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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Chinese Rules! Cheaply does it...

We all love a good Chinese dinner, but with the plethora of all-you-can-eat buffets popping up everywhere, who can blame you for feeling somewhat bamboozled and spoilt for choice, and not in a good way? Especially when you’re in Chinatown – London’s very own microcosm of oriental eateries, dim sum parlours and tea houses?! 

You can get Michelin star standard Chinese food and top quality fusion menus about town, but if you search heard enough and down the right alleyways, you may also find the best chow mein you've ever eaten.  The latter may lack finesse and the finest ingredients, but frankly the flavour is all that matters when all you want is a vat of Szechuan King Prawn or wheelbarrow of Sesame Prawn Toast?! Like a humble British pie or roast dinner, a cracking Chinese meal is something that, for me, needs to be plentiful, flavourful and entirely fuss free! Dim sum however, is a niche and should be none of those things; it’s a mouthwatering talent (if you get it right), a precision art and a carefully considered delicate thing. Find a good dim sum chef and you’ll never look back. Imperial China may not give you the latter, but it definitely serves up the former and I’ll tell you why I liked it thusly…

Greeted by a miniature fish pond beneath an unexpectedly delightful bridge and a pergola, laden with hanging lanterns, red dragons and twinkle lights, I can’t help but to fall in love already...and I haven't even entered yet! I find myself wishing that instead of being a restaurant tucked away in this yard, there would be a tranquil blossoming garden with a midget playing a banjo on an oversized swing (yes, this is a surreal image, but then so is this entirely welcoming scene!). With a thriving karaoke scene inside, perhaps this vision isn't too far fetched afterall though!

Located in the middle of an urban jungle, Imperial China is tucked down the lesser trodden Lisle Street, in-between the audaciously bedazzled Chinatown highstreet and the ghoulish Leicester Square. Lest I digress, I could easily now dive face first into a debate about tourist vs. real eating in London - I shall resist the urge to rant, but please indulge me one things: Leicester Square may be the epicentre of activity and you may even spot the odd celebrity-infused movie premiere from time to time, but by no means is it an accurate barometer from which to gauge London life…you must search beyond the bright lights and big brand [mediocre] eateries because in scouring the side streets, cobbled alleyways and basements, you will find locals basking in the enchanting wonderland that lies behind the touristic faƧade. Why gorge on a TGI Fridays, ASK, Bella Pasta and the suchlike when you can find one-off specials around every corner that you’d never get at home?!

Getting back to the point then. Once you’re over the mystifying first impressions, you walk into a rather standard Chinese restaurant; all very welcoming and comfortable, but nothing too earth-shattering. Service is efficient, clean, polite and precise, though all a bit transactional and impersonal. The beer is crisp, cold and satisfying, and the Jasmine tea is soothing, but it's not the largest selection of either I've ever seen. Conversely, while the dim sum may not be worthy of China Tang, the platter was only £8.50 for 8 pieces and I could not have been more happy with it (so much so, I went back three times within 2 weeks to indulge!). The Beef Ho Fun was a perfect plate of starch with a generous portion of meat, and the crispy Shredded Beef hit the spot, leaving me wanting more...and more...and more! I could go on, but that would be immensely dull of me. 

Overall, it was good and nice and tasty and oh so filling, but it was not breath-taking and special or exceptional and refined. It was just very good and very nice, nothing more and nothing less. It’s also cheap as chips, so why not get involved?! I urge you to try it, even if for no other reason than to imagine that banjo playing midget singing Living on a Prayer in one of the karaoke suites!







 Square Meal Imperial China on Urbanspoon