The décor of the Royal China in Queensway had been an unchanging fixture for many years, its distinctive gold and black lacquer room featuring in a scene in the excellent 2000 movie Sexy Beast. Finally the owners invested in a refurbishment, the restaurant reopening in December 2011 after a multi-month refit. The new dining room looks spookily like the old one, though with the partitions between tables removed. I am not sure this is an improvement, as the room now is just one cavernous space. In place of the gold and black lacquer panelled walls are now, er, gold and black lacquer panelled walls, albeit with some slightly different patterns. I gather that the kitchen is now bigger.
The menus have been reprinted, but little else seems different. The garnish for the prawns with cashew nut dish was a little different, but the dish was of the same standard. The staff still seems unable to bring starters to the table at the same time. Honey-barbecued pork was tasty, with a good sweet soy-based sauce and generous slices of pork, and gai lan was as good as ever. Just as before, if you order a beer it will arrive either within seconds or (more likely) not at all. The bill was £40 a head including drinks. The upshot is that very little appears to have changed: in the case of The Royal China, I’ll take that as a good result.
The Royal China raised the standard of Chinese cooking in London, and to this day is better than anything in Chinatown. Go either at lunch for dim sum (for which you cannot book) or for the evening meal (where booking is wise, as this is seriously popular with the Chinese community). The decor makes the place look like a 1970s disco, but the food is the thing. Service is extremely efficient in this large operation, but don't expect it to be cuddly.
If going for dim sum at the weekend long queues form outside the door, so get there by 10:50 a.m. (it opens at 11:00) if you are to be sure of avoiding a lengthy wait. There are lots of great dishes, such as the divine steamed prawn dumpling with coriander, and you can supplement the dim sum choices with dishes from the evening menu. Another favourite is char sui steamed bun, light and fluffy on the outside and with pork inside with a hint of sweetness. Prawns and chive dumplings are also excellent. A new dish is the fried fish with fried angel hair pasta coating. Overall the dim sum is not quite as sophisticated as that at Hakkasan or Yauatcha, but after these it is the best in London.
From the vast evening menu, my favourites are the baby bak choi (if only most top French restaurants could cook vegetables this well), ultra tender steamed gai lan (Chinese broccoli), the Singapore noodles and the belly pork with stewed vegetables, which may sound odd but has remarkably tender meat. Steamed sea bass is perfectly timed, and just about any prawn dish is also good. Another excellent vegetarian dish is stir-fried pea shoots with garlic, which have lovely texture and plenty of flavour. They even make beancurd edible here - try the beancurd with crab meat. One tip is to spurn the usual rice and ask for the rice in Lotus leaf - this is beautifully fragrant. The branch in Baker Street serves the same menu and is nearly at the same standard, though I fractionally prefer the Queensway branch.