Published on July 18th, 2016 | by Ben Southwood0
Royal China, Baker Street
Summary: Reminded me more of restaurants I've been to in Hong Kong, but the service is nowhere near as efficient
I suspect it doesn’t really matter what I say about the Royal China: it was opened in the late 90s and it’s still going strong right now. I was in on a Monday night at half seven and there was a queue and around 120 covers already filling the tables in the big room, a room that reminded me more of restaurants I’d been to in Hong Kong than London’s own Chinatown in Soho. And these were mostly Chinese people, ordering from the same recipe as ourselves (I checked).
But for my money, and on the strength of the four dishes I tasted, it’s not a place I’d recommend strongly, albeit nor would I recommend strongly against it. You can get dishes of a fairly reasonable size (look at all that grilled char siu pork for £10!) that will leave you fairly satisfied at a standard that is definitely better than your local Chinese takeaway.
Since the 90s, London’s Chinese offering has diversified and improved far beyond your Chinatown classics, as reliable as they are. The three places I’d recommend as truly worth travelling to are Silk Road in Camberwell, which sells Xinjiang regional cuisine; Chilli Cool, which does more familiar Sichuan & Hunan fare, and A Wong, which does a fine dining-esque take on the Cantonese fare you’d find in Royal China. Personally, I don’t think that Royal China has kept up.
This is not to say it’s bad. The 1/2 crispy duck (I know, I know, it’s a generic pick, but it’s comforting too) for £26 was a whole hunk of meat, and if we’d wanted to, we could have eaten that alone and gone home happy. But it was only a little bit better than what you could get anywhere, for considerably less. Without cucumber, spring onions and hoi sin, the pancakes, again no better than those you could buy in a shop, would have tasted rather dry. The deep fried chilli-salt stuffed squid (about £12) was like your regular salt and pepper squid, but a bit better because it was juicy from the stuffing (no idea what was actually in it though).
The vegetables (about £12) were simmering over a beautiful smelling coal flame, and were cooked just right (tender asparagus, water chestnuts with crunch, al dente broccoli, slimy mushrooms) but there was nothing to them except a bland salty broth. The char siu had a nice honey taste but too much of the fat was chewy rather than melt-in-your-mouth wobbly, and I generally think char siu should be mostly lean anyway. We had three Yanjings each for £3.80 a pop, which is about what you’d expect.
It did feel like Hong Kong, but the service was nowhere near as efficient; brusqueness is acceptable when you are greeted on arrival (all of the waiters did their best to ignore us and everyone else in the entry queue). You can forgive excessive menu length if the things it’s making space for add something, or are strange and interesting; Royal China doesn’t really do that. Of course, it’s wholly possible that the dishes I didn’t try—there were about 150 of them—or the dim sum they only serve at lunch are excellent. But as it stands I’d say Royal China is not up to the 2016 pace.
Royal China Baker Street, 24-26 Baker St, W1U 3BZShare This Post