Small plates are driving one eatery's expansion across the Middle East. Six months after Ping Pong first steamed up the dining scene at Dubai Mall, the chain hopes to open four new outlets this year.
"We're looking at Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, besides further expansion in Dubai," says Ping Pong Middle East Managing Director Daniel During. "Two of our new restaurants will be in the UAE and two outside."
Lebanon and Turkey are the other markets on the wishlist of the London-based chain of Chinese teahouses.
The company, which runs 12 restaurants in London, went international with openings in Dubai, Brazil and the United States towards the end of last year. The Dubai outlet was the first outside the United Kingdom, and opening it required an investment of Dh8 million, says During, not counting start-up and pre-operations costs.
Ping Pong Managing Director Jean Michel Orieux, who is based in the UK, told Emirates Business in an earlier interview that the aim is 15 units over the next five years in the Middle East. That regional thrust is part of a joint venture agreement with businessman Abdul Jalil Al Blouki.
Described as a 21st century teahouse, Ping Pong offers some 40 different handmade dim sum dishes, specials and set menus featuring such dishes as translucent dumplings filled with spicy chicken in a chilli sauce and steamed pak choy to a range of cocktails and stunning flowering teas.
But despite having opened in the downturn, During says business at the restaurant has been extremely good.
"It's better than expected," he says, without going into specifics. "Particularly with the local ladies, many of whom feel Ping Pong is a totally different experience."
He says the idea of a restaurant devoted to dim sum, or as he translates it from the Chinese, "small parcels of deliciousness that touch your heart", has found favour with city diners. "There are still very few places in Dubai that specialise in dim sum. Most venues have dim sum as an add-on. For us, dim sum is our raison d'etre and passion."
Angelo Domenico Rosato, General Manager of Ping Pong Dubai, says that is probably because steamed dim sum in the Chinese tradition is not only healthy and pure but seals in all the nutritional elements of the food and allows the flavours to shine through.
"We have a lot of regular customers at our Dubai Mall restaurant who come just because they know they can get either a healthy meal or a variety of vegetarian dishes. In fact we are introducing a new menu that will include many new vegetarian dishes," he says, adding that Ping Pong also offers low sodium, dairy-free, soy-free, shellfish-free, onion- and garlic-free, gluten-free and vegan meals for the health conscious.
That wide variety of options is perhaps the reason for the success of this casual brand – although its value proposition certainly does not hurt. "We offer high-quality food in premium environments at casual dining prices," says Orieux. "The recession has not affected us as badly, because people can eat here for as little as Dh70 per head, in line with UK prices of £15 (Dh85) to £20 per person."
Meanwhile, a series of new initiatives have already been rolled out, including a Lazy Friday brunch that lasts until 5pm, all-you-can-eat meal deals and a new home catering service.
"We've done quite a few private parties already, and everything is served nice and fresh," says During. "We simply bring all our equipment over to your house and cook it all à la minute on the spot. You don't need more than a normal home kitchen."
Prices for the service begin at Dh2,000 onwards.
A retail service provides an extra boost to the company's bottom line, with its speciality flowering tea available in such flavours as flowering amaranth, osmathus and a jasmine and lily combination. Price points start under Dh100.
"If the retail operation can grow to account for 10 per cent of our total sales, I will be very happy," says During.
During and his team will also roll out a home delivery service later this year, branding for which is currently being decided.
"It will be a brand extension for Ping Pong. The idea of launching a separate brand is to provide a different experience," he says.
During expects the service to be launched by the last quarter of the year.
- Ping Pong is located at Dubai Mall
Call: 04 339 9088
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