This smartly decorated 70 cover Chinese restaurant opened in the summer of 2022 in St James. The cooking takes in dishes from the eight different main culinary regions of China, and specialises in palace dishes that were produced for Chinese aristocracy. Peking duck is a speciality. The head chef is Luis Sans, who used to be the head chef of Princess Garden. The main dining room is smartly decorated and very pink; it is the kind of dining room that Barbie would like. Downstairs there is a separate whiskey bar. Around 45 diners can be seated at any one time. There was an extensive a la carte menu, with a tasting menu at £118, but today a friend had pre-arranged a special menu. An unusual feature of this restaurant is that they are happy to produce essentially any dish that you want, given sufficient notice. Indeed, when they opened they tried offering a completely menu-free experience, but switched back to a more regular menu. We had pre-ordered a couple of special dishes, beggar’s chicken and dong pao pork, of which more anon. On the a la carte the starters were mostly around £15, with main dishes mostly £25-£35. A whole 2.6 kg Peking duck was priced at £118.80.
There was a very respectable wine selection from around the world. Example labels were Swartland Winery Mouverdere Limited Release 2021 at £46 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13, Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2015 at £94 compared to its retail price of £29 and E. Guigal Hermitage 2017 at £144 for a bottle whose market value was £52 at the time of our visit.
Crunchy jellyfish was pleasant and had a level of crunchiness that met with the approval of my two Chinese friends at the table (13/20). Cold pork slices were artfully arranged though did not seem to have a great deal of flavour (12/20). Drunken chicken had a sauce poured over it that had rather too much obvious wine, which although certainly meets the name of the dish, the chicken flavour was rather obscured (12/20). Smoked fish was wild plaice that had been initially deep fried, then braised in sauce and then dried. The dish was presented in a smoke dome that was lifted at the table. I thought that this dish worked well, the plaice having good flavour and it having nicely absorbed the flavours of the sauce (14/20).
Xiao long bao was a single, quite large version of the classic soup dumpling. The pork used here is Iberico pork and the soup is slow-cooked for six hours before being reduced to a cube of jelly that is wrapped within the dumpling and melts when the dumpling is cooked. You need to eat it in one bite unless you want to spill the hot soup over yourself, and so my one criticism is that this version was a bit too large. Xiao long bao that I ate in Shanghai (and Taipei for that matter) was considerably smaller. However, the dumpling itself was good and the soup had quite good flavour, with vinegar served on the side as is traditional wit this dish (14/20). A trio of dim sum was pleasant. Lobster dumpling with truffle. pea shoot dumpling with seafood and a pumpkin dumpling all had reasonably delicate dumplings and nicely cooked contents (14/20).
Beggar’s chicken is a dish involving some theatre. The chicken used was a French Label Rouge bird that was marinaded for two days. The chicken was steamed then baked and stuffed with shredded pork, radish and five spice before being wrapped in a lotus leaves and placed in a casing of dough for 90 minutes. Traditionally the casing is cooked in clay but that is apparently not allowed in the UK these days for hygiene reasons. The casing is traditionally broken with a little hammer, and this was carried out tableside before the leaf casing is cut open to reveal the chicken, which was then served. Although this dish was clearly a lot of effort, it did not compare well to the version I had eaten at the superb 28 Hubin Road in Hangzhou, though admittedly that is a pretty high bar to jump. The chicken was just a touch dry and the flavour pleasant rather than dazzling. When I had this dish before the chicken had been basted with chicken jus when served and I think that this would have improved things here (13/20).
Dong pao pork, named after a Song dynasty poet, is a very interesting dish. The version at 28 Hubin Road is a very complex technical dish to make, which I wrote about at length in the review. Perhaps not surprisingly the chef here did not attempt the elaborate pork pyramid with twenty spirals that the definitive version of this dish requires. Instead we had a much simpler version with just a few layers, but the pork belly had certainly been cooked nicely and this was still very enjoyable, served with bak choi (14/20). For dessert a cheesecake was made in house but to be honest was not particularly good; it didn’t really have the texture of an ideal cheesecake, and the flavour was muted (11/20).
Service was excellent, with attentive waiters and flawless topping up of drinks. I was being treated to this meal by a friend, so I do not know what the bill was. Judging by the regular menu, you could certainly eat here for around £80 per person, though clearly you could spend a lot more if you opted for the more luxurious dishes or ventured further into the wine list. Noble Palace certainly has a very swish setting and excellent service, and there were some nice dishes at our meal, though it did not seem entirely consistent.