Dear Ping Pong,
Sit down for a minute, we need to talk. As I walked from Waterloo station to the South Bank last night I had one of those happy, glowy “I love being a Londoner” moments. Hustle and bustle all around me, Evening Standard under my arm and a sense of purpose in the air. Soft as it sounds I couldn't remember the last time I felt happier with my lot. I even felt momentarily excited about the Olympics. Then I walked into your South Bank branch.
Oh Ping Pong! We were so good together, why did you have to change? Why did you remove all the good things from the menu like the dark coloured prawn and garlic dumplings that actually had some FLAVOUR? I mourn the passing of the wonderful five spice pork crackling which was so amazing and addictive that a friend actually once posted me a portion as a present to my office?! Why has traditional recipe pork and prawn sui mai become the rather drier and crumbly chicken sui mai?
Why have the number of meat-based dim sums diminished exponentially in the last 18 months leaving us with a majority of a) fairly bland prawn, b) fairly bland crab or c) fairly bland prawn and crab?
Why did you employ a supercilious, sarcastic, smarmy excuse for a manager/maitre d' when the old one was so lovely?
When did you start to think that it is acceptable to charge £6.95 for 4 tiny rather dry ribs drizzled with watered down honey liquid? I used to think that every pretty little morsel that I popped into my mouth was a bite of deliciousness but last night found myself thinking “well that was £1.80 per mouthful”, was it worth it? And the answer, dear Ping Pong, was a resounding NO.
Don't misinterpret me, I don't hate you, I'm not cross, I'm just disappointed in you and doesn't that always feel so much worse?
Why do you serve weird baby poo coloured liquid described as “lemon and tamarind dip” with your prawn crackers, the flavour of which more closely ressembles Flash floor cleaner than any known foodstuff?
Why has the kitchen service become so erratic that recently the springy gelatinous dumpling casing has melted into a puddle away from its filling like the aftermath of a hydrogen bomb whilst simultaneously welding itself to the bottom of the bamboo steaming basket making removal of the dim sum in one piece an effort worthy of Krypton Factor status? What did I do to you to deserve such treatment, I just don't understand?
Why did you change the sauce on your satay squid by replacing a glorious, thick, peanutty gloop with thin and runny gunk at the bottom of the plate tasting vaguely of something a peanut once nodded at?
Why have a special section on your order form asking me what time I want to be out of the restaurant only to serve the bulk of my order two minutes before you know that I need to be gone (having been there an hour)? I love the idea of you but I'm just not IN love with you.
Why on my penultimate visit did the people sat next to me who arrived at the same time get 10 dishes within 10 minutes and I was waiting for many of the same dishes for over 30 minutes? You said that you were sorry and that you didn't mean it but it hurt nonetheless.
A lot of my blogging friends told me you were bad for me and that I could do better but I didn't listen, I was taken in by your charms. I used to love you, like REALLY love you. Ok, so you have never been a Yauatcha or a Hakkasan but that has never been your market. You used to offer reasonably priced, tasty dim sum served quickly along with a nice cocktail or two. But no more, your star that shone so brightly for me has ascended and crashed, burnt out. But the important thing is the food used to be reminiscent of proper dim sum albeit of a more fast food quality than the big players. Now it has gradually morphed into just a bastardisation of something vaguely oriental with the addition of Har Gau and Shu Mai to keep it moderately “authentic”. This isn't the sort of dim sum that anyone on the back streets of downtown Kowloon would recognise and it is deluding and defrauding anyone who sees this is a real dim sum experience. I think maybe we should start seeing other people.
When you started out you were a novelty both in terms of dim sum and fast food. At the time London was comparatively bereft of cost effective quick options outside of the MacDonalds/ Starbucks/Pret model and you rode into town like a knight in shining armour. Now, however, there is a wealth of opportunity and choice in your market segment covering all the cuisines of the globe. Traditionally a good business model would advise upping your game as more competition enters the market, not to bury your head in the sand and cower with your tail between your legs. For god's sake man, don't become the Angus Steakhouse of the Oriental food world! Scrape yourself up, give yourself a good talking to, have some pride and give me my good food back!
On the upside your duck spring rolls are still nice but that's about it. Maybe in time we could try being friends but right now I think we need some space.
Farewell to the Ping Pong of old, you will be dearly missed. A bientot; it's not me, it's you.
Yours, with sadness,
Various visits. Last one: March 2012