25a Lisle Street
London WC2H 7BA
020 7734 3388
Imperial China is probably one of the more restaurant looking restaurants in Chinatown. The good thing about it is that the food is not much more expensive than other restaurants in Chinatown, and you get far better service there. Perhaps due to the large number of tables available in Imperial China, when we were there we never felt that they were in a hurry to get us to leave, unlike our experiences in places like Leong’s Legend, or 4 Seasons, or practically every other of Imperial China’s competitors.
As usual, we ordered a mountain of food. The waitress had to lift the extension to our table to make more space because we couldn’t fit all our food on whatever space there was. And that was after stacking the dim sum baskets on top of each other. Yes, gluttons we are.
We enjoyed most of our dishes. The egg tarts were very light and melted in our mouths, but it was a pity that they were so small. A prefers to have her egg tarts small, but this was truly miniscule. The squid rings were also very yummy, and the dipping sauce was perfect to provide a balance to the fried batter.
The noodles were also pretty good. We ordered this because we saw the 2 men beside us eating it. There was a generous amount of seafood – scallops and prawn and squid in the noodles, and we really liked it.
We ordered as well a portion of roast duck and char siew. The roast duck was quite a disappointment. The skin was not crispy and it the duck came literally swimming in an overly diluted sauce that didn’t help at all. The meat wasn’t as juicy and tender as what we have come to expect of roast duck in London, ala 4 seasons and Pearl Liang. The Char Siew was also quite strange. It was not so much as char siew as it was sliced pork with a char siew sauce. To put it bluntly, the char siew just didn’t char siew. It was one of the worst attempts at char siew that we have ever seen – quite appalling indeed.
Another dish that fell flat was the fried turnip cake, Singapore style. We had high hopes for this dish, and were hoping so hard that it would be what we imagined it to be – the Singaporean fried carrot cake. However, what was presented to us was something quite different. We should have known. Anything ‘Singaporean style’ in London will inevitable fail our taste test. There was nothing Singaporean about this dish. All it was was fried turnip cake with a pinch of curry powder. In fact, we think we have that exact same curry powder in our kitchen. This, we didn’t bother to finish.
The dim sum is above average at Imperial China. The char siew baos and xiao long baos were all decent. We also went for this very interesting sounding item on the dim sum menu – prawn dumpling shaped in a goldfish. It looked exactly as it was advertised. This was literally a prawn dumpling which had been shaped like a goldfish. There were even little orange dots for the eyes! Unfortunately, these tasted horrible. The skin was rubbery and thick, and the prawns were not fresh. In fact, it seemed as if the prawns had been mashed up into somewhat of a paste before it was put into the dumpling. We didn’t order their Har Gao, so there is no means of comparison, but we just thought that they could retain the texture and taste of har gao in this item it would be a hit. However, god forbid their har gao to be equally atrocious.
We enjoyed their mango pudding somewhat, but like the egg tarts, they were so small it was hardly enough. This wasn’t close to the standard of mango pudding at Pearl Liang – there was a very unnatural orange colour to the mango pudding, and the mango wasn’t fresh, unlike Pearl Liang’s.
Overall, the food at Imperial China is pretty good (except for some real misses). In summary, they’ve got many things in place to make it great. However, there is something lacking in Imperial China that makes it forgettable. Simply put, they haven’t found a niche area to specialize in, so it hardly registers on my radar at all. I never think of going to Chinatown and having a meal at Imperial China, but I do think of going to Leong’s Legend, or 4 Seasons, or Loon Tao quite regularly. Its location doesn’t help as well – it is away from the main restaurant strip, in a quieter street parallel to Gerard Street. This is truly a shame, because it deserves to be high on my list of restaurants to go to in Chinatown, but currently, it isn’t – because when it’s time to decide where to eat, I never remember it.