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Ping Pong Restaurant, dim sum at the side of the Festival Hall, London - Classy But quick.

Ping Pong
Festival Terrace,
Southbank Centre,
Belvedere Road,
Tel: 020 79604160

One of the delights of the recent refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall has been a great gaggle of newly hatched restaurants sheltering as it were like ducklings under its wing. Admittedly most of them belong to some small chain or other and are very often of varied ethnic origins. Highly successful in this genre is Ping Pong, which has seven restaurants in prime central London locations since the first one opened in May 2005. Clearly they must be doing something right, so on our way to the Festival Hall for a concert, we stopped by for some dim sum, which is their speciality. At 6 p.m. it was relatively quiet; by 7 p.m. the place was heaving, and there was a small queue of people waiting patiently outside.

Ping Pong Restaurant

The interior is a triumph of cool, chic design, with rattan themes in dark wood, which extends to the tables and seating consisting mainly of stools and benches - sensibly designed for pit stop eating rather than lingering.

While we were choosing from the menu, the waiter brought large glasses, filled them with boiling water, and a jasmine blossom in the bottom of the glass began quite miraculously to unfold, looking dangerously like a sea anemone. There is a menu of many choices, but it is well structured into sections, so it's quite easy to find your way around. The heart of the menu is the sections on steamed and fried dumplings. The waiter suggested that we chose three of each to share between the two of us.

The steamed dumplings come to the table in traditional Chinese bamboo steamers. The fillings include squid, prawns, pork and various vegetables minced up together in different combinations and with subtly different seasonings. I very much like the rather comforting texture of these steamed dumplings, but my friend felt that some people might be put off by the slightly gelatinous feel that some of them had. Particularly delicious, I thought, was one of the chef's specials made from scallops, prawn and pork. The fried pieces are mostly like rather superior spring rolls with more interesting fillings, but there are also ones that look like seashells with carefully pleated edges.

All the dumplings come in threes, priced at £2.99 per portion; this makes sharing interesting, and a test of your negotiating skills. The sticky rice is magnificent, delivered in a large steamer, tightly wrapped in a large lotus leaf, fragrant and flavourful. We were both surprised how satisfied we felt, and given that we didn't want to fall asleep in the concert, we decided to pass on the desserts, though I've heard the chocolate buns with whisky flavouring are very popular: those and the honey glazed ribs will have to wait for next time.

Our bill for this tasty and speedy pit stop came to just over £15 per head including service, which was friendly and efficient. I call that good value for money.

Ping Pong, Festival Terrace, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX reservations only on parties of eight or more 020 7960 4160

Open daily from 12 noon, Monday to Wednesday close midnight, Thursday to Saturday close 1 a.m. Sunday close 10:30 p.m.


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