Wine Pairing at Royal China
Published 1 December 2010
What do you drink with your Chinese? Tsingtao, China’s most popular beer? Or another lager? A tea? To most people, it’s one of the few meals that they wouldn’t consider drinking wine with. And if they did, it certainly wouldn’t be specifically matched wine.
One of London’s best known Chinese restaurants, and one of the most popular outside of Chinatown, is trying to change this perception. Royal China on Baker Street is now offering a wine pairing dinner, in which each of the five courses is paired with a specially matched glass of wine.
First up is a classic starter platter featuring crispy seaweed, a deep fried crab claw, a battered “golden scallop”, a crispy prawn roll and a mixed seafood spring roll. Just naming the selections is enough to know how they’ll taste. Slightly disappointingly for such a renowned restaurant, they are exactly the same as at any other Chinese / Cantonese restaurant which caters primarily for Western pallets. Much like the dish itself, the South African Sauvignon Blanc that’s matched with it is nothing particularly special, but still enjoyable. What is impressive is the way that the wine and food most definitely help each other out when paired together. The wine cuts through the slight greasiness of a dish which is entirely deep-fried, whilst this mellows out the sharpness of the wine.
The next dish up is more in line with what would be expected at Royal China. This is not only because it contains a luxuriously generous amount of lobster, but also because of the tantalising flavour created through the blend of ginger, garlic, rice wine and sesame oil in the broth surrounding it. An Australian chardonnay stands up to the strong flavours thanks to a solid backbone of oak, and although it’s a shame that the staff haven’t been briefed enough to tell us anything more about the wine, the match is spot on.
The traditional interlude dish of Peking duck follows, and is particularly impressive for the crispy skin, which contrasts brilliantly with the soft, moist meat. A Chilean Merlot is a little harsh, but with the rich meat and sweet plum sauce, the dish can cope with it.
The next two courses arrive together, as do two glasses of wine. Again, it would be nice to get an explanation as to which wine goes with which dishes, but we are left to assume that the crisp Italian white Fattoria Bianco Casetta is the match for the stir fried dover sole with XO and Szechuan sauce, and that the Rioja is matched with the lamb chops in black bean sauce. The wines, like the dishes, are the best of the evening so far and also come with mixed Chinese vegetables and egg fried rice.
The blend of XO and Szechuan sauce is a good one, the Szechuan adding spice whilst also toning down the intense sweetness of the XO sauce meaning the delicate fish isn’t completely overpowered. Still, it’s the lamb chops that are the ultimate star of the show. They’re well cooked, but still moist and juicy, and absolutely packed with flavour. The black bean sauce is light and subtle, acting more as a marinade than a coating sauce. It’s these two dishes, and perhaps the crispy duck, which demonstrate why Royal China has the reputation that it does. They have taken some very standard Chinese dishes and turned them into more delicate, sophisticated versions.
The higher end Royal China club literally just down the road would surely have taken this a step further, and it is a shame that the staff weren’t more knowledgable on wine, but still for £40 per person including five courses and five glasses of wine, this is good food at a good price and an interesting concept that’s well worth a try.