The first time we ate at Dim Sum & Duck it was a Wednesday evening. The sun was setting tangerine and lilac down King’s Cross Road, James Turrell-ing all three empty tables outside the Cantonese restaurant. Outside dining was the only option in May 2021 and so too was BYOB from across the road. We ordered some dim sum. Rich and delicate xiaolongbao, slippery cheung fun, artful prawn and chive dumplings. It wasn’t just good. It was fantastic. We devoured it, we went across the road to the offy for more drinks, and then we ordered more.
The last time we ate at Dim Sum & Duck it was a Tuesday night, there was a hungry queue of people snaking down the pavement and a mildly flustered Liverpudlian desperately trying to book one of their ten or so tables inside for a week in advance because “their phone always rings out”. This, reader, is the hype machine. And it’s part and parcel of recommending restaurants.
Incidentally, that night, the crispy chilli beef was a lurid-tasting masterclass. The wontons in soup were pretty good too. Enormous chunks of prawn the size of a baby’s fist bobbing about in a salty pork broth. The problem is that there’s a school of thought that once a restaurant, even one as modest and consistent as Dim Sum & Duck, has reached this echelon of hype, that praise is somehow less worthwhile. That now your mum, her neighbour and the fella at the barbers knows about their glistening £9 mountains of soft and savoury beef ho fun, that a restaurant’s quota for appreciation has been filled. Get in the way of an angry Scouser’s dinner at your peril.
This appreciation quota is a bit of a teenage hangover that everyone, once in a while, suffers from. It’s an NME-era hangup about the coolest band and the best (see, rarest) unreleased, barely-listenable demo track found on Carl Barât’s early noughties MiniDisk player. That because the masses know about a poky little 20-odd seater Cantonese restaurant in King’s Cross, the one serving impeccable handmade dim sum, eye-wateringly pungent garlic-fried morning glory, and roasted duck that’s sometimes as moist and melt-in-your-mouth as any bird you’ve eaten (and other times not nearly that level), that it’s probably not worth going on about anymore. Oh, you know the one? You’re better off going midweek in the daytime? Yeah, we’ve heard that as well.
Of course, restaurant attention is uneven in London. You have PR companies, influencers, bloggers, restaurant recommendation websites, friends, family, and yadda yadda yadda. Marks are constantly hit and marks are constantly missed. So to shout about something that’s already echoing can seem… uncompelling. But that’s the thing about the best: they’re always compelling, should always be celebrated, and Dim Sum & Duck is undoubtedly the best all-round Cantonese you can eat in London.
A trio of delicate glass wrapper prawn and chive dumplings that are ostentatious-looking enough to balance on a person’s head at Royal Ascot. Generous, just like every filling here, the prawn is still chunky and the handful of chives fresh. A delicious dumpling.
The best xiaolongbao we’ve had in London. Wrappers so delicate they’re virtually translucent on the bottom. All holding a gobstopper-sized ball of soft minced pork in a savoury, scorching umami-ish broth.
Glistening and truly packed to the rafters, the FOMO-level on these cheung fun got very real at one point on Instagram. The char siu pork and prawn are both exemplary and at just over £5, an absolute steal. The former probably edges it for us, because of that irresistible caramelised meat.
Bathing pork dumplings that have continued to bob around in our heads. The ratio of pork to dumpling wrapper (90/10) is truly outstanding, the mince spiced to perfection, and the sauce, with punches of ginger and vinegar and the hum of chilli oil,
DSD’s other namesake can be a mixed bag. Sometimes the fat on the duck is perfectly gelatinous, the skin crisp, and the meat as tender as a maternal embrace. But other times it isn’t quite that: a little chewy, a little dry, and not quite as good as what’s on offer in Chinatown.
There are so many foods that people are familiar with. In name, in appearance, in flavour and in price. Sometimes you’ll eat a version of one those foods and you’ll realise that all previous versions, all your previous knowledge, was wrong. This beef ho fun is one of those dishes. Once you eat this you’ll realise that all others are, quite literally, pale imitations.