The spectacular tenth floor setting of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington is now the home of the Min Jiang restaurant, named after the Min river in Szechaun). Gone are the odd disco lights of old and the far wall away from the picture window has displays of Chinese porcelain. Chef Lan Chee Vooi cooked at the restaurant of the same name at the Goodwood Park hotel in Singapore; this was excellent when I last went, though this visit was before Mr Lan was cooking there.
Below are notes from my most recent meal.
Tonight a hot and sour soup was very impressive, the balance of the stock carefully judged, the chilli kick lively but not overpowering (5/10). Also good was soft shell crab, well seasoned with salt and served with slices of red chilli; the batter used to fry the crab was light and not at all greasy, the crab flavour coming through well (4/10). The main courses did not quite sustain this standard. Chill prawns had tender prawns but a rather sludgy sauce that was over-heavy on onions (2/10).
Lobster was expensive at £46, pan-fried with salt, pepper and red chilli. I never like having to fiddle around inside the lobster shell for the meat; surely the chef is going to do a better job of extracting the meat than the diner? Once the excavations were completed the lobster was reasonably tender if cooked just a fraction longer than ideal, but the seasoning did not come through that well (3/10). Gai lan was quite good, steamed with garlic, lightly cooked and tender (between 3/10 and 4/10). Egg fried rice was fine.
We ended up with the short straw on the waiting staff tonight. Our waitress was, as my companion neatly put it “Soviet era issue” and while not actively rude was distinctly grumpy; she also managed to forget our drinks order, and when I reminded her the reaction was scowling rather than apologetic. When I asked for a copy of the menu she looked at me as if I had asked to sleep with her sister. This was a pity as the rest of the staff we interacted seemed excellent.
The notes below are from a lunch in October 2008.
The view on a sunny day is spectacular over Kensington Gardens. The menu has one or two Szechuan touches but is mostly in familiar territory, such as a starter of soft shell crab with salt, pepper and chilli. Starters are £6.50 - £9, main courses £14 - £43 (but mostly around £20) and desserts £6 - £8. There are also dim sum choices at lunch, at around £4 each. The wine list runs over five pages and ranges around the world e.g. Mud House Sauvignon Blank 2007 at £35 for a wine that costs about £10, £29 for the excellent basic Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2004, which costs about £8 retail. It says something about London restaurant mark-ups these days that three and a half times retail price seems somehow not that bad.
The dim sum choices were excellent. Deep fried yam croquette with seafood had a light and fluffy exterior and nicely cooked prawns (4/10). Baked char siew puff was delicious, with good pastry and rich, sweet meat, reminding my knowledgeable dining companion of the baked venison puff at Yauatcha (4/10). Gai lan (or kai lan as they spell it here) with garlic was lightly cooked, but this is a dish that loses heat quickly and needs to be brought to the table piping hot. In this case it had waited a little so was only warm when it arrived, though it was certainly tender enough (3/10).
The speciality here is Beijing Duck (Peking Duck), which needs to be pre-ordered as it takes at least 45 minutes to prepare. This is cooked in a wood-fired oven and served in the traditional way. I should say that I have eaten what I believe is perfect Peking duck at Made in China in Beijing, so I had a pretty good benchmark in my mind when eating this.
First slivers of skin are cut and offered, in this case with the option of dipping in sugar. In the ideal version the skin should be crisp yet melt tantalisingly when on the tongue, and I’m afraid that here it did not: there was a rather soggy feel to the skin. The meat itself was good (as it should be; it is from Silver Hill Farm in Ireland, which is noted for its duck), wrapped in impressively thin packages with sweet sauce, shredded leek and cucumber, and then again in pancakes with radish, garlic paste and bentsin cabbage. These were both enjoyable. Finally there was a serving of stir-fried shredded duck with ginger and spring onion, which had a nice amount of fresh ginger and was cooked well. While this was better than some of the dull versions to be found in Chinatown, I have to say that, pancakes aside, I was not dazzled (3/10). Perhaps I will have to go back to Beijing after all.
A dessert of mango cream with sago pearls and pomelo (an Asian fruit) had good mango flavour and was not too rich (3/10). Service was attentive and friendly, a world away from the brusqeness of Chinatown.