As a Chinese in the UK, it's always a pleasure to discover authentic Chinese restaurants in the country that serves dishes that taste and is served the same way (or better than) we are used to in our home country. To us, fusion dishes are creative and interesting, but never satisfy our need for the taste of home.
A while back, I was invited to review a Chinese restaurant - Grand Imperial London . They claimed that they are an authentic Cantonese restaurant, which really intrigued us. I am a Cantonese myself, hence I have high expectation for authentic Cantonese food. Especially when some restaurants claimed that they are authentic, but flavours were of Mainland China. We booked the review for last Saturday when we had the chance to pop into London, and we had been looking forward to the day.
The restaurant is situated inside the Grosvenor Hotel in London's Victoria, which is only 3 minutes walk away from the Victoria Station. It has opened for seventeen months by Chef Rand Cheung who already has several branches in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Unlike the traditional Chinese restaurants that serves Dim Sum and Chinese dishes, Grand Imperial is classy and modern. They imported most of their tasteful decorations, furniture and tableware from the Far East, including bone china tableware from Japan's representative brand Narumi, for their high quality makemanship.
When we arrived, we felt very welcomed, and the serenity was much appreciated.
As we don't drink wine, the manager has recommended their best Chinese tea - the King of the Teas. We hadn't heard of it, but when we took the first sip, a very familiar texture and taste hit us. The manager wasn't exaggerating, it was the King of (Oolong) teas, and we knew that because it was the same tea hubby's parents bought us every year.
In Taiwan, there is a kind of Oolong tea specially grown for entering competitions. The tea that has won would then be sold to the public through special ordering, and Grand Imperial serves that award-winning Oolong tea. Its unique creamy smooth texture is unmistakable.
The manager was happy for us to order whatever food we would like to try, but we wanted to know what he would recommend, so we asked him to decide for us.
|Steamed Prawn Dumplings with XO Chilli Sauce|
We had a selection of special and traditional Dim Sums for starter. Cutely wrapped, the Steamed Prawn Dumpling pouches with XO Chilli sauce was really tingling the taste buds. With a touch of spiciness from the XO Chilli sauce, it has enhanced the freshness of the prawns. The crystal dumpling skin was really well made, with the perfect thickness and the right amount of bounciness, creating an interesting texture overall.
|Black Cod Dumpling|
The meaty Black Cod was fresh, sweet, delicate and luxurious. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
|Steamed Barbecued Honey Glazed Pork Bun aka Char Siu Bao|
The traditional Char Siu Bao was soft and very fluffy. The filling was tasty and generous with the barbecued honey glazed pork. I had many different versions of Char Siu Bao before, some with less fillings, others quite stodgy. This was neither but delicious, and they won't fill you up as much until you couldn't even enjoy the other food.
This had to be the best Xiao Long Bao I've ever had. People boast about how thin the skin should be, to show the skills of making these dumplings, but to me there should be a right balance between the amount of skin, fillings and 'soup' (juice of the fillings) in each dumpling. Not only was the thickness of the skin just right, there was a good amount of flavoursome soup stored in them as well. We tried taking a bite but the soup leaked out from the 'pouch'. As it wasn't too hot, the best way was to put the whole dumpling in the mouth and savour the combined texture and flavour together in one go.
|Homemade Rice Roll with Fresh King Prawns and Sweet Soya Sauce|
I have tried making rice rolls at home before, and it was not easy. The wrong ratio of water, oil and rice flour could easily ruin the texture and taste. The day after we reviewed Grand Imperial, we went to have Dim Sums with our family somewhere else, and we were really disappointed with the sticky and slimy version. Grand Imperial has definitely set our standard high with their smooth rice rolls and fresh, sweet and meaty King prawns. Their sweet soya sauce is authentic and just the way it should be.
The manager ordered some really special soups for us to try next. I had a Dried Scallop Broth with Winter Melon Puree, while hubby had Szechuan hot & Sour Soup with Lobster.
The broth for the winter melon soup was full of flavour, and we have been wondering what other magical ingredients they have used to make the broth to make it so tasty. Abby absolutely loved it and drank it all up (the sacrifices a mum would make for their children).
Hubby's hot and sour soup was again packed with flavour and ingredients, and although the sourness was strong, it wasn't as pungent as others. They were also very generous with the lobster meat as well, and I managed to steal a big chunk out from hubby's bowl! If you are having a 3 course meal, this soup would be great as a starter because it can really open up your appetite.
|Oven-baked Barbecued Pork Pastries|
|Oven-baked Egg Tarts|
The manager was very considerate and ordered extra Dim Sums for Abby, in case she wasn't keen in other dishes.
The barbecued pork pastries were extremely fresh and melts in your mouth. I would normally prefer puff pastry egg tarts, but this crumbly and buttery shortcrust pastry egg tarts were irresistible. The egg custard was really soft and smooth as well.
While waiting for the mains to arrive, me and Abby walked passed the bar and performance area to the hotel's washroom (right next to the restaurant's entrance from the hotel). The bar was impressive and the grand piano really made the restaurant look and feel grand!
|Sauteed Scallop, Prawn & Broccoli in XO Chilli Sauce|
|Sauteed Sirloin Beef Cubes with Black Pepper Sauce|
|Wok-fried Rice with Vegetables|
We came back and were wowed by the extremely fragrant and impressive looking dishes. The scallops and prawns were big, fresh, soft, sweet and very tasty. The XO Chilli sauce has definitely enhanced the flavours of the seafood. Even the broccoli was cooked just right and still had a crunch. You can tell that they were of good quality just by looking at how big the broccoli flowers were.
The Scottish Sirloin beef cubes were marinated for over 24 hours, hence the extreme tenderness. They were again cooked just right (medium rare) and they really melted in our mouth. The strong flavourings enticed us to want to eat more. We could just eat them with a big bowl of plain boiled rice.
Both dishes had what we called Wok 'Chi', which is the strong fragrance from stir frying in a highly heated wok. You can never have that kind of strong Wok Chi at home.
The fried rice was delicious and well cooked. All vegetables were cooked perfectly, and each components contributed lovely flavours and textures into the dish, for example, the nutty flavours from the pine nuts and sweetness from the sweetcorns. Each rice grain were well coated with egg, which is one of the main quality to achieve for a great fried rice. If we weren't stuffed, we would have finished everything. I was gutted we didn't after we left!
|Left: Mango & Pomelo Sorbet|
Right: Strawberry & Lychee Pudding
We were really full after the main course, but how could we resist the temptation of the above desserts?!
We started with the Strawberry and Lychee pudding, as the flavour should be more delicate than the Mango and Pomelo sorbet. There were lots of strawberry pieces in the lychee jelly, and there was a layer of tofu jelly at the bottom. We were surprised that the bottom layer was tofu jelly, as it tasted nothing like tofu pudding at all. We love Tofu dessert, but they always have a soya bean smell and taste. The jelly here tasted just like normal cream but much healthier. The pudding was floral, delicate and a bit zen like as it really calms you and your palette down. We loved every bit of it.
In contrast, the Mango & Pomelo sorbet was vibrant and exotic. It has a strong characteristic. The sorbet was absolutely gorgeous, and you could tell that the mango was really ripe and sweet. The only down side in my opinion was the pomelo pulps in the mango and pomelo coulis was a bit bitter, otherwise it would have been full marks from me. Hubby wasn't bothered at all though!
We were really satisfied at the end of the meal, and can hardly fault anything at all. The food was authentic and true to the Cantonese taste (all chefs who were cooking in the kitchen are from Hong Kong), although the manager was very honest about the two fusion dishes they have in their menu - Pan-fried Foie Gras and Beef Dumpling, and Grand Imperial Green Tea Brulee.
If you aren't certain what dishes to order, or you want to try some new dishes, it's worth asking for recommendation. One thing that we haven't tried but worth mentioning is their Peking Duck. According to the manager, they are serving the duck the authentic way by de-skinning the duck first and skimming the fat off the skin. They will then serve the crispy skin and a thin slice of meat with the usual pancake, Hoi Sien sauce, spring onions and cucumbers (I think there might be ginger as well), while using the rest of the meat for a second dish, ie you get 2 dishes out of one Peking Duck.
At the moment they are doing a set menu deal, where you only pay £15 per person for a 2 course meal or £20 per person for a 3 course meal between 12pm to 7pm every day. They also do a Dim Sum buffet for £16.80 per person during week days and £18.80 during weekends and bank holidays. If you like or would like to try authentic Chinese food in a lovely setting, I would genuinely recommend Grand Imperial London.
Grand Imperial London
(Every day 12noon to 11pm)
101 Buckingham Palace Road
Phone: 0207 821 8898
Disclosure: I was offered two free complimentary meals to review; all opinions are honest and my own