When it comes to dim sum I am an indubitable novice. I’ve dabbled here and there with soup dumplings, or on occasion, dumplings in soup, but I’d never really found myself going to a Chinese restaurant specifically for them, or for any of the other varieties of dim sum for that matter. So how can one profess to love Chinese food and not have delved into the glutinous wonderland of dim sum? Well, easily answered: there are probably enough varieties and mutations of Chinese food around the world for a person to be stuck eating Chinese for his whole life and still possibly miss out on peculiarities like Yunnanese raw pork – although you might have done so anyway, for obvious reasons.
And neither had I entered Dragon Palace before, despite it being so close to where I live. There is something to said about one’s lack of desire for things easily accessable, attained and penetrated, but that is a story for another time.
I pass Dragon Palace almost every day on my way into central London and back home. In fact, even if I wanted to avoid the joint, it would only serve to make my route unnecessarily inconvenient. The restaurant is a cosy looking size with an understated décor that can be seen through large glass windows, quite similar to those at BAO. They tend to be busy most nights, catering as it would seem, to well-dressed patrons who would rather sit in for a nice meal than go to the takeaway around the corner, a short walk away. It also felt like the kind of place I needed to visit with someone else, perhaps because of its intimate setting and the kind of celebratory vibe it gave off.
So, as I tend to do with such places, more than slightly motivated by my frugality, I waited patiently for my girlfriend to visit and immediately made a reservation.
Entering Dragon Palace, you immediately feel a sense of tranquility that you might only feel in an art gallery or a temple. It’s not because it is particularly quiet, or because they’ve got a hypnotic guzheng being played melodiously in the background (as some tend to do in pursuit of orientalist authenticity). It’s due the warmth of its lighting, a certain night-light glow that emanates somberly from the wall panels and the ceiling. There is also serene wall art, a scene depicted in black and white, of forest festooned mountains amidst ethereal cloud cover. It is the kind of picture that quite literally transports you to a state of transcendental bliss.
Dragon Palace provides for the kind of relaxation you normally associate with entering a Chinese restaurant; one that coheres to a certain informality and lack of pretention, despite its sophistication. It has that familiar vibe, a place you think of when taking a girl on a smart first date, a work colleague for a casual meeting, or even your parents when they decide to visit. Our servers were subtle kind that did not make an impression, but in a good way. A seamless performance that makes it seem as if the plates arrive at your table at the perfect moment in conversation and leave only when appropriate. Perhaps I should have been paying more attention, perhaps not.
Our order arrives quickly despite how busy it is. Steaming hot dim sum in a bamboo basket, an assembly of translucent and opaque bulbs, pleated crescents and jellyfish heads that are plump and delightfully bouncy to the touch. The steam that rises from the basket clears your sinuses, and your continuous fondling and groping of each dumpling before luxuriously placing them on your tongue in slow-mo, like one of those Galaxy chocolate adverts, makes you feel very sexual indeed. All of this, however, is dispensed with when you suddenly realise upon first bite that the contents of these dumplings are hot enough to make you whimper, and you are forced to discreetly let it out of your tender, burnt mouth into a tissue within your cupped palm. Much like a demure cat would a fur ball.
Since Maddy would only eat the vegetarian dim sum in the platter, I was more meticulous than usual when trying to discern the nature of the filling. The first was saturated with fresh tasting flaky fish that disintegrated after unfurling from its soft prison, ‘Not this one baby…mmm, good’; Sweet prawns with a hint of sea brine, and another one in quick succession sweeter still and a touch more savory, ‘Still no, sorry, two prawns, my bad’; and finally, passing over the one that had the most green bits in, Maddy and I toasted dumplings and took our gorgeous bites simultaneously. What an absolute triumph this simple dish was. I would have asked for another if I hadn’t ordered for so much else.
The vegetable spring rolls were generously packed both with flavor and filling, and still with a flaky crunch that did not give into sogginess. The only other dish we shared, before moving on to our individual mains, was the chow mein which was a tad dry to my taste but perceptibly potent with perky ginger and garlic accompanied with the lovely textural contrast of stir fried sugar snaps, broccoli and scallions.
Both our mains were so excellent that I’d forgotten about the chow mein until I sat down to write this piece. The dish I ordered was a juicy quarter portion of spice infused, crispy skinned, unctuously tempting roast duck, and Maddy’s a bowl of glisteningly rich auburgine cooked with bamboo, black mushrooms and dried chillis, in a sauce they call ‘Yu Herng’ which makes me think of what a baby between hoisin and hot garlic would taste like. In all fairness, even though I predictably enjoyed the duck for the fat being so well rendered, the skin utterly perfect, I would still say the auburgine was the best tasting dish that night. The vegetable was robust and meaty in a way I’d never encountered before.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have Dragon Palace, a decent Chinese restaurant so close to me. The menu is bountiful, as Chinese menus tend to be, with so much still left for me to explore especially with regards to their selection of dim sum. It is a lovely place to eat, even if it is in slightly out of the way in Earls Court. But for those of you who can’t make it down here, Dragon Palace do deliver: delicious food sent to you in the very Hollywood simulated, white takeaway boxes. I shall definitely return; you can count on that.
Location: 207 Earls Ct Rd, Kensington, London SW5 9AN