Sunday, 8 January 2012

Grand Imperial

I remember a time when Golden Wonder Cheese and Onion Crisps were the bee's knees, when Bovril actually gave you strength with its original recipe, when a can of regular Lilt contained no artificial sweeteners but good old sucrose and when green-top milk was sold at corner shops. I am of course talking about a period that was a little over two and a half decades ago. Sadly for me these foods don’t taste the same to me now; they suck. They have either succumbed to the pressures imposed by government policies which ultimately led to a revision and overhaul of the respective ingredients used or in the case of the unpasteurised milk, totally removed from shops or supermarkets. Thankfully the song remains the same with the traditional Dim Sum chow I’ve grown accustomed to courtesy of Chinatown’s stalwarts like Joy King Lau and Harbour City. The Har Gau and Siu Mai served at these places still taste essentially the same today as they did back in the late 80s when I first had them, it’s perhaps the expectation, consistency and the underrated mediocrity of the related dishes that tempt me back time and time again. What I detest most is when people start to moan about the authenticity of ethnic foods served in the capital like the genuine articles are only to be found in their spiritual homes. Well fuck that for a laugh, I’m grounded here in London and I have to make the most of it. Londoners, trust me, we are blessed with restaurants out there serving bloody good Dim Sum (and as good as the ones found in Hong Kong) such as Harbour City’s ethereal White Flower Fish Maw Dumplings or this highly divisive Xiaolongbao and not forgetting the great all-rounder.

On New Year’s Eve and as nobody likes me I chose to elect solitary confinement for myself. I snacked on worms that were long, thin, slimy ones; short, fat, juicy ones as well as the itsy-bitsy, fuzzy-wuzzy varieties. And all ably digested with the help of a magnum of third growth claret. I fell totally intoxicated before I had a chance to pop a bottle of Clos du Mesnil (a blessing no less) and inevitably missed the countdown to 2012. As a testament to good wines quaffed, I welcomed the New Year without a hangover and proceeded with my usual routine of breakfast and planning my usual Sunday lunch of Dim Sum.

I’ve been meaning to go Grand Imperial since its opening a few months ago. I came here not so much for its fine dining concept but was simply intrigued by the name of the chef; not Randall or Randy (witty remarks withstanding) but abruptly Rand, yes Rand Cheung! So take heed, to disregard macheteed first names like Lol Jenkins, Geo.F. Trumper, Malc Elliot and now, Rand Cheung would be churlish.

Grand Imperial is conjoined to the west wing of Victoria Station. It’s the flagship restaurant of the Thistle Grosvenor hotel; to me the Thistle Group spells two stars and the name Grosvenor, an esoteric five stars which makes the hotel 3.5 stars. The restaurant displayed a fair bit of opulence and grandeur, but since it’s a Chinese restaurant Sarah Lund jumpers and Simon Cowell's V-Neck will not be frowned upon. The service hierarchy is based on the Brave New World’s caste system-

The suited Beta males are highly selective about who they serve (it was probably them who gave Giles Goren a nosebleed because he was ‘being white in ANY chinese restaurant’- Twitter 4/1/12) and they absolutely don’t engage in small talk.

The black-uniformed Gamma males were simply there to honour your whims, top your drinks, hold your hands or clear the tables. They were efficient and friendly, and enlightened the diners with a weensy bit of small talk.

Deltas were unfortunately an all female affair clad in off-white cheongsams. Their job is to deliver the dishes from the kitchens into the dining room and transfer them to the Beta males who gently plonk what you ordered on the table with a sanctimonious sigh. The Delta ladies were sadly an entirely muted lot.

I’m confident that kitchen elves exist for a reason so Epsilons don’t figure at the Grand Imperial.

And what of the Alphas? Well there can only be one and that’s Rand Cheung.

Grand Imperial currently offers eat-as-much-as-you-like Dim sum lunches for £16.80 (weekdays) and £18.80 (weekends) per person. One’s presented with a short but tempting menu of Dim Sum dishes and a self-tick order form of what you desire. Can I just remind everyone to be responsible and not go nuts about ticking every single box, I suggest four to five dishes per person initially and if you’re still up for some more then you’ll be welcome to polish off the rest of the menu till you drop. Grand Imperial is not a registered charity therefore any requests to do with a doggie bag are profanely sacrilegious.

If you’re au fait with the following-

Thicker pastry skins than usual.
Fillings that are densely packed (not machine-ground but hand-chopped).
More steamed varieties than fried.

Then Grand Imperial answers your prayers and you’re in for a treat.

Prawn Cheung Fun
OMG moment...the start of something brill! The big fat prawns and the sweet soy sauce were responsible for the above.

Steamed black cod dumplings
I wasn’t convinced this was the ‘slippery’ black cod as suggested, it reminded me more of the usual haddock or plain cod instead. But whatevs’ it was unmistakably fresh and exceedingly delectable.

Stir-fried turnip cake with egg, bean sprouts and XO chilli sauce
The majority of Lo Pak Koh served elsewhere reminisce of rancid poo but the above was beyond moreish.

Har Gau
Very nearly the Mother of them all.

Pan-fried foie gras and beef dumpling.
An absolute waste of effort, the foie gras was totally obliterated by the five-spice seasoning and sickly sweet beef.

Dim Sum is best enjoyed with three or more persons.
Solo diners need not apply.

Shumai (hate that wiki spelling!)
Brilliant and on par with this.

Lotus leaf rice
Beautiful succulent chicken pieces and perfectly cooked rice. Exceptional.

Barbecued pork pastries
Not as good as Harbour City's but still praiseworthy .

Pokey poke time …this is strictly Yum Cha time.
We’re not at Ping Pong or Yauatcha now so don’t order any fancy pants cocktails or anything alcoholic for that matter, stick to tea please! There’s none better than the above; kook poh tea (blend of Pu-erh tea and chrysanthemum).

Congee with shredded chicken and conpoy
When it comes to a bit of cheering up the Jewish have this and the Cantonese have the above or chook. Thank you Mum Rand!

Congee with century egg and pork
The best 'chook' in London, sorry Richard!

Steamed prawn dumplings with XO chilli sauce
The best of any dumplings I've had in yonks. Spicy and mind-blowing.

Beef with coriander Cheung Fun
This might finally sway Mr Noodles.

Spare ribs and chicken feet rice
I couldn’t work out the atheist equivalent :(

Steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce
Proper Cantonese peeps love their pork fatty and this fulfilled. Salty, spicy and shamelessly oleaginous.

Xiao Long Bao with Crabmeat
Despite the near absence any soup seeping out when the dumplings were punctured, they were still excellent. The profusion of crabmeat provided an additional but wonderful sweetness.

Deep-fried chicken straws (or spring rolls)
Not brilliant, it was too heavy tasting and both the curry spices and fish sauce were unnecessary. The kitchen would've been better off with good old Vietnamese spring rolls instead.

Char Siu Bao
Eat while it's hot and savour the delicious pillow-soft buns at its almighty best.

When it comes to Dim Sum I’m decidedly old school and I deplore intrusions that embrace a twist of fusion. So apart from the two ‘misses’ on the menu, the Dim Sum dishes I had at Grand Imperial were astoundingly good and this could well qualify the restaurant as one of the finest in the country serving the best dumplings and more. Highly recommended and especially so before they change their minds about the eat-as-much-as-you-like offer.

101 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 0SJ


Mr Noodles said...

Ha ha! You remembered my dislike of restaurant beef cheung fun! No reason why it should be bad, but it does tend to to be the ****** step-child of chueng fun imho. This could be the exception, though!

Must get round to checking this place out, as this deal seems almost too good to be true.

theundergroundrestaurant said...

It looks good. There are even a few things I could eat.

Gastro1 said...

Have you ever ventured 1/2 a mile down the road to Hunan ? Been going there for over 20 years strongly recommend it - no Dim Sum family are Taiwanese but Mr Peng cooks mainly what he learn in Taiwan from a "master" who hailed from Northern China.

Also Alisan in a strange location in Wembley is supposed to have outstanding Dim Sum.


bellaphon said...

Hey Dino, Hunan's on the cards and has been for yonks. I'll try and make it this year, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bellaphon, Would you happen to know which restaurant serves good dim sum in Chinatown? Thank You!

Richard Dixon said...

A great (and comprehensive) run-down. Those steamed prawn with XO look tremendous - look forward to having a crack on those.

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