The news that Imperial Treasure Group — which has restaurants in Singapore, Hong Kong and more than 20 cities across Asia including five in mainland China — was planning to open in London circulated first in late spring 2017.
I could not have been more excited. I have enjoyed everything this group has offered whenever I’ve been to one of its Asian outposts, and I was thrilled that I would no longer have to travel so far. Its new London home is an imposing edifice built in 1910 at the bottom of Regent Street St James’s.
Until five years ago, the area was devoid of good restaurants, but now Milos, a Greek fish restaurant, and The Balcon, a French restaurant at the Sofitel hotel, as well as several others in nearby St James’s Market, such as Aquavit, have filled this gap.
Imperial Treasure’s success has been based on serving exquisite Chinese food alongside some of the best European wines, principally but not exclusively French and mostly from Bordeaux.
This is perhaps less novel in London than it might be in Asia, but it would still work if the interior designers had lent a glimmer of excitement to the building. Alas, they have not.
There is nothing remotely sexy or appealing about the bar, a rather cold affair to the left of the entrance. The original interior has been largely effaced, allowing only glimpses of the ceiling and cornices. Instead, a far more modern interior has been inserted, breaking up the space into smaller units. Unfortunately, there is no sign of the kitchen, or of any chefs.
As a visual feast, it does not compete with, say, the opulent bar at China Tang; the open kitchens at Hakkasan; the glamour at Park Chinois; or the views from the Min Jiang restaurant on top of the Royal Garden Hotel.
The waiters are dressed in stiff white uniforms, with the occasional manager wearing an open-necked shirt and an expensive suit. There are tablecloths on the well-spaced tables. The overhead lighting is not particularly flattering, but my chief criticism is reserved for the brightly coloured leather patterns on the banquettes. In the words of my lunch companion, they would be “more suitable for a pair of trainers”.
The menus look dull and prosaic. The à la carte list is long, beginning with three set menus, including a vegetarian one at £68 per person, before listing a whole range of fish and meat dishes.
One category, Supreme Seafood, includes the endangered Japanese abalone and sea cucumber. Only the sight of the chef expertly carving the £100 Peking duck for a table of eight provided any form of visual excitement.
My feelings after lunch and dinner here were similar: the food is good, sometimes very good, but overall a sense of value is missing. Dinner for two cost £257.65 with no dessert or coffee but with four glasses of wine. Of these, our two white wines, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner 2016 from Domäne Wachau and a 2015 Ramey Chardonnay from California, provided more freshness and zing to our food than either of the red wines.
The lobster bean curd roll was succulent. The lobster hot and sour soup was full of lobster and possibly staved off my impending cold. Of our two main courses, the stir-fried prawns with chilli and cashew nut was generous, unlike my two fillets of smoked and barbecued eel. The pak choi, at £16, was unjustifiably expensive, though less so than the baby broccoli at £18.
In London today, a general maxim on pricing is that restaurateurs can stretch the limits in the evening as long as there is a fair set-price menu at lunch, a lesson learnt at Milos (£24 for three courses) and The Balcon (£25 for the same). Sadly, this formula has not yet been adopted at Imperial Treasure.
A dim sum menu offers the potential for a cheaper option. Customers could select one dish from the fried section, a cheung fun, and one from the grilled section for a fixed price, but all remain à la carte. Which meant that my bill for six dim sum dishes with Pu’er tea came to £70.48. It might also have been partly why there were only eight customers in the restaurant at lunch. Of the dim sum dishes, the prawn cheung fun and the buttery venison puff were memorable.
The management team of Imperial Treasure appear to have a bit to learn about life in London. Fortunately, they signed a 25-year lease when they took over, so time is on their side.
Imperial Treasure Fine Chinese Cuisine
9 Waterloo Place, London SW1Y 4BE
020 3011 1328
A la carte dishes £12-£120
Dim sum £6.80-£19
Vegetarian set menu £68
Signature set menus £88 and £128
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