Sunday evenings at the local Chinese were a staple fixture of my childhood. But despite the frequency of these visits, the mouth-watering excitement that has always accompanied a visit to a Chinese restaurant remains with me to this day.
One change, however, has been my appreciation of what constitutes good Chinese food. Much to my family’s eye-rolling disdain, I have now enjoyed enough top quality Chinese meals to realise that what I devoured enthusiastically as a child was in fact a pale imitation of this particular ethnic cuisine at its best.
Royal China Group has held a reputation as a purveyor of exceptional Chinese food for many years now. Consisting of six separate venues across London, the largest is situated on Baker Street in Central London. Luckily, when your nose is as finely attuned to the aromas of aromatic duck as mine, you needn’t have the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes to locate it.
The restaurant’s décor is similar to the flagship Royal China Club located just down the road, boasting sleek black lacquer and gold decoration throughout the vast dining room which is concentrated into one main space. Crisp white tablecloths are doubled on top of each other, as is standard in Chinese restaurants, for ease of cleaning.
Seating a daunting 170, the size of the restaurant, combined with the nature of Chinese dining (which invariably involves large numbers of dishes without a defined sequence), could be at risk of creating a sense of disorder. But the team at Royal China have been at the top of their game for too long to allow such a negative impression. This is a slick operation, and it shows.
A traditional Hong Kong Chinese menu comes complete with glossy images of several dishes. I began with prawn and pork wonton soup, an enduring favourite dating back to my aforementioned childhood visits to the local Chinese. The dumplings were well cooked and taut, the prawn and pork meaty and tasty, whilst the soup had a delightful peppery sharpness.
Next, my companion and I shared a quarter of crispy aromatic duck, served with the obligatory pancakes, spring onion and cucumber. The duck meat was fantastic, perfectly spiced and with barely any excess fat, whilst the skin was deliciously crispy. The pancakes were soft, moist and cooked to perfection.
For mains, I had crispy shredded beef served in bird’s nest whilst my guest chose sautéed spring beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables. The shredded beef was excellent – sticky and moist with the chopped red chilli providing a hearty kick. My partner chose equally well, the delicious slithers of thinly sliced pork all bound together in piquant soy sauce.
Sides of egg fried rice, seaweed and baby pak choi with garlic were all expertly cooked, with the pak choi a particular highlight, owing to its crunchy tenderness combined with the powerful garlic.
Whilst many other restaurants in London are striving to push the boundaries of Chinese cooking with new-fangled ingredients and techniques, there is plenty to love about a restaurant such as Royal China Baker Street that continues to excel in traditional, uncomplicated Chinese food at its very finest.