The Royal Garden Hotel is as swish inside as it’s ugly on the outside. Given its hulking boxy concrete exterior, that makes it rather swish indeed.
I felt decidedly underdressed as I step out on the 10th floor and was faced with all the polished surfaces of hotel fine-dining decor. Having high-tailed it over straight from yoga to make it in time for our 6pm booking (the only time-slot available at short notice on a Thursday evening), I somehow ended up compensating for my scraped-back yoga hair and tatty jeans by attempting to sound as posh as humanly possible.
“Good evening good sir, I believe my companion has made a reservation for a table at the hour of six o’clock, would you be so kind as to advise me whether or not he has arrived? Oh my, what a spiffing view, I do say!”
Thankfully, my friend also turned out to be wearing jeans and a t-shirt, putting me at ease for the rest of the meal. (He was also wearing a sweater-vest, but we’ll gloss over that, shall we?)
Our table overlooked Hyde Park; with the sun still high in the sky, the view was a dose of well-being and calm. Far below, a large white circus-style tent was setting up.
All this pleasant surrounds seemed to bode rather badly for the food. A Chinese restaurant, one I’d never heard of, on the top floor of a hotel on High Street Kensington? In these casual recessionary times, where the hallmarks of a good eat is an undesirable location, zero-budget decor and an active Twitter account, nothing about Min Jiang was ringing my foodie bells.
Thank goodness then, for the half of ‘Legendary wood-fired Beijing duck’, served two-point-one ways. First up (the 0.1 of the meal): a handful of slivers of skin from the duck’s neck, served with a fine sugar, but better when dipped in hoisin sauce instead. Fatty goodness.
Next, thin slices of duck breast with pancakes (5 each) and two sets of fillings – the traditional (spring onions, cucumber) and the mild-variation-on-tradition (carrot in a marinade and something else, I forget). In the end, once you slather a pancake with hoisin sauce and slices of duck, the rest of the ingredients are mostly there for texture.
Then, a choice of four options for the rest of your duck (or half duck):
Option 1 Spicy minced Duck with a Lettuce wrap
Option 2 Salted Vegetable Soup with Duck and Tofu
Option 3 Fried Rice with diced Duck
Option 4 Fried Noodles with sliced Duck
We opted for Option 2 (whether or not you have to choose the same thing, I’m not sure). Delicious and surprisingly filling.
All this, at £30 for a half duck, is a bit of a bargain in my opinion. Unfortunately, this economic saving was quickly overshadowed by the other dishes we ordered: Yong Chow Fried Rice, Tofu with Morel Mushrooms and Snow Fungus, and Sichuan Double Cooked Pork Belly with Chinese Leek. All these were a) double the price you’d be willing to pay for them, and b) not in any way special or particularly good.
Service, by Chinese restaurant standards, was stellar. The waiters smiled. They brought dishes over in a manner that suggested respect for their diners and pride in their work. They wishes us a good evening as we left. They even gave me this rather snazzy take-away box for the leftover food.
Would I go back? Definitely. But only for the view and the duck.
PS: They advise you to pre-order the duck, as it takes 45 minutes to roast.
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street
London W8 4PT
020 7361 1988