China has always been one of those countries that’s been hovering near the top of my list of places I’d love to visit. When I imagine what it would be like when I finally get to that vast country, I can see myself visiting the busy cities, taking in photogenic landscapes, exploring the sights and, importantly, eating and drinking to my heart’s content.
While I’m always in the process of making travel plans, China has evaded me thus far. Luckily for me, I’m still able to get a taste of China right here in London.
Before you assume that I’m about to tell you to go to London’s Chinatown, I actually found myself seeking Chinese food elsewhere in the city. My destination: Royal China in Baker Street.
There are actually a few different branches of the Royal China group scattered across the city: Queensway, Canary Wharf, Fulham and more. But you can find two Royal Chinas on Baker Street too. We spent our evening at the flagship restaurant, Royal China, located at number 24-26.
The larger of the two Baker Street venues, we couldn’t believe the visual contrast once we stepped into Royal China. Outside the front door, all you see are two unassuming signs, one for the restaurant name and one simply stating ‘Dim Sum’ (more on those later). Once through the entrance, Royal China reveals itself to be a massive 200-seater dining hall.
Shown to our seats, we took the time to absorb our surroundings. Smart and with a touch of old-school glamour, Royal China is a classy venue. Black lacquered walls are punctuated by painted golden birds, and leafy pot-plants make their appearance in abundance. Most of the tables are circular, as though the restaurant is set up for a multitude of group dinners.
Since Chris and I arrived just as Royal China was getting ready for its dinner service, the restaurant was empty and we both wondered whether it would fill up. We couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as we made our drink orders, a steady stream of diners arrived. These diners included the after-work crowd as well as guests from the nearby hotels. By the time we left the restaurant, every single table was occupied.
On the subject of drinks, Royal China has an impressive wine menu and, rather predictably from my side, we chose a South African chenin blanc. If you’re not so keen on wine, there are different types of tea and hot drinks on offer, or there are other alcoholic drinks at the bar (including Chinese Cobra beer on tap).
The setting was lovely, as were the drinks, but we were very curious to find out more about Royal China’s food offering.
Royal China is undoubtedly most renowned for its dim sum. In the menu, you’ll find pages and pages of these dumplings, ranging from meaty to seafood to vegetarian varieties. The dim sum have been highly praised, but Royal China sets out to highlight the whole spectrum of Chinese cuisine. So, accordingly, you’ll have a lot to choose from on the menu.
We spent a long time trying to pick which dishes to try and, after struggling with this indecision for a little while, we decided to trust the restaurant to choose for us – we opted to have the House Dinner.
I’m a greedy diner and have been known to get bouts of serious food envy, so this turned out to be the perfect option for us. Over the course of our evening, we would be served a number of sharing dishes as part of a set menu and, happily, this meant that we got to try a little bit of everything.
Royal China’s House Dinner begins with the Chef’s Imperial House Hors d’Oeuvres, and some of the components may look a bit familiar to those already acquainted with Chinese cuisine.
With classics like prawn toast and spring rolls, this pretty platter also featured Mandarin pork chops, spicy shredded chicken and a small bundle of seaweed. It may look like a plate of small snacks, but I cannot emphasise how good this was. Every morsel was packed with flavour and each provided a different texture to the one eaten before.
The service at Royal China is extremely quick and efficient so as soon as the platter was empty (aka licked clean), that vanished and an array of dishes speedily took its place.
Our appetites now fully awake, we couldn’t wait to start feasting on our second course: crispy aromatic duck. A waitron will shred the roast duck for you, and then you’re left to assemble your perfect duck pancake. There are freshly steamed pancakes, cucumber and spring onion and plum sauce on hand. We knew that there was more food to come but that didn’t stop us from polishing off all of the pancakes. The duck was deliciously crispy, and I think I would have been completely satisfied if we had just eaten this for the entire evening.
I didn’t give in to this whim, thank goodness, as there were plenty of other dishes making their way to us. Served as a variety of sharing bowls, this set menu’s main consists of chicken in a pepper and black bean sauce, stir-fried vegetables and ‘Yeung Chow’ fried rice with pork and prawns. Although the main usually also includes prawns in a red chilli sauce, we substituted this with something that caught our eye on the first perusal of our menus: honey-glazed roast pork.
Like every other course that preceded the main, the dishes were all well seasoned and well cooked. The presentation was simple, and the portions were extremely generous. The standout dishes, for us, had to be the sauteed chicken, as well as the honey-glazed pork; the latter was tender and decadently sweet.
At this point, I thought I was so full that I literally couldn’t eat another spoonful of food. The House Dinner set menu will definitely leave even the heartiest of eaters full, so Royal China has planned their dessert very well: a fresh fruit platter.
Fresh slices of mango, melon, pineapple and dragon fruit are accompanied by strawberries and grapes. It was a refreshing and mercifully light conclusion to what had been a huge yet satisfying meal.
At £33 per person, the set menu may sound a tad steep for a regular Londoner, but for the quantity – and the high quality – of the food you receive ensures that you’re getting value for your money.
Royal China is a restaurant that trains its spotlight on traditional Chinese ingredients and cooking methods, yet executes dishes that look beautiful as well. As an expat, I was told to look for Chinese food in London’s Chinatown but little did I know that I would find some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had along a busy street in Marylebone.
If you’re in the area and are after authentic Chinese cuisine, I couldn’t recommend Royal China enough. As for me, I need to return so that I can try out those dim sum.
Have you been to Royal China? Where have you had your best Chinese food? Let me know in the comments below.
Note: My meal at Royal China was complimentary in return for a review but, as always, all opinions and questionable chopstick-holding skills are entirely my own.
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