London has had Chinese restaurants for well over a century. Once exotic, they are now ubiquitous -many are quite awful, especially those fast in and out places in Chinatown (the area bordered by Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road and Lisle Street) where, unless you are very lucky, you would well enjoy a supermarket Chinese takeaway more.
You could do better with London mini-chain Royal China. Keeping with Chinese traditions, it has round tables (what other sort of restaurant has round tables?) so it’s best for larger groups, sharing food and probably not a place to dine alone.
We went to the Queensway branch – it’s the oldest in the six strong group and convenient for Kensington Gardens.
It’s barn-like, (so don’t sit too far back) with parts sadly in need of a new coat of paint although it could be considered comfortably shabby. It’s popular with Chinese diners – the big attraction is the Dim Sum menu at lunchtime. You might have to ask about this – some items are not always translated – or you could go for the set Dim Sum, essentially a sampling menu. Either way, expect to pay around £7 a head if you just want a starter – double or treble that if your wish is for a dim sum meal.
The food is Cantonese – the most widely travelled cuisine from China. But it’s not the usual stuff from the local takeaway. Instead, we ate Sautéed Squid with Peppers and Black Bean Sauce (£11.90) plus (it arrives on the table in best Chinese style in no special order), Steamed Chicken with Mushroom and Chinese Sausage(£12.80) and Sautéed Pak-Choi with Garlic (£9.80). We tried the Lotus Leaf Rice (£9.60) but it’s one of those “why do they bother” dishes and so we decided we preferred plain rice (£2.80).
Drink can be jasmine tea (best choice) or Chinese beer (second choice) as most wines refuse to pair with this cuisine. But there is wine for those who insist.
Expect to pay around £45 for a full meal – the set menus are a bit cheaper but tend to be obviously tedious.
Even if it is sometimes a bit hit and miss with some of its “innovation” somewhat pointless, Royal China is so superior to the vast majority of Chinese eateries that it’s well worth a visit. But don’t forget those big round tables – and take your friends and family to share every dish.
And as we come to the Year of the Pig – Chinese New Year (Tuesday 5 February 2019), Royal China Restaurants across London will give each table a special red envelope with some containing special gifts.
Each “lei see”, as they are pronounced in Cantonese, will offer a fortune message; with some of the red envelopes containing a prize. The red colour of the envelope symbolises good luck and is said to ward off evil spirits. And there will be the special Lion Dance – believed to bring good luck and fine fortune.
Royal China Queensway
13 Queensway, London W2 4QJ
Phone 020 7221 2535
Nearest stations Queensway, Bayswater