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Thursday 31 December 2009

Seeking the Best Dim Sum in London - Royal China @ Queensway

Royal China @ Queensway

I have been coming to Royal China (RC) for the last 12 years, and have nearly always enjoyed my dim sum there. My preferred branch is their flagship restaurant on Queensway, and the only place where I can have one of my most loved dim sum dishes “Baked Seafood Rice in Creamy Portuguese Sauce”. 

Hakkasan is another favourite dim sum joint, however I find myself going less frequently to the West End as the years go by. Dim sum at Hakkasan is a completely different ball game (just as good but in a different way), and about 50% dearer.

I went to Royal China last Sunday on 27th December 09 and was a bit surprised to find the place with no queue at 1pm. On the one hand, I was pleased that I would not have to wait for a table (RC does not take bookings for dim sum at weekends), but on the other, I felt that it lacked the crazy and vibrant atmosphere seen at the weekends. 

Staff were also rather uninterested, looking tired and sometimes being almost brusque. I was surprised to experience this considering RC charges 12.5% for service charges, and the level of service is usually good. 



Royal China’s black and gold décor is surprisingly elegant. Despite the lack of windows, the Queensway branch does not feel oppressive but comfortable and roomy.

The most successful dim sum dishes we ordered were:

“Prawn & Chive Dumplings” @ £3.15 – these were as good as ever with the rice wrapper being silken and very delicate and the chives filling delicious.


“Pork and Radish Dumplings” @ £2.65 – I love white radish (daikon), and the addition of peanuts makes this one of my favourite dumplings.

“Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf” @ £3.50 – with a delicious filling of chicken and mushrooms, encased in sticky rice, and wrapped up in lotus leaves, this steamed dim sum is stodgy but well flavoured.


“Royal China Cheung Fun” @ £3.60 – I normally order the prawn version but as a friend wanted to try the beef cheung fun, we opted for this dish which contains one of each, prawn, beef and char siu pork. As usual, the cheung fun wrapper was delicate, silken and contrasted beautifully with the meaty fillings.

“Ho Fun Noodles with Pork and Enoki Mushrooms” @ £8 – I hardly ever have noodles with my dim sum, however I was glad that we order it. It was an excellent dish and accompanied our other dim sum choices well.

“Baked Seafood Rice with Creamy Portuguese Sauce” @ £9.60 – I haven’t yet discovered what this yellow creamy sauce is made from but it is utterly scrumptious, to the point that I dream about it. Meaty scallops, prawns, squid and fish are mixed with egg fried rice and topped with the creamy Portuguese sauce. A “must” on any visits to RC Queensway.

The less successful dim sum dishes we ordered were:

“Prawn & Coriander Dumpling” @ £2.65 – the rice wrapper was unusually thick on this occasion and I struggled to taste any coriander in the dumpling. 

“Roast Pork Bun” @ £2.65 – I love this and, as with Cheung Fun and Seafood Rice, order them on every visit. This time, the dumplings had considerably shrunk in size and the char siu pork filling was rather ungenerous.

“Yam Paste & Pork Dumplings” @ £2.65 – I ordered this in error (I had meant to order the pan fried turnip paste with dried meats which is sensational) and unluckily they were rather greasy and nothing special.

“Fried Mixed Meat Dumpling” @ £2.65 – again this was slightly greasy and lacking in filling. I struggle to find anything positive to comment on this one.

“Roast Pork Puff” @ £2.65 - I normally enjoy these triangular beauties similar to Brazilian & Portuguese snacks, but unfortunately this was another disappointing choice as the puffs were served stone cold and tasted a bit tired.

I normally come out of RC feeling really pleased with the food and overall experience. I have to admit that on this occasion, I was disappointed as some of the dishes were not as good as previously and the staff had a tired and unfriendly look about them. 

I still enjoyed the Baked Seafood Rice, the Cheung Fun and a couple of other steamed dumplings though so I hope that coming 2010, RC will pick up again and standards will go back to where they were.

The total bill came to £74.40 including service and Chinese tea for 4 people @ £1.20 per person. At £18.60 per person I believe this is still a good value meal in London.

Verdict – Variable quality dim sum and unfriendly staff made my latest visit to Royal China a disappointing one. Some star dishes and very reasonable prices warrant a “revisit” which I will report in the very near future.

Royal China on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 30 December 2009

London Restaurant Reviews - Chilli Cool

 Chilli Cool

I first learnt of Sichuanese Cuisine when reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s book “Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper”. Fuchsia is an engaging writer – it was great fun reading about her adventures as a Westerner living in Chengdu, and learning about Sichuan and its cuisine. I have bought both her cookery books which are also very good.

After reading a positive write up by Mr Noodles of Eat Noodles Love Noodles (this is his favourite Sichuanese restaurant in London), I decided to try Chilli Cool last week. Mr Noodles is a real authority on regional Chinese cooking, and his blog is an excellent source of information on the subject.

Dr G and I arrived and headed to the wrong entrance of Chilli Cool – there are two: one for the Sichuanese hot pot restaurant on the left hand side, and another for the a la carte menu on the right. We were directed to the correct entrance (a la carte), and were soon seated.

The staff’s level of English isn’t great, although I found them to be efficient and polite. The decor was simple and with no frills, and the lighting was strong and bright. One unnerving aspect of the restaurant is how greasy the floor was – I could hardly stand on one spot without sliding away. If you can put that to the back of your mind though, you are in for a culinary experience.

The menu is well laid out and contains many pictures of the dishes to assist ordering which I found very helpful. Following the recommendations of Mr Noodles, we ordered a selection of dishes from the menu.



We started the meal with the less hot “Sea Spicy Shredded Pork” @ £7.80. This was utterly delicious, with the slivers of pork, julienned bamboo shoots and black fungus making for a sensational combination of flavours.

The sauce was rich and very flavoursome (I believe this to be also translated as “Fish Fragrant Sauce”), and despite the name, it has no fish ingredients – it is sour, sweet and spicy and made from ginger, soy sauce, garlic, chinkiang vinegar among other ingredients.

We also ordered “Sliced Beef Sichuan Style Lavishly Topped with Chillies and Sichuan Pepper” @ £8.80 (Also known as “Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce” – shui zhu niu rou). This was another rich and delicious dish, and one of the highlights of the evening.

The beef was coated in flour and then boiled in stock and soya sauce giving it a silken texture. The addition of finely julienned celery and spring onions to the rich sauce made it hearty.

It was fiery but bearably so. It was about zero degrees outside but I was pouring with sweat – a perfect dish for this type of weather.

To accompany the meat dishes, we ordered some plain steamed rice @ £1.50 a portion, and two of my favourite Sichuanese vegetable dishes – “Dry Fried Green Bean with Minced Pork” @ £6.80 and “Sea Spicy/Fish Fragrant Aubergines” @ £6.80.

The greens were dry fried until tender and slightly wrinkled, and tasted delicious with the minced pork, Shaoxing wine and soya sauce. This was a simple but very satisfying dish.

The aubergine dish was the better of the two though – the fish fragrant sauce was complex and bursting with flavour. I have made this dish many times at home but have never managed to come close to the richness and concentration of flavour of Chilli Cool’s version.

We also ordered their “Chengdu Dan Dan Noodles” @ £5.80. I have tried this dish at several restaurants but Chilli Cool’s was I think the most authentic. It was seriously spicy and delicious with a generous helping of “Ya Cai” a type of Sichuanese preserved mustard green, and a rich sauce made from an assortment of spices.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and it cost only £44. We ordered enough to feed 4 or 5 people as the portions were rather generous.

Verdict – Authentic Sichuanese cuisine in Central London at very reasonable prices. A must for anyone who appreciates this type of cooking. Delicious fish fragrant aubergines, sliced beef and shredded pork and charming service. Highly recommended.

Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon

Friday 25 December 2009

The Best Pizza in London - Stringray Globe Cafe

Stringray Globe Cafe 

I have been to Stringray many times and have enjoyed my pizze there on most occasions – the few times I didn’t were when I was turned away as Stringray is nearly always full with locals and Columbia Road shoppers.  Every time I visit, the waiting staff seems to have changed. This is not a good sign, but despite this and the erratic service, Stringray’s pizze are good, and so I return.

Luckily, I was not turned away last Wednesday as my old friends Eduardo and Gary of Columbia Road’s Start Cafe invited me to join them for a pizza there.

The decor is quite simple but warm and welcoming – this is a cheap and cheerful pizzeria, with a lively atmosphere and no frills. It has a fireplace and a long-bar, and discreet lighting. This is great place to enjoy a nicely made pizza and beer on tap in a relaxed setting.

We ordered a bottle of “Italian Prosecco” @ £16.95, and “garlic bread with cheese” @ £4.50 whilst we mulled over our pizze choices. The garlic bread was fantastic – a “sauceless” and very thin pizza base had been covered with mozzarella cheese and chopped fresh garlic to make a simple but delicious starter.

Stringray’s menu is rather straight forward and well priced – in addition to about 9 “antipasti” choices, the menu comprises pizza and pasta options and three meat choices (fish, chicken and steak). Pizza prices vary from £4.95 to £6.95.

As always, we went for pizza, our choices were “Four Cheeses” @ £6.25, “American Hot” @ £6.25, and “Neptuno” @ £5.95.

I love their Four Cheeses pizza and order it regularly. This time was no exception – the pizza was as good as ever – cheesy and delicious with an ultra thin base. Stringray’s pizza has a completely different style than Pizza East or Rossopomodoro’s where the bases are thicker and have more of a bite to them (which I also love).

Gary’s “American Hot” was reasonably good although I felt that the pepperoni meat tasted slightly too processed for my liking.

Eduardo’s choice “Neptuno” was topped with tuna, olives, capers and onions. The tuna tasted like it had been taken straight out of a tin and contained no cheese which detracted from the overall experience.

Other pizze that I have sometimes are “Boscaiola” (tomato, mozzarella, mushroom, bacon and onions) @ £5.95, and “Quattro Stagione” (tomato, mozzarella, mushroom, capers & olives, anchovies and ham) @ £6.50, they are usually pretty good too.

Verdict – If you can get a table at this very popular East End Pizzeria, you will enjoy a competently made, thin crust pizza at very reasonable prices. Quality of ingredients can be variable and service erratic.

Stringray Globe Cafe on Urbanspoon

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