Monday, 10 June 2013

Review: Royal China – Food Fit For An Emperor

Last Monday night, I and another food blogger were given an eleven dish feast to test at Royal China restaurant in Bandra.  Tough life isn’t it?

Royal China is far from the average Chinese restaurant to be found in Mumbai.  Far, far from average.  For one, the food to be found there is authentic Cantonese cuisine.  Not the usual mish-mash of ‘fusion’ oriental food that is popular in this city.  I really do not like a restaurant that can’t make up its mind. And although there are some set menus available at lunchtime (for 850 Rs + taxes), it’s a la carte all the way in the evenings. There is always a member of staff on hand to guide you through the menu, and you can even look up pictures of all the dishes on an Ipad - if you need help visualizing some of the more unusual items on offer.

Prawn Dumplings

We kicked off our meal with a selection of delectable dim sum, which are individual parcels of food traditionally served in steamer baskets or small plates. I’ve eaten a fair bit of dim sum in my life – including at our very own Chinatown back home in London.  And I can tell you now – that the dim sum we sampled at Royal China is world class.  

To begin with, four dim sum showcasing four different types of cooking techniques were brought out to us: Steamed prawn dumplings (har gau), chicken & prawn sui mai, roast pork puffs and fried prawn cheung fun. The dishes were presented with a flourish and placed on the Lazy Susan in front of us (a revolving inner table that allows each person to conveniently access the dishes).
Prawn & Pork Sui Mai
When the lids were lifted off the bamboo dim sum baskets, a waft of steam escaped carrying a fragrant hint of what was to come.  As I tried to grapple with the sticky prawn dumpling with my chopsticks, I found the casings to be nicely elastic and the prawns wonderfully plump.  The delicious quartet of open-topped sui mai (a particular favourite of mine) were densely packed with finely minced prawn and pork.

Admittedly, I had never had roast pork puffs until now – and since sampling them here at Royal China, I am now a big fan; substantial triangles of baked puff pastry encasing a moist char sui pork filling.  These would make a great snack at any time of the day.
Roast Pork Puffs
The biggest surprise came in the form of the prawn cheung fun.  Cheung fun are usually long, cannelloni-like filled rolls of steamed rice pasta that are divided into bite size pieces. But these particular ones were unusual in that they had first been deep fried in filo pastry and then rolled in a rice casing and then steamed. So first you sink your teeth into a sticky outer followed by the crispy inner.  Novel! And I reckon this cheung fun must be quite a culinary feat to prepare.
Cheung Fun
Next on the menu were a couple of deep fried appetizers – Salt & Pepper Squid and Smoked Shredded Chicken, the latter making a change from the ubiquitous shredded chilli beef and making good ‘picky’ food to chew over whilst mid-conversation.  The squid proved a little too salty for us (although we still ate every last scrap!), but it was just a good excuse to rehydrate with more white wine.  Speaking of which, you won’t find Sula on the menu either – Royal China serves from a list of handpicked Indian Fratelli and International wines. I had a light and crisp French Sauvignon Blanc to accompany my meal.
Salt & Pepper Squid
The piece de resistance for any Cantonese restaurant has to be Crispy Aromatic Duck.  Whenever Crispy Aromatic Duck is available, I make a point of having it.  But you don’t often see it on Mumbai menus.  So when they presented it to us at Royal China, I was absolutely delighted.  Again I wasn’t disappointed with the cooking.  The duck was pink with sweet-scented, crispy skin – just as it should be – and when rolled up into the steamed pancakes with the fresh cucumber and spring onion and then topped with plum sauce, made me go into dreamland!  To be honest I could have ended the meal right there and then on that high note.
Crispy Aromatic Duck
But by this point, we were still on the wrong side of the middle point of the meal.  There are still six main course dishes to sample as well as two desserts.  Am I going to make it?

Thankfully there was a nice breather and conversation time in between courses. There is one thing that I can’t stand is having your food brought out quickly and being made to rush.  There’s none of that here – the smartly uniformed staff provide a service that is attentive yet unobtrusive.

Again, the main courses (four dishes served with rice and noodles) didn’t disappoint.  But so much food was brought out, that it covered the every spare inch of the Lazy Susan; We were treated to many of Royal China’s signature dishes; Chicken in Black Bean Sauce; Prawns in Chilli Oil; Lamb with Ginger and Spring Onion; Royal China Exotic Vegetables; Egg Fried Rice and Hong Kong Noodles accompaniments.  The stand out dish for me was the Lamb – the generously chopped ginger adding a zingy and uplifting element to the recipe.  Plus the lamb was of the sheep variety – not mutton. 
Main Course
The mixed vegetable dish was also very interesting – it contained at least four types of mushrooms including exotic shitake and wood ear – as well as lotus root, tender asparagus, carrots and baby sweet corn.  The prawns were large and succulent – a main course in their own right and accompanied by the chef’s own chilli oil (available to buy at the cash desk on your way out), and the chicken in black bean sauce definitely stands out amongst its competitors.  What I really appreciated about the cooking her at Royal China, is that the sauces cling to the ingredients – you won’t find anything drowning in bright red gloop and the food is never over-gravied. The accompaniments were excellent – fluffy and non-greasy egg fried rice and non-gloopy noodles.  Just as I like them!
Lamb With Ginger & Spring Onion
Incidentally, we are told that all the Chefs are brought over from China to cook at this restaurant.  It’s not the usual case of training up Indian chefs and then departing for the homeland – leading to inauthenticity and the bad cooking habits that I have commonly found in other foreign branded restaurants.

Obviously by this time, I am fit to burst.  But there are two more items to sample for dessert.  Toffee Bananas and Chocolate Mud Cake, both served with vanilla ice cream.  Now, banana fritters are something I consider myself an expert on. But at the same time, I can take them or leave them.  After all it’s just a banana deep fried in batter and covered in cheap sugary syrup right?  WRONG!  First of all I need a fork to hold down this toffee banana version – and then a spoon to crack through the stiff, toffee caramel.  Inside, the banana was soft and squidgy. The whole thing was simply divine!  We were fighting over the last remaining toffee banana and surprisingly it ended up being the highlight of my meal.  And I don’t even have a particularly sweet tooth. As for the chocolate mud cake?  It was nice but I preferred the toffee banana.
Toffee Banana
Overall, I found the meal to be outstandingly good.  I have eaten at both the much-hyped Hakkasan and Yauatcha but the cooking at Royal China more than matches the standard of those two restaurants (personally, I find it better and more straight-forward).  What’s more, the servings at Royal China are generous – the same certainly cannot be said for Yauatcha!

The restaurant was busy for a Monday night – with a mixture of couples and families and the odd businessman.  The service was excellent and the ambience was cosy yet elegant.  “I’ll be back!”

(PS: Please note that although we did not pay for this meal, I expressed to the marketing manager that I only bother to write a review if I like a restaurant…in the interests of making good recommendations to the expat community).

- BombayJules

To read other posts by BombayJules click here 

Royal China is located at Bandra and Fort, for addresses click here

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