shanghai Pak choi (steamed) – A nice vegetable side nice of crunchy, leafy pak choi in a simple soy sauce dressing; very good to cleanse the palate with.
Edamame / maodou (nibbles) – these crunchy little pods are most commonly found at home in the fridges of Japanese food places, but in Ping Pong they get a treatment I’ve not seen before. The beans are served warm, losing some of that crunchy texture, but making them into something a little more comforting rather than health-freak zone. Just a dusting of flavour takes them to a new dynamic – worth a try if you are a fan of beans and peas.
Prawn toast with sesame seeds (fried) – this must have been one of my favourite dishes, which pains me to say as we tried so many interesting foods and this one sounds so boring, but they were just so perfect! These delights were very different to your average takeaway grease wedge! Round thin toast, coated in a gooey layer that was bursting with chunks of prawn and just a small scattering of sesame seeds and some strips of prawn cracker to finish. The mango or the sweet chilli dips compliment them perfectly.
Duck Spring Roll (fried) – these were great, reminiscent of the traditional duck and pancakes, all of the elements, cucumber, hoisin and duck are served in a deep-fried spring roll rather than the traditional flour pancake. A nice twist on two classics. Served up with a typical sticky hoisin. Much meatier than many other duck spring rolls I’ve sampled, with lots of veg and a strong flavour of Chinese five spice. Don’t put these with the plum dip, the flavour completely conflicts.
Shredded beef & lettuce wrap (special) – the beef, marinated in five spice, had a great texture and was of good quality, but was rather dry. The sake sauce (non-alcoholic) helped to combat some of this, but had a very gravy-like flavour to it, so it tasted more like sticking your Mum’s roast beef in a lettuce curl instead of an oriental taste sensation. The lettuce wraps felt a little more sophisticated and fresher than the traditional flour pancakes.
Crispy asparagus (seasonal special) – this felt like a very healthy ingredient had been turned as unhealthy as possible. The asparagus was covered in a light batter, adding a crispy, salty dimension to the veg. Is great to dip in the sauces and tastes delicious with the chilli bean dip. Make sure you eat this when it first comes out, not a good texture cold.
Scallop and shitake dumpling (steamed) – these dumplings were fantastically meaty tasting, from the large chunks of scallop and the general earthy taste of the mushrooms. The water chestnuts in them help to deliver another texture with their crunch.
Chicken and cashew nut dumpling (steamed) – these were very filling, the meat was coated in a thick bean paste which delivered a great flavour punch, but I wouldn’t be able to eat too many. The cashews were subtle but added a great, sweet note.
Chicken Shu Mai (steamed) – I would always recommend these dumplings for beginners, those who haven’t really tried them before. The flavours dance on your tongue but don’t over power too much and are inoffensive for new explorers.
King prawn and scallop sticky rice (rice) – this sticky rice parcel was great in texture, the rice clumps together making it easier to eat and delivering an unusual texture. However, these ones were extremely fishy in taste, so not for the faint hearted. It was quite hard to taste the scallop through the general fish flavour and above the prawns, although the spicing was very delicate.
Vegetable sticky rice (rice) – this is one of the classics on the Ping Pong menu. Has a lot less flavour than the fish version, although for some that will be a very good thing. It was still very tasty though, with a great combination of tasty veggies – bamboo shoots, carrots and asparagus. The vegetables are kept very al dente – almost raw, which I loved!
There is a standard selection of five desserts on the menu, plus the seasonal specials. Although this isn’t the biggest choice of sweet treats, after the taste sensations from your main course, chances are that you’ll want just a little something to finish of the meal.
Coconut mochi – wow! I was so surprised by how much I liked this. It is a chewy rice pastry ball, filled with coconut ice-cream and dusted with dessicated coconut. I know it probably sounds a bit out there, but it was truly delicious! I’d love to have more of the ice-cream though, perhaps less pastry?
Mango sorbet – sorbet is something that I can usually take or leave, it is a bit … meh. But this iced gem knocked the ball out of the park in terms of sorbet. It tasted deliciously fresh and exotic and cleansed my palette perfectly after so many flavours in the meal.
Rose ice-cream – I know eating rose petals is supposed to be great for you, but I can’t say I was a fan of this at all. It made me feel like I was accidentally eating pot pourri instead of my dessert. I’m sure there will be some people that will love this, but I am not one of them.
Honey & pine nut ice-cream – creamy, honey tones are complemented perfectly with the crunch of pine nuts. The crystallisation of the sugary honey gave a good texture too and the flavours were nice and subtle.
There is an extensive list of teas available at Ping Pong, as per traditional Chinese restaurants. This is because the Chinese drink a lot of tea as they believe that the hot water is great for digestion and allows you to eat more – sneaky! All of the teas served in Ping Pong are hand rolled / hand dried. We tried a couple that were recommended by our waitress:
Chocolate black tea – Assam and China black teas combined with cocoa nibs and vanilla pod. The tea bags used for the gourmet teas can be used up to three times, so feel free to ask for a top-up of water. The flavour of this, whilst being made of chocolate and vanilla and sounding like something you’d serve a child, were actually quite exquisite. It had a fruity smell and flavour and delivered a magical, warming sensation,perfectly capping off my meal and making me feel comfortable.
Flowering Dragon Eye tea – all of the flowering teas are the same (green) tea, only the flower changes each time. The process of the ball unravelling and the flower coming into ‘bloom’ in the glass mug is something quite magical. If you are a fan of green tea then I’d urge you to order one of these just for the sheer theatrics.
Ping Pong is a great place to go for groups of 2-4 people. Most of the dishes come out with 2-4 pieces on them. It’s great to try a range of stuff rather than play it safe and having a few of you there allows you to order lots of different plates without sounding piggish.
Ping Pong isn’t exactly cheap, most dishes cost around £3-£5 each and you are looking at ordering around 5 or 6 per head … so we are talking a minimum of £25 per person. However, if you are happy to have slightly more limited options, PP does have some great deals, check out the offers page here for the latest.
Locations: Westfield Stratford, Wembley, Soho, Market Place, Southbank, St Katharine docks, St Pauls, Westbourne Grove, St Christopher’s Place and Bow Bells House.