Chinese food for me has always been one of my go to comfort food options. Moving to Dubai from Toronto, I was used to a more traditional Cantonese/Hong Kong style cuisine, given the large number of immigrants from that geographical area in the Greater Toronto Area. The other variation to this style of cooking available around town was the Hakka style. Lets get one thing straight – this isn’t your Chinese Hakka cuisine – the kind actually from China. It’s the bastardized South Asian adaptation of the Hakka style – fried, spicy, greasy, cheap, and usually delicious.
My Cantonese local in the Toronto area was a very plain (read down market) restaurant that sat two steps down from the street, in a nondescript strip mall in Richmond Hill – Simple formica tables with plastic chairs – each table with a stack of napkins, and a big jar of chilli oil – not just any ordinary chilli oil, but the most special variety. This chilli oil carried some heat, for sure, but it was also salty. Putting that over some white rice resulted in an amazing, smoky, salty, spicy rice/sauce combo which went just perfectly with all their dishes. The roast duck, stir fried crab with garlic, steamed Grouper, lobster in black bean sauce – magnificent. So, when we moved to Dubai, we found an abundance of Hakka Chinese restaurants (special shout out to Mandarin Tree in Al Barsha) but were struggling to find The One. Then, it came.
Royal China opened a couple of years ago in the DIFC (of course). I had eaten at the ones in London a number of times – especially at the Canary Wharf location, as its right between the office and the hotel I usually stay at, and is perfectly placed for a quick takeout on the way back to the room. I have to admit – i always remember it being good, but I wasn’t jumping out of my seat, making a run for Royal China at the crack of noon, in time for their first serving of Crispy Noodles with Seafood. I thought I would make it over when I did – wish I would have made that first run, because I could have squeezed in a couple of more meals here.
My love affair with Royal China started with some lunch time pickups. I make an order, and one of our runners would head down and pick it up for me (no delivery). Next step, I made it in for a sit-down lunch, on a quiet Sunday – this was probably at the suggestion of ZA, who has his own special chopsticks reserved for him at the restaurant. But, when it really struck home for me was when I brought my wife and 6-year-old in for a weekend lunch – though the fit out / location would make it a fancy shmancy place, I was so pleasantly surprised by the graciousness, enthusiasm, hospitality shown by the staff towards my young son. We sat around a table, tried different things, and had a wonderful family lunch. It has become sort of weekend thing for us now – we try to make it there whenever we can – and have a nice family meal by ourselves, or with friends – kids always welcome! I remember the owner once mentioning that he and his family had a favourite place in London that they used to go to every weekend with the family when they lived there – they wanted to recreate that feel and vibe here in Dubai. Mission Accomplished.
On to the food. I found myself at Royal China, on the back of an invitation by ZA and AMA – kids and all. Being open to anything, but just making sure that there was something for my little guy to eat, as he is allergic to seafood, I let ZA run with the ordering process. Like LPM, there is nothing not good on the menu – you can’t go wrong. Recently, I wanted something small and new to try – I ordered the fried tofu with five spice. I don’t know why I ordered this, considering I don’t really like tofu, but I did. Three words – FAN TAS TIC. Squares of creamy tofu, quickly fried and dusted with a spice blend (I’m going to guess and say there are five spices in that blend??) But, I digress. So, ZA ordered up a big spread. Some thoughts below:
Pan Seared Chicken Dumpling – My son loves this one. It’s not sticky, because it’s not steamed, and anything he can pick up with his little fingers and toss in his mouth, is appreciated. A staple on our table.
Crispy Shredded Chili Beef
Some Baked Pastry Thing I didn’t try – but sure looks good!
One of my favourites – Steamed Fish in Special Soy Sauce
Hot And Sour Soup – Normally, when served this kind of soup at a restaurant, I always find the need to doctor it with the house soy and vinegar and chilli sauces. Not here – a perfect balance of hot and sour – just as it should be. Consistency is perfect – not lumpy, clumpy or thick, as this soup can be at times. Silky smooth with some beautiful, clean pieces of chicken and velvety tofu. Perfect pick me up, and an ideal comfort food.
A Classic – Szechuan Prawn. Lightly battered and fried jumbo prawns served hot and fresh. Nice crispy bite and the sweetness of the prawn is visible from the start. That gets offset by a slight, lingering heat from the chilli and the saltiness that is inherent in the background.
Steamed Barbecue Chicken Buns – My son can go through two plates of these in a sitting. He LOVES them, and so do I. The dough is steamed to perfection – light, airy, and definitely not doughy and heavy. The chicken on the inside is sticky and sweet – together, its heaven. He likes them as they are – I like them dunked into some chill oil.
Steamed Prawn Dumplings – Another must have when visiting RC. Lightly seasoned prawns inside a lovely, slightly chewy outside. Steaming hot (obviously) so be careful on the first bite. I like them dipped in some soy, for some saltiness. Lovely.
Amazing food, perfect service, super friendly staff, can’t go wrong menu, and the best Peking Duck in Dubai (which I didn’t order on this visit). Family friendly on the weekends, but oozing class for a special business dinner as well. RC, is my favourite Chinese restaurant in Dubai, and one of the go to places to take out-of-town guests when they are visiting. Being in the DIFC makes it very accessible – I just wish they had delivery! All in all, truly the Emperor’s Comfort Food.
Till Next Time