Posted on Friday, 18th December 2009
For those of you familiar with the Royal China chain, it would be easy to assume that the Royal China in Putney is part of this established group of restaurants. It isn’t, although it was the original restaurant that spawned the rest. The Putney branch broke away some years ago and it operates as an independent establishment even though it still shares a name with the well known group.
My interest in Royal China Putney has been alive and kicking for a while now, spurred by a recommendation from the mother of one of my Chinese friends. She and her Hong Kong University alumni friends have tried this dish at various restaurants in London and they consider Royal China Putney’s lobster noodles to be the best in London.
But my motivation for coming here was twofold, as I also wanted to dispel the myth/rumour that exists in some food circles that Mandarin Kitchen in Bayswater has the best lobster noodles in London. In my opinion, it doesn’t. I tried their version about a year and a half ago (pre-blog) and was hugely disappointed. The noodles turned up in a few short minutes, suggesting that they had been pre-cooked and then reheated just before service. And that’s how they tasted, as they lacked that quintessential zing that comes with food that has been cooked à la minute. The lobster also lacked flavour and overall the noodles were lacklustre. Thereafter I hatched a plan to find something better in its place.
So how does the one at Royal China Putney fare? Well, it was very good indeed. The lobster had lots of flavour, was moist and not overcooked, and while it had been left on the shell, it had been expertly cut so that it was easy to remove the meat. The portion was also generous, and so we all managed to get a decent amount of meat between the four of us (which included my abovementioned friend and his mother to whom I shall refer to as Mrs M). There was also a nice gentle flavour of lobster in the classic sauce of ginger and spring onions which generously permeated the noodles. I would have to try every lobster noodle dish before I could objectively opine on whether this was, in fact, the best in London. But on its own merits, Putney’s version was wonderfully done and definitely better than the one at Mandarin Kitchen. This dish had been cooked with care. (Note that ‘lobster noodles’ is not specifically listed on the menu but all you have to do is to ask for it. The lobster with two portions of noodles cost £33.80.)
To other dishes. The king prawns in a dish of stir-fried prawns with spring onions and ginger (£11) was delectable. The prawns were firm, with a crunchy bite to them in the way that Cantonese people like prawns to be cooked. The sauce was very pleasant.
A dish of sauteed pork chops in plum sauce (£8) was enjoyed by all. The pork was resoundingly tender and the sauce was not too sweet with a hint of spiciness from the little bits of chilli in it.
An assorted special seafood hot pot (£35) containing sea cucumber, abalone, fish maws, prawns, scallops, squid and Chinese mushrooms with oyster sauce was very tasty. The prawns were again the highlight with a wonderful crunchiness to them, and with its good assortment of seafood, this was one of those delightfully comforting Chinese dishes. What I would say was that we were hard pressed to find any abalone. We even asked the kitchen if the dish in fact contained any. The restaurant insisted that there was some, although they must have been cut so small as to be virtually non-existent. At £35 we all felt that this was dish was very overpriced. The pricing obviously took into account how expensive abalone is, but seeing as we didn’t really think we ate any, we would have preferred no abalone at all and being charged less.
Mrs M also highly recommended the black sesame dumplings (£4.30 for a portion of four) for dessert and I was taken aback by how luscious these were. These are little balls made from rice paste, filled with a sweetened powder made from ground black sesame and coated on the outside with a mixture of finely grounded cashew nuts and coconut. Served warm, there was a beautiful aromatic taste from both the nuts and the sesame. The dough from the rice paste was also light and airy. Being quite a typical Chinese dessert, it might not suit certain palates, but this version of the black sesame dumpling is probably one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
We were also given some red bean puddings for free. Made from sugar, red beans and coconut milk, these were also very good and authentic.
I was impressed with the food at Royal China Putney, even though the seafood hot pot was overpriced. Although not mind blowing, it is traditional Chinese done very well. The chef has a deft touch with the wok and the food is cooked with care. That said, the restaurant doesn’t have much ambience to speak off. The décor is dated – it’s all black lacquer decorated with flying birds – and the restaurant looks like it hasn’t been refurbished in a while. The service was good enough, although I would have liked the waiting staff to have filled up our tea pot more regularly.
This is no Hakkasan – there is nothing glamorous about this restaurant. But they do have some very good dishes, including some fabulous lobster noodles which are worth trying if you’re a diehard fan of this dish.
Please note that the Royal China Putney also serves dim sum which this blogger might cover at some other point.