Grand Imperial is part of a Malaysian restaurant group (run by entrepreneur Rand Cheung), which opened their first restaurant in the Kuala Lumpur shopping mall Bangsar in December 2008. This London venture in the Thistle Grosvenor Hotel is their fifth site, the first outside Malaysia. The Head Chef at the restaurant is Leung Chi Keung, who has over 20 years of experience in Asia at restaurants such as Crystal Jade in Shanghai. The airy dining room has been expensively decorated (the product of a £2 million refurbishment), carpeted with marble pillars and generously spaced tables. There were good quality linen tablecloths and attractive bone china with a fuchsia pattern. A large fish tank to one side will apparently shortly be populated with fish which diners can choose for their dinner.
The wine list was of manageable size structured by style rather than region, had a wide range of countries represented and also brief notes on each wine listed. Tim Knappstein “Three” 2009 was £30 compared to a retail price of around £8. Rully Gassmann Gewürtztraminer 2007 was listed at £45 for a wine that retails at about £14 and the Barolo Cereto Zonchera 2006 was £75 for a wine you can pick up for around £22. There were also some prestige bottles such as Lynch Bages 1996 at £250 for a wine that can be bought for around £106 retail. Beer was £5 a bottle. The menu is Cantonese in style, and as well as the a la carte there are set menus available at £25 or £30 each.
Crab and sweet corn soup (£5) had a pleasant stock and was seasoned well enough, but the crab appeared to be missing entirely, so really this was just sweet corn soup. Crab is not a cheap ingredient but if the soup is advertised as having it then the crab should be detectable without the need for special instrumentation (1/10). The starter of prawns with mustard sauce (£10) was a rather odd dish. The prawns had been cooked through properly and had a nicely restrained mustard sauce, but bizarrely the prawns rested on slices of pineapple and were topped with chopped strawberries. Where to begin with why this is a bad idea? This mixes hot and cold elements in a dish, which is virtually never a good plan. And strawberries? In January? Perhaps the chef thought this was clever presentation, but to me it just seemed misguided (2/10 if I try and put the fruit out of my mind, which believe me I am trying to do).
Things reached more reliable territory with Peking duck (£25 for half a duck), served with pancakes, spring onions and plum sauce. This was perfectly pleasant, though I have been ruined for this dish by eating the perfect version at Made in China in Beijing. The duck here was a little fatty, the pancakes a little thicker than they might have been, but this was an enjoyable enough dish (3/10). Sautéed prawns with chilli (£18) had nicely cooked, tender prawns and stir-fried vegetables, with a reasonable but not overpowering chilli kick (2/10).
Gai lan with garlic (£8) was for me the best dish, carefully steamed and delicate. This was not in the league of the version at, say, Royal China, but it was better than many versions I have eaten (4/10). Seafood noodles (£12) had noodles with quite good texture, but had seafood that was rather mixed. A piece of scallop was fine and prawns were again pleasant, but squid was very rubbery in texture and for me not pleasant (2/10 overall). Egg fried rice (£6.50) had good texture (3/10). Desserts, incidentally, were £3.50 - £4.
Service was very attentive, and the room had plenty of waiting staff. The only odd moment occurred when the starters were delivered at different times, which given there were just two of us should hardly have been tricky. The bill was £57 a head, with beer and tea rather than wine. This is really the issue here. The cooking is capable enough, better than most London Chinatown places but, and this is the key, not better than the best casual Cantonese places in London. I can see Grand Imperial appealing to those who want to eat Cantonese food in a smart setting, say for a business lunch, but those just interested in decent value good food will probably head for somewhere like Royal China (better and cheaper), and those wanting the very best food will stick to Hakkasan. Grand Imperial has a nice dining room and pleasant food, but for only a little more you could dine at, say, Yauatcha, and eat Michelin starred Chinese food. Perhaps its closest competition is somewhere like China Tang at the Dorchester, which outdoes it in opulence. Hence it will be interesting to see whether Grand Imperial really carves out a successful niche in the London dining scene.