Royal China restaurants are one of the more recognisable Chinese restaurant groups in the UK, even with a far flung branch all the way in Singapore (of which I regret not having frequented having lived in Singapore for the best part of three months last year).
The Harrow establishment has been present for a good number of years having replaced the previous Chinese restaurant that operated there.
It wasn’t by any measure the first time we’ve actually had lunch or dinner here, but it was most likely an act of laziness that have prevented me from actually writing a review. For myself (and my sister), Dim Sum is actually one of our favourite meals to have, and on a personal level, I have probably eaten the Cantonese delight at no less than 100 different places worldwide. It is one of the 3 foods that I simply can’t live without (the other being Japanese food and gyros). For me Dim Sum in general needs to be light; fried dishes needs to be golden and crispy, steamed Dim Sum must not feel gloopy or doughy and any fillings must taste fresh enough so that each morsel of food can be identifiable – from water chestnut to minced pork to shitake mushrooms. In short, making consistent Dim Sum is no fair feat and many restaurants end up purchasing frozen stock from third parties to compensate for the efficient nature that all Dim Sum restaurants must live up to.
Now back to Royal China Harrow. The restaurant is one of our favourites when seeking Dim Sum satisfaction and on a Sunday lunch time, there was surprisingly no queue to the usually tightly packed restaurant. At every Dim Sum restaurant, there are certain dishes that we will always order, Taro Croquette, Ha Gow (Steamed Prawn Dumplings), Cheung Fun, a form of rice noodle usually containing prawns or some other meat inside, Turnip Cake, Steamed Chicken Feet and Siu Mai (Pork Dumplings). At Royal China Harrow, all the dishes lived up to the expected standard, the Taro Croquette in particular was crispy with the taro clinging on to the flavourful and saucy meat filling, the prawn in the Ha Gow delightfully crunchy and fresh; however one distinguishing similarity in all the dishes was a significant reduction in portion size. In fact, this was a common factor found in some of the main dishes we ordered as well (Fried Noodles with Mixed Vegetables and Fukien Fried Rice, originating from would you know, Fukien in China), the latter of which had visibly shrunken to half its quantity compared to the last time we had gone to Royal China.
Portion sizes aside, the taste of each dish remained on par with our last visit a few months earlier (as we’ve been eating at the neighbouring Taste of China the past few occasions), with a few new additions that we hadn’t seen before including the Taro Croquette with Prawn and Cheese which we gave a go. It doesn’t work really well because unlike a standard Taro Croquette with filling, having an entire prawn with a protruding tail made it a little less manageable as on the first bite the entire croquette would come loose from the prawn leaving you a taro shell and a piece of prawn with some cheese. Taste wise, there wasn’t anything supremely memorable and the cheese becomes obsolete. For £4.60, it comes across as one of the pricier Dim Sum options available and there are certainly other better value dishes available.
Service on this occasion was where we were let down, apart from the floor manager who we see often and is attentive, the rest of the serving staff (there were three other waitresses we could see) were lacking in efficiency that one might expect from a Dim Sum restaurant and a restaurant of Royal China’s stature. Tea was never topped up, our Kai Lan in garlic sauce was forgotten and guests were kept waiting in a queue whilst as many as 5-6 large tables were left in a mess for as much as 10-15 minutes without being cleared up. When we wanted to order more dishes, waiting staff would walk past without a glance at our gesture for the menu and when we did finally get the menu and ordered more food, the menu was just kept on the table rather than taken away. As a frequenter of Chinese restaurants, I never really expect too much in terms of service and attitude of staff, however, what all Dim Sum establishments are known for is their ability to serve food fast, clear plates fast and top up teas without you even needing to make eye contact to raise their awareness. No nonsense, no fuss, fast food. We were complimented with desserts which was a nice gesture, although we normally don’t order dessert options but they came down a treat, especially the Taro and Coconut Tapioca and the Mango Pudding, both lightly sweetened, melt in your mouth without feeling very heavy as I find a British dessert often tends to be. The other dessert we had was Mango and Grapefruit Tapioca which although very refreshing and palate cleansing, was a bit too sharp I felt from the grapefruit segments.
For approx £20 per person (including tea), it is acceptable and on par with most London Dim Sum restaurants, however when you consider that only a few years ago, the same amount of dishes, quality and probably more quantity at central London establishments like Joy King Lau, another fast-serving Dim Sum restaurant established in Chinatown, would equate to just around £12 per person. Probably the introduction of chains like Ping Pong and wider recognition from the British public has pushed up prices as more and more Westerners are growing accustomed to Dim Sums, which is not necessarily a bad thing but just means that these establishments will become more commercialised, and thus more pricey.