Thursday, 29 January 2009
Royal China, Royal China, 24-26 Baker Street, London W1U 3BZ – Pre-CNY dinner
Having spent 10 minutes in Royal China Club on Baker Street, taking pictures of the aquarium, lobsters, their interior and even their manager, it was slightly (only slightly) embarrassing to be told by our friends that we were in the wrong restaurant.
The one we were supposed to be in was the one without the word Club in it (Club denoting the more expensive, superior one).
At least now I can say I’ve been to Royal China Club.
This is the one we should have gone to in the first place, Royal China on Baker Street. Without the club or the lobsters. If you see the lobster, you’re in the wrong one, buddy.
While we waited in the waiting area, I saw:
- (Through the decorative trees) A plate of fried noodles with lots and lots (and I mean lots) of lobster being dished out. I so wanted to ask if I could snap a picture of that, but my friends would have been upset if we got thrown out of the restaurant, so I didn’t.
- (On the reception counter) A plate of dried festive sweets, mostly dehydrated fruits like plums, ginger, that sort of thing. This is the traditional thing served to guests when they come visiting during the festive period.
- (At the waiting area) A kid asking the waitress for some Chupa Chups lollypops.
As we were ushered to our table (bizarrely, 2 small tables for our group of 10 instead of one big table), I chose to sit in the middle of the 2 tables, to allow for maximum snappy opportunities.
You know the restaurant is upper-class when the spoon looks like this.
I don’t know how it’s like in other Chinese restaurants around the world, but in the UK, most of the Chinese restaurants I’ve been to have different menus for Chinese-literate people and non-Chinese-literate people.
I fall into that second, less impressive category. This means that all the nice, traditional and chef-recommended dishes are out-of-bounds to me, and the only time I get to taste these are when Chinese-literate friends order for me.
This was what one of my friends did, and so, the prices stated here are only estimates based on my quick read of the receipt at the end of the dinner.
Pickled vegetables, or ‘ham choy’ (I sure hope this was free of charge)
I didn’t check the receipt to see how much this was, but considering the fact that it tasted similar to what you can get from the Chinese supermarket (30p a pack), I would not have expected a restaurant of this standard to charge us for it.
Roasted peanuts with skin on (hopefully free of charge again)
In between the ordering and the arrival of the food, I made small talk while playing the Karate Kid Catches Peanut With Chopstick game, thereby impressing all the diners around, including my friends with my dinner table etiquette.
The Soup of Inexplicable Pricing
Gon choy thong (dehydrated vegetables in soup with pork) £60 for 11 portions (yes, £60)
Soup of inexplicable pricing is not how this was described when we ordered it. In fact, when my friend ordered it, she asked if there was a ‘lai thong’ meaning something like ‘complementary soup’. Some Chinese restaurants serve complementary soup so this wasn’t a completely off-the-wall question.
When we all had had our portion, the waiters kept offering us top-ups and so of course some of us said yes. To be fair, the soup was very tasty, the meat was good and overall it was one of the nicer soups I’ve had from a Chinese restaurant.
When the bill came (I know I’m jumping to the end of the story), we saw that the soup was priced at £60 for 11 portions and some of us began to laugh hysterically at that point. After the hysterical laughter had subsided, we questioned the waiter and it turned out that no, the soup wasn’t free after all.
In fact, this bowl of what seemed like water with some vegetables and meat costs £5 per bowl. If we’d known that at the start of the meal, we would have been there for hours consuming bowl after bowl of it.
Ching chau tau miu (pea shoots stir fried with garlic) approximately £10
This was one of the freshest, greenest and tastiest versions of the vegetable I’ve had. It didn’t look like what I’ve had before, in fact it was more similar to spinach but each bite was crunchy, fresh and very green. The garlic did not overpower the dish at all, but went very well with it and allowed the natural flavour to shine through.
Char siew (BBQ roast pork) approximately £10 a portion
This wasn’t anywhere as nice as the char siew I’ve had in other restaurants, especially the ones in Malaysia. It’s probably obvious that the meat was dry and not very tasty, even though it was brightly coloured. The sauce did nothing for the meat, where usually char siew sauce is excellent with plain rice but this sauce just kinda sat on the plate with the char siew, not being fabulous.
Siew ngap (roast duck) £40 per duck
This duck was in fact, one of the nicest ducks I’ve had in the UK. In fact, it’s comparable to the roast duck from Four Seasons, which is THE benchmark if you know your roast ducks. The skin was crispy, and very well flavoured. The meat was moist and the sauce was just the nice balance of sweet and salty.
The other diners wimped out on the duck (perhaps wisely eating some of the other dishes and not just duck) so I reckon I ate about half of the duck without complaining once.
Deep fried scallops with garlic and pepper, approximately £10 per portion
The Chinese description for this dish involved flowers and other fancy words and as I didn’t have the menu (but wouldn’t have understood it even if I did), I don’t know what this was called.
Each scallop was huge, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been deep fried as the texture was more like that of fish-cake by the time it was cooked. Tasty though, with salt, garlic and pepper being the main flavours, but the texture would have been better if it wasn’t that chewy.
Pei pa taufoo (tofu with minced pork) approximately £10
It seems different restaurants have different versions of this dish. I’m not sure if I’ve had it before, but this version was delicious. The tofu was minced and mixed with some fish and pork (I guess) and deep-fried. The sauce was a good accompaniment to the tofu, making the batter slightly soft and full of sauce. The vegetables that came with the dish were fresh, very green and just so tender to the bite.
The tofu in the bowl.
Cheng ching yu (steamed fish with plain sauce) approximately £30 a fish
The plain sauce is actually a combination of soy sauce, Chinese wine and garlic oil but because it is the most common sauce used when steaming fish, it is referred to as plain sauce.
This looks like a sea bass, but I’m not sure. As far as my knowledge of fish goes, this could be a tilapia and I wouldn’t know the difference (unless of course, a tilapia and a sea bass are the same thing).
The fish was steamed well, perhaps slightly too well, but the texture was still fluffy and the sauce went well with the rice.
Space junk (ice cream of some sort) approximately £4.50
I didn’t try this but I guess it’s what chocolate ice cream would be like.
Mango pudding, approximately £4.50
This seems to be the most commonly ordered item from a Chinese dessert menu. Sometimes they’re shaped like Hello Kitty (no, I’m not joking). If you’ve never had it before, it tastes like mango, and has the consistency of custard but slightly more solid.
Toffee banana, approximately £5
I’ve never had this before, but when my friend described it, we decided to order one portion to share among us. It’s deep fried banana covered in a crispy and chewy toffee with sesame seeds. The banana was hot and mushy because it had been deep fried, and when you bit into the crunchy toffee shell, it was such a nice combination that I wondered why I’d never had it before.
Overall, you can probably tell that I enjoyed the meal very much. The flavours, texture, good service and most of all good company we had was very enjoyable and made for a good time. Thing is, paying £30 per person is quite expensive by my standards.
Would I dine here again? I’m not sure if I could justify paying these prices for the food we had, so although the dinner was very enjoyable, I guess it’s one of those restaurants you’d only go to to say you’ve been there before.
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