Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street
London W8 4PT
Tel. 020 7361 1988
Food type: Chinese
Food rating: 5/10
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington
Website: Min Jiang
The arrival of a lovely sunshine-filled Sunday morning (as opposed to the dreary rainy Sundays of weekends past) meant that it was the perfect day for J and I to go out for the Chinese ritual of ‘Yum Cha’ also known as dim sum eating. While eating dim sum is traditionally served early in the morning, at least in the UK, dim sum is more of a lunch thing.
Min Jiang is located on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Its location allows for some stunning and breathtaking views over Kensington Gardens and the London skyline especially on this lovely sunny day. The restaurant gets its name from the Min river located in the Sichuan province, China.
We arrived right on time for our 12.30pm booking for lunch. The entrance to the restaurant has that traditional Chinese feel to it with wooden panels sandwiched by glass. Walls are decorated by black and white photos giving diners a distinct of feel of old China. This theme is replicated in the dining room where various antique vases and bowls are on display. The low ceiling dining room has a black, white and red colour scheme. Tables are draped in white table cloths and are well spaced.
This is one restaurant where the much maligned Sweet and Sour Pork and Crispy Aromatic Duck is noted by their absence on the menu. Instead, the menu focuses on cuisine from the Beijing and Sichuan province. The restaurant is particularly renowned for its Beijing (Peking) duck which requires a pre-order. There is also a Dim Sum menu available during lunch service although diners during dinner can still order a fixed item dim sum platter for dinner. Starters are £6.50 0 £9, mains £14 – £65 (mostly £20) and desserts £6 – £8. Dim sum items are between £3.80 – £4.40.
A small plate of pickled cucumber was offered to us while we waited for our meal. The cucumber, lovely and tender from the pickling process, had the right balance of acidity and heat with the smallest hint of sesame oil. This reminded me of the excellent cucumber pickles I used to eat as a kid at my grandmother’s house. (5/10)
We began our meal with their signature Peking Duck – the duck, sourced from Silver Hill Farm in Ireland, is roasted the traditional way in a wood-fire oven. As expected with such a glamorous dish, our duck was elaborately carved at tableside (by a chef who specializes only in the duck) and presented in 2 services. First, slivers of duck skin were offered to us to be dipped in fine granulated sugar. The idea is for the sugar would cut through the fattiness of the duck. Next the duck skin and meat was served wrapped in paper thin pancakes along with sweet sauce, shredded cucumber and spring onions. Finally, the meat and skin was again wrapped in pancakes, this time with garlic paste, radish and Tientsin’s cabbage. Of these, I found the traditional serving (sweet sauce, cucumber and spring onion) to be the best. A nice touch is that the restaurant offered to roll the pancakes for us. (I of course declined as I prefer to stuff my pancakes full…) Whilst the duck skin had good aroma and flavour, it was let down by the skin being slightly soggy and less crisp than ideal. This was definitely no where near the dizzy heights that I had experienced whilst in Hong Kong although this still deserves special mention for the delicate pancakes.
For the second service, diners have a choice of how to best savour the remaining duck meat. This includes options for stir-fried duck, fried rice, noodles or in our case soup. The salted vegetable soup having immense depth thanks to the slightly smokey flavours infused by the duck. Small cubes of velvety and silky smooth tofu provided great texture to accompany the salty and sour vegetable. Taken as a whole, the Peking Duck probably merits a score of 5/10 (4/10 for the first serving, 7/10 for the soup)
Our selection of dim sum includes the usual fare along with some less common items. Spring rolls filled with prawns and asparagus was accompanied with a vinegar dip. The spring rolls were virtually grease free and crisp but I found that the asparagus overpowered the delicate taste of the prawn. (2/10)
Steamed Har Kow (prawn dumplings) were well made and timed perfectly. Three white dumplings was presented to us in a mini bamboo steamer. These were filled with a generous amount of sweet tiny prawns and chopped bamboo shoots. Unlike many versions I have had in London, the wrap used to house the filling was translucently thin (as you can see from the picture) and light. (5/10)
Soft Shell Crab was a nod to one of the British favourite. Here it was served crispy (again grease free) with Salt, Pepper and Chilli. The sweetness and moistness of the crab was preserved despite it being deep fried, the salt, pepper and chilli mixture enhancing its delicate flavours. (4/10)
The best dish of the day was the Xiao Long Bao also known as ‘Soup Dumpling’. For those unaware, this dumpling originates from Shanghai. The flour skin houses a meat filling which also contains piping hot soup. A small hole on top of the dumpling allows steam from the soup to escape. The Xiao Long Bao was served with the mandatory Chinkiang vinegar and ginger slivers. The dumplings were simply sublime – filled with moist, juicy pork, the dumplings literally exploded in the mouth with the rich, intense soup. (6/10)
The Char Siew Bao (Barbecue Pork Bun) was filled with tender, sweet, flavoursome pork but the bun suffered from being slightly heavy and chewy. (Ideally, the bun should be light and fluffy, like a cloud) (2/10)
Egg custard tarts featured very good flaky puff pastry which was slightly let down by the filling. The egg custard was clearly made from good quality eggs but was not as silky smooth as some of the best ones I have eaten in Hong Kong and Malaysia. (4/10)
Despite the vast amount of food, we were still peckish and opted for our staple serving of rice. Their signature fried rice with salted fish included prawns and scallops, topped off by strips of julienned amber omelette. The chef sensibly decided to keep the size of the salted fish to small rice-like grains. This gave the fried rice the perfume of the salted fish along with small bursts of saltiness without completely overpowering the dish. (5/10) (Incidentally, it has been weeks since I last had a bowl of rice…)
We finished our meal with one of J’s favourite desserts – mango cream with sago and pomelo. Served as bowl of mango ‘soup’, the dessert contained good mango flavour interspersed by the sago pearls. Pomelo, a fruit which my home town in Malaysia is famed for, is an South-East Asian fruit which bears a slight resemblance in taste to grapefruit. These come in many varieties and here they utilized pink, bittersweet pomelo which was slightly sour which helped cut through the sweetness of the mango cream. (4/10)
Our lunch at Min Jiang was a very enjoyable affair. Service was attentive and pleasant throughout with our server being engaging. Dishes arrived at a steady rate allowing us to enjoy each course. In particular, all the dim sum items arrived at the same time as requested – a request which is rarely fulfilled in most Chinese restaurants I have visited especially when they are busy. Food was made using high quality ingredients and the cooking, which ranged between 4/10 and 5/10, was definitely better than your average restaurant in China Town. In general, the food here was safe and rarely strayed from the classic Chinese dishes without much innovation. Nor does it need to. I am indeed quietly pleased that a restaurant in London is able to stick to proper, authentic Chinese food without the need for gimmicks or modifying their dishes to suit Western taste buds, while still being able to draw a crowd, as evident by the packed out dining room.