Monday, 28 October 2013

Royal Dragon (Huang Long Xuan) - not your typical dim sum restaurant


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Address: 30 Gerrard Street,
London W1D 6JS
Phone: 020 7734 0935
Nearest Tube station:
Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ****
Service: **
Ambience: ***
Anyone can tell you how to pick a good Chinese dim sum restaurant - even those who has never stepped into one before. Never walk into an empty one, especially during lunchtimes when all the others in the vicinity are packed. Never walk into one where the majority of its customers are non-Chinese. With the exception of Ping Pong where the customers are more interested in drowning themselves in their favourite poison, that doesn't really hold true these days. With the deluge of dim sum restaurants in central London, Londoners have embraced dim sum almost as their own. Much like chicken tikka masala.

Mention dim sum and PG, the Frenchman gets all excited about the "white spongy thing" that he ate the last time round. It sounds dodgy but he is actually referring to charsiew buns. Incidentally, that is also the little one's favourite. Mention a trip down to Chinatown for charsiew buns and she will turn all compliant in an instant.

And that is how we ended up in Royal Dragon Restaurant on a Sunday afternoon.

By all accounts, Royal Dragon isn't your typical Chinese dim sum restaurant. For one, it feels more like a club than a place that you can spend the entire afternoon sipping tea and munching on light bites. The background music is a mix of Japanese hip hop, English ballads and Cantonese rock. Another red light.

The meal didn't start well. We ordered tea the moment we were shown to our table. You would expect it to be served quite soon - after all, how long does it take to prepare a pot of tea? Quite long apparently, it came together with our dim sum dishes, a good 20 minutes later, which is an eternity in the realm of dim sum. Imagine sitting on the table with neither water (we gave up requesting for it after the second time) nor tea for a third of an hour.

When asked what was holding up the kitchen, we were told by a staff that dim sum "needed to be steamed". Of course, and the tea leaves had to be harvested as well. It didn't help that he went back to spreading peanut butter on his Warburtons white. A couple was seated next to us and ordered chicken curry. Wait a minute, I would never have stepped into the dim sum restaurant without a struggle had I known that it serves curry, never mind which curry. I braced for the worst.

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Everything arrived in quick succession. LO was visibly excited when she saw the charsiew buns (£2.50). The diced barbecued pork within though not memorable but decent enough with just the right amount of fatty bits and nothing of the unpalatable charsiew sauce in those served at Joy King Lau. The dough could be a bit thinner though.

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Scallops dumplings (£3) turned out marvellous. I thought that the only way to have the scallops that smooth was to have them pretreated with corn flour. But those at Royal Dragon didn't have any of the irritating starchy edge.

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Ditto for its pork and crab siew-mai (£2.50). I had to stop myself from downing them in quick succession. I wouldn't have hesitated ordering another portion of them if not for what arrived next.

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Salted fish and pork rice pot (£4.50) was an unusual order even for me. Rice is really to bulk up the meal - in short, empty carbo. The salted fish caught my eye though. After all it has been some time since I had a small slab of that from Billingsgate Market. The salted fish on the rice was far from a slab; a finger would be a better description. It was laid on a later of over-marinated pork, and all that on a bowl of white rice. The proper way to consume it would be of course to mix the whole lot up. That we did and it tasted heavenly.

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Seafood hor fun (£5.50) is a favourite of mine. I find that dim sum restaurants who serve them rarely messed it up. The key thing is of course the smoky flavour that is made possible only in a wok tossed over strong stove fire, something that I can never mimic at home. What surprised me was the sprinkle of lightly roasted sesame seeds on it. That gave the already aromatic horfun an additional fragrance. Excellent. The chilli shreds stir fried into it added that extra kick into the mix.

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Vietnamese spring rolls (£2.50) is another dish that I ordered for LO's benefit. She fell in love those at Cu Tu. Feather light, fresh and crunchy. That sum up Royal Dragon's vietnamese spring rolls. It beats any of those served by Vietnamese restaurants along Kingsland Road - at least those that I have been to. There, I said it.

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What started without much promise ended up to be a rather good meal. The age old adage about getting decent service in a Chinese restaurant only if you speak Cantonese or Mandarin doesn't seem to apply here. Ironically, the most obliging staff is the sole Chinese staff in Royal Dragon who speaks only English (he was almost apologetic about that).

The truth is if you are going to avoid Royal Dragon because it simply doesn't look like your typical Chinese dim sum restaurant, you are missing out on a good spread that is very reasonably priced. If dim sum isn't your cup of tea, perhaps the karaoke that it offers is.


Also check out its sister restaurant - Golden Dragon


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