No matter where I go in the world, on my first day back in Vancouver, I have to grab some good Chinese food. Well, unless I was in China, of course but otherwise, no matter what sort of foreign delicacies I encounter in my travels, my need for Chinese cooking reaches a boiling point by the time I arrive home. I make it a point to try and eat the local cuisine of wherever I am. When I’m travelling with my family, on the other hand, I occasionally find myself searching for a good Chinese restaurant in strange, far away lands. My dad, in particular, can’t go too long without Chinese food, especially a good bowl of steamed rice. They enjoy all sorts of cuisine but they can’t make it as long as I can without the tastes of home.
At least we were in London, where the restaurant scene looks more like the United Nations. Of course, you might say that Chinese food can be found pretty much anywhere on the planet. True, you can find plenty of PF Changs around but not a whole lot of actual Chinese food. It’s like asking an Italian grandmother what she thinks of The Olive Garden. Relatively few places get it right flavor-wise for Chinese people looking for a taste of home. The restaurant where we ended up, Royal China, promises authentic Hong Kong cuisine.
I found out after the fact that Royal China is actually a chain of restaurants with six locations in the United Kingdom and what appears to be two more in Dubai and Singapore. Although they all have the same menu, each restaurant location also has a page of signature dishes for that location’s head chef to show off their skills. We actually just stumbled across the joint walking around Canary Wharf, the rapidly developing area of London where my hotel was located. The Queensway location seems to be more popular but this one is right on the Thames with large patio area.
The menu is extensive with a couple dozen pages of familiar Hong Kong-style dishes. Prices were actually in a rather reasonable range considering we were in one of the most expensive cities on Earth. I’ve seen restaurants in London’s Chinatown with menus that nearly double the price of Royal China.
One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is this “crispy aromatic duck” (£22 half, £38 whole) which is served shredded, to be wrapped up in thin crepes with hoisin sauce and green onions. While the duck is indeed crispy and aromatic, it’s also unbearably dry. It was like wrapping up some duck jerky.
The much better way to enjoy duck at Royal China is the Peking duck (£22 half, £42 whole), which is served with the same crepes, hoisin and green onions but the meat is rich, juicy and slightly gamey.
This is an order of baked pork chops with mandarin sauce (£7.80), which is basically sweet and sour pork but without the excessive fried…stuff. The sauce is tangy and not overly starchy, great with the tender pork chops.
Royal China has a number of specialty rice dishes, including this Lotus Leaf Rice (£9.60) which is a savory combination of prawns, duck and perfectly cooked rice in a lotus leaf “bowl”. There’s plenty of prawn and duck and the rice is just right, perfumed by the meats as well as the lotus leaves. Delicious.
There’s also an excellent example of “Yeung Chow” fried rice (£8.60) with shrimp and bits of cha siu pork. Great flavors and not too oily.
We also got an order of plain gai lan (£8.20). Simple, cooked correctly and fresh. Can’t complain.
Summary: Royal China was a nice surprise. We really just came across it walking by and took a chance after looking at the menu. There are some hiccups but for the most part, they get the Hong Kong-style flavor right and the selection is legit. They keep the bastardized Chinese food to a minimum and even then, the lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork smelled pretty good at the next table. I should probably also mention that the service at Royal China was exceptional and quite friendly, more than I can say for quite a few restaurants here in Richmond. Prices are very expensive in comparison to Vancouver but on par or even quite affordable in terms of London. If you’ve got an itch for Chinese cuisine in London, give one of Royal China’s six locations a try.