July 15, 2016 / 2 Comments
Having spent more time eating European creations on my recent trip to Shanghai than Chinese cuisine, I was really craving some authentic Asian fare. Enter Royal China DIFC to the rescue.
The sign outside the door signals that this isn’t a one-off establishment, but like many successful Dubai hotspots (Nobu, Coya, Zuma, Hakkasan anyone?) it’s a member of a worldwide group of restaurants under the Royal China banner. I’m really expecting some well perfected recipes now, and feel my stomach rumbling with anticipation.
Stepping into the restaurant, I’m relived to see the decor definitely doesn’t disappoint. It’s nice to see what I would still call an ‘old school’ Chinese concept managing to dodge the ’80s effect’ – food and decor stuck in the decade that was the heyday of Chinese cuisine’s international popularity. I know this because I lived it as a child. Inoffensive wonton noodle soups were my go to as a kid, with Chinese restaurants being the first big ethnic food trend to hit Australasia and the top destination for every family dinner or lunch out. Sadly, even to this day, far too many Chinese restaurants are still hanging on to this outdated identity (ahem, Shang Palace).
Royal China’s large open space on the other hand had an air of elegance about it and authentically conjured up familiar scenes of Chinese grandeur while still feeling modern and chic. In addition to the large dining room, bar and private dining space there’s also an outdoor area that looks appealing, but due to being in the thick of a Dubai summer, we weren’t able to check it out on this visit.
Quickly seated by friendly waitstaff, we begin perusing the menus. Yes, menus, plural – there’s four! Seasonal, yum cha, a main menu and a drinks menu. I have to say it was a bit tricky trying to flick between the many large menus to make our selections – one (with seasonal inserts if need be) would be so much easier to handle.
To begin we ordered:
VEGETABLE SPRING ROLL (3PCS) 35
PAN FRIED GYOZA (3PCS) – 35
HONEY ROAST CHICKEN PUFFS – 35
FRIED MINCED CHICKEN BALLS CHEUNG FUN – 38
We kick off proceedings as one should when fine dining Chinese style, with some yum cha nibbles. The vegetarian spring rolls are tasty and tick the box nicely, crispy honey chicken puffs are pretty good (especially when you add some hoisin) and the cheung fun a good representation of the dish also (judging from my fellow diners reaction to this last dish however, it’s probably not one to order unless you know what to expect mouthfeel wise). But what really stood out was the pan fried gyoza.
WOW. These gyoza are seriously spectacular and are going straight on to my Best Dishes in Dubai list.
Why, you might ask? Firstly the wrapper is spot on – not too thick, not too thin. The stuffing is delicious and perfectly seasoned – not too watery and fills the wrapper completely. You can take a bite and the contents remain inside the gyoza – they don’t spill out on to the plate everywhere which is always so annoying. You can dip away without fear that you’ll lose the innards every time. The pan fried finish gives just the right amount of crisp to the outer, a touch of oh-so satisfying crunch. It’s without a doubt the best gyoza I’ve had in Dubai – in fact I can’t think of a gyoza I’ve had anywhere that tops this one. Go try some now.
One gripe – these were served in threes, a pet peeve of mine. For once, we actually had three at the table in this instance so it wasn’t too bad, but it’s beyond annoying when you’re dining as a couple or group of four. Why not allow people to order by the piece perhaps, instead? Oh, and the paper doily things? These have gotta go guys, I can just feel the 80s radiating off of them, searing my eyeballs. You’ve got nice plates, that I assume you intend on washing in between uses – so where is the need for a paper doily? These belong solely in the domain of crafters, Grandmas and hospital cafeterias. Not in a fine dining restaurant, Chinese or otherwise. Ok, so that was actually two gripes.
Because one simply can’t resist…
PEKING DUCK – 198
Served with pancake, spring onion and cucumber
Next up is my one of my all time favourite dishes – Peking Duck (or Beijing Duck, if you’re a traditionalist). Presented as a whole duck (well, depending on your chosen portion size), we take up the offer of having it sliced for us to prepare the rolls ourselves at the table (I’m not a fan of having the rolls pre-prepared and prefer to do it myself – gotta get the proportions how I like ’em). The duck doesn’t disappoint, and it’s served here as an individual course, instead of a two/three/four course set as I usually see. So that’s good if you are just wanting the main event. The pancakes are a real standout – almost translucent, with fantastic texture. Plenty of them too, but I definitely wanted more cucumber and spring onion than the small amount provided to throw in the mix. Add some hoisin, and wow (I put hoisin in the same category as bacon – add it to anything and it will make it taste better). This is how Peking Duck should be done (take note, China Grill).
For the main event, we indulged in:
CRISPY SHREDDED BEEF IN BIRD’S NEST – 88
SAUTÉED CHINESE BROCCOLI WITH GINGER – 58
ROYAL CHINA LOTUS LEAF RICE – 68
MALTED CARAMEL CHICKEN (seasonal menu)
CRISPY SEAWEED – 55
Sautéed *insert green vegetable here* with ginger is always a must have when dining Chinese style, and this Chinese broccoli dish certainly did it’s job of being a good wing-dish. The lotus leaf rice also played it’s supporting role well, beautifully presented inside a lotus leaf in which it was steamed. We ordered the rice as a vegetarian preparation, but you can have chicken and shrimp added if you prefer.
The crispy shredded beef was tasty, and certainly as described by our server – ‘it’s like chips’, but I couldn’t really find the beef in it. Deep fried, crispy and moreish it was indeed, but I could feel myself wondering, ‘Where’s the Beef?’. This dish might do better under another name (for those craving crispy beef, I recommend taking a trip to Dubai’s Din Tai Fung branch). I’d still recommend ordering this dish, as long as you’re not expecting something meaty. On the theme of crispy, we also tried the seaweed – I find myself wanting to type ‘wow’ again (something that springs to mind a lot throughout our meal). Finely shredded and really, well, sweet, this is a treat that will challenge your expectations of seaweed.
The true star of this course was the malted caramel chicken. Stunning! The cubes of chicken had an interesting squidgy texture (in a good way) with a crispy outer – this dish was absolutely amazing and a huge hit with my fellow diners. Put it on the must order list. It’s served with plenty of dried chili and garlic also if you’re game.
Pre-dessert, we were treated to a rather lovely tea ceremony at our table. This is no simple pot of tea, there were many, many steps involved to warm the pot and cups and prepare the tea, certainly a unique experience in Dubai. A nice touch.
And some Asian desserts done right…
PAN-FRIED RED BEAN PASTRY – 35
BLACK SESAME PASTE IN PEANUT CRUMBS – 38
Please, don’t be scared of Asian desserts. I know they can be scary if you’re not used to them, and I’ll admit I’ve had my share of terrible ones. BUT – you’re in good hands here. The Pan-Fried Red Bean Pastry was amazing. A little bit like a sweet version of the Cheung Fun from earlier, this one was sweet, sticky, chewy and caramelised. The perfect end to an amazing Chinese feast!
The black sesame balls are a signature here, but beware if you have allergies! While they tasted great, these caused me to fall ill with hidden cashew nuts not mentioned on the menu (a nut that’s on my no-go list). I normally won’t mention allergy issues in my reviews, as it’s really my problem not theirs, but with so many people being affected by allergies these days I think it’s an increasingly relevant issue. Allergy details had been conveyed to at least four staff members, and the kitchen, yet this dish slipped through and made for an unfortunate end to what was on the whole a really great experience. For me, it means an afternoon of feeling ill, but allergies can kill – so I’d implore the kitchen to be a little more thorough in the future when dealing with special needs customers such as myself.
If you’re craving authentic Chinese cuisine in the desert, I can whole heartedly recommend you check out Royal China. Fab food, fab service and you’re sure to feel relaxed settling into their comfy chairs and grand surrounds. Those looking for something equally as good to wash down the delicious food with are in luck too – there’s a fab cocktail list on offer and those we tried (the Red Dragon, Royal China Martini) were on the money – the chardonnay I enjoyed was very good too. For those looking to lunch, there is a business express lunch set menu and brunch goers aren’t left out of the mix either (both Friday and Saturday brunch seatings are on offer).