Following a major refurbishment, loyal diners have reportedly been queuing for hours to get a taste of their favourite dim sum and Cantonese classics at Royal China. The decor remains stately with gold domes looking down on lacquer murals of flying geese and crowning waves, but judging by the crowds, the food remains so popular, that diners are oblivious to the gleaming acres of gold leaf.
The restaurant was packed when we visited on a Monday lunchtime with a mixture of Chinese families and folk who had dressed up for lunch. It is that type of place – grand and looks like somewhere for a special occasion, but the familiar welcome from the staff revealed that many diners had been regulars for years.
We visited with the intention of ordering just dim sum – said to be some of the best in London – but were immediately seduced by the lengthy menu. Our scattergun ordering induced a raised eyebrow from the head waiter, Wallace, who was so good at explaining the dishes that the two of us ordered enough for the whole restaurant.
Prawn dumplings, roast pork buns, Vietnamese spring rolls and fried prawn dumplings with coriander got things off to a regal start. The prawn dumplings were clean and fragrant while the spring rolls and fried prawn dumpling were encased in wafer thin crispy skins that when dipped in the chili sauces and brown vinegar sent our taste buds dancing. A new favourite of mine, the roast pork buns are as bizarre as they are delicious – the fluffiest white buns encase sweet minced pork and are steamed to perfection.
Crispy shredded beef in a bird nest, deep-fried squid with spicy salt, chicken with chili, pan-fried Dover sole, sautéed Chinese broccoli with ginger and steamed rice left the table groaning under pressure while we received admiring glances from our fellow diners. These iconic dishes were bursting with flavours that had us smacking our lips all afternoon. The squid was encased in a light and crunchy batter with perfect seasoning while the chicken was a heated but fragrant dish that exploded with flavour. Shredded beef was as tasty as the presentation was impressive: sitting in a deep fried bowl of noodles these crunchy little sweet and savoury slithers of beef alone are enough for a return visit. The Dover sole is presented next to an upright deep fried Dover sole skeleton – a crispy arc of fragrant fish that had other diners pointing their fingers at this marvellous display. Again, the presentation barely does justice to a rich and fragrant stir fried fish that soothed against the fiery chili beef.
Rice and Chinese greens were barely touched as the other dishes had our undivided attention. Gallons of jasmine green tea helped us cleanse our palates, but we were full. That is, until we left the restaurant to find Yogland across the road, an emporium of flavoured frozen yoghurt. Not really in keeping with the elegance of Royal China, but the only place I could find banoffee flavoured frozen yoghurt with crumbled Oreo cookies on top. A meal up there with the best.