Imperial Treasure restaurant review: The finest Chinese you won't want to share
Can paying £100 for a duck ever be worth it? Ibrahim Salha thinks so. Well, now that the restaurant has added the second course into the deal too
Ask people what their most cherished meals ever were and most will reflect on the company and the setting. It’s as much about who you share the table with as it is the food, after all.
But, every so often, you eat something so good you sort of wish you could have it all to yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole Peking duck at Imperial Treasure is meant to be shared. But you may be reluctant to do so.
It’s a dish that you have to be entirely prepared for and decided on, starting with claiming a duck two days before you eat at the restaurant, such is the complexity of preparation – involving air drying, separating the skin and pouring oil on the cooked bird.
It’s worth waiting for: the first course is a plate of the glassy and lacquered skin, served simply with sugar, and easily one of the best things you can eat, anywhere.
When you’re done with that, it’s time for the meat, which comes with pancakes, spring onions and hoisin sauce, as is traditional; a quite superb rendition where the meat stays juicy while the skin remains crisp to the bite. It’s a feat of cooking, showcasing excellent and patient technique that a duck of this quality deserves.
Is it the best duck in London? Well, I’ll say this now: it’s £100 for the whole duck. That’s generally about £20 or so more expensive than most of the other whole ducks in town. For that price you’d expect it to be up there, and I believe it is.
It just edges out Duddell’s and Min Jiang in terms of flavour. In the earlier days of the restaurant’s London outpost, the price point was perhaps more of a contentious issue, namely due to the fact it previously eschewed the traditional second duck course.
Thankfully that’s been rectified and you can now choose to have it stir fried with black bean sauce or ginger and spring onion, or deep fried and given the salt and pepper treatment. We choose the black bean sauce and while it’ll outdo most renditions you’ll have had, it’s not quite as good as the pure duck experience before it, though.
The excellent fried rice goes some way to helping upgrade the second duck course, both acting as a vehicle for the sauce and complementing the richness of the duck through what I’d call bland deliciousness; sometimes you need dishes that aren’t desperate for top billing but make everything else in the meal work. It’s like the night watchman or backing singer of food, and it more than does the job.
The same can’t be said for the stir fried prawns, which is truly the antithesis of bland, with tingly dried chillis flooding the dish and gorgeously oily cashews bobbing around, for added crunch. I wish it was slightly (read: a lot) punchier, in all honesty, but it’s one of the best renditions of the dish you can get in this country.
On another visit to the restaurant I go for lunch, which offers the same menu as in the evening, with the addition of a range of dim sum. All of the classics are available here: har gau, shumai, cheung fun and char siu bao. They’re all brilliant. Best of all from what I eat is the chicken feet, in a slightly spicy and highly addictive black bean sauce (not unlike that of the second duck course) and among the best feng zhua available in the capital.
Nearly as good is the prawn cheung fun – described on the menu as “crispy golden net”, but the reality is a superbly light batter encompassing fresh tasting prawns, clothed by a chewy rice wrapper. It’s an excellent version of a dish available wherever you’ll find yum cha, elevated by the introduction of a crispy element. The same can be said of the sesame prawn toast, one of the most expensive dishes on the dim sum menu, which immediately strikes me as something I have to order. They’re a plump and stocky version, rather than flat and toast-like, and all the better for it.
In fact, I’d struggle not to recommend coming here for lunch rather than dinner if you’re considering it, and aren’t paying with an expense account or you’re about to propose to someone. This is an expensive, special occasion, pop-the-question sort of restaurant for most people, with dinner for two in the £300 range.
The dim sum menu is thankfully more affordable but will still cost you more than somewhere like Pearl Liang, Royal China or even Yauatcha with mots dishes coming in at £9, rather than £4-7 – but you’re getting a level of dumpling that is also above most of its closest competitors. What’s more, the duck is available for lunch if you’re prepared to plan ahead, so what’s stopping you?
Imperial Treasure Fine Chinese Cuisine; 9 Waterloo Place, St James's, London SW1Y 4BE; 020 3011 1328; imperialtreasure.com; open daily