Sunday, 15 April 2012

Imperial China and Pearl Liang - Apr 2012

Or, on accidentally ending up eating Chinese food...

Imperial China
After a clusterfuck of bad service from spot du jour Ceviche (a 50 minute wait despite having a reservation), our party of brave (but hungry) souls stormed out into the night and headed towards Chinatown. It wasn't a time for picking another new option, and I was in the bad books after dragging them to Ceviche in the first place, so we ended up in the late night default of our guests, the International Travellers, Lisle Street's Imperial China.

I've eaten there before, several times with the International Travellers after one or three post work beers and it's always been, well, fine. It's not the cheapest option, they do pretty reasonable dim sum too (not to my mind anywhere as good as Yauacha, or as cheap and joyful as New World or Dragon Castle), and their meats have always done the job (albeit without filling my soul with any real joy). It's a big old place, a little prettier than some of its near neighbours and accessed over a tiny bridge past a concrete carp pool, just for a welcoming touch of clarse...

I think as I've been eating a fairly substantial amount of Chinese cuisine recently, my palate has improved slightly. There is some argument as to what counts as 'true' Peking Duck. My belief has always been that this is what you get when the bird has been cooked, marinaded and airdried (as you'll see in Chinatown windows). With the skin separated from the rendered fat and crisped up to a shiny, dark, plum coloured top sheet, it's eaten first with a dipping sauce before the remaining sliced meat is wrapped in tiny pancakes with onion and plum sauce. I'd contrast that with aromatic crispy duck (the type you tend to get in most Chinese takeaways) which tends to give you an oven cooked duck where meat, fat and skin are broken up roughly with forks and served together in those pancakes.

No garlic dipping sauce for the skin as you sometimes get with Peking Duck, just packaged pancakes and the usual hoisin, but I was impressed by the duck itself, with its soft fatty flesh perfect underneath shards of crisped marinaded skin.

Of the other dishes, shared BBQ pork was a touch too sweet and so juicy as to feel faked, crispy beef was similarly sweet, albeit with a good chilli kick, but neither would bring me back. There were some perfectly acceptable noodles and an excellent aubergine hotpot that probably would have me here again to finish.

With a couple of beers and a few starters, we were looking at £35 a head. Not bad for what we'd had, but you can do cheaper and better round here.

 Pearl Liang
Likewise an impulse purchase.. Pearl Liang used to be very close to my office and was a great spot for payday dim sum. As I still do some work with them I often find myself nearby, seldom sadly at mealtimes. Going back to visit The Insider for a post work meeting that segued into beers that morphed into a strong desire for something to fill our stomachs seemed like an ideal opportunity and so we snagged a table in the windowless space. It was surprisingly busy given its soulless office complex location in Paddington's mini Canary Wharf, Sheldon Square.

Arriving after 9, even on a near weekend evening, may not have been wise. The service was abrupt, a little distracted (we ordered a second beer and they brought and served us an entirely different brand) and they were keen to chivvy towards the end. A party arriving later than us were asked for their dessert and coffee orders even as their main courses were coming out. I can understand the logic within licencing laws, but wasn't aware that it was illegal to serve coffee and ice cream after 11.

We weren't really there for a long digestion of the menu and went for one of the set choice menus, given what I've heard about the usually high quality here that may have been a mistake. The selection of starters was a promising mix of mainly fried and breaded items. The squid fared particularly well, and a plump prawn encased in crisp dry noodles was similarly toothsome, though I had to leave most of my large Vietnamese style spring roll, filled with glassy noodles (and little else) before being deepfried. The one I had seemed to return most of the contents of the frier, disgorging oily liquid as I bit into it. A slug of Tsing Tao was needed to wash the taste away and the rest of the roll remained on the plate, avoided by me and uncommented on by the staff.

Aromatic, rather than crispy, duck followed, with the delightful addition of homemade pancakes. In the same way as you will with fresh, homemade pasta, we really noticed the difference.

We finished with four sharing bowls of varying quality. Mixed vegetables were barely cooked in a lightly spiced silken sauce, fine for snappy beans, less appetising for the large chunks of raw mushroom. mixed seafood in XO sauce was perfectly acceptable and packed with creamy chunks of scallop and squid but like the beef in oyster sauce was over salty for my palate. Admittedly the biggest saline hit came from a dry fried chicken with chilli that, while hugely moreish, seemed more like bar counter subterfuge, an attempt to get us to keep ordering lagers (if we hadn't hit last orders mid way through the mains that is...)

Overall, I wasn't hugely impressed, I've had better Cantonese food than this, but I've also had better here. I don't think we got the best of the kitchen on this visit.

 The delightfully sticky and unctuous aubergine hotpot at Imperial

BBQ pork at Imperial

I try and avoid taking the piss out of Chinglish on menus 
but this one at Pearl Liang really made me giggle 

 The starter platter at Pearl Liang

The spicy chicken - hot and fun but way too salty

Imperial China on Urbanspoon

Pearl Liang on Urbanspoon

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