Royal China – The Emperor’s Comfort Food

RC Logo

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.IMG_1781
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


China Club, Radisson Blu Deira Dubai – You Dim Sum, You Lose Sum

Woke up on a beautiful sunny, cool, Friday morning the other week, and thought to myself – why not take the family out for a cheeky Dim Sum lunch.  A Yum Cha experience, if you will.  When we had first landed in Dubai, back in 2008, my brother and sister in law had taken us to this lovely Chinese Restaurant, in the Radison Blu Hotel, Deira – The China Club.  It was a friday afternoon, the place was packed, was very tough to get a table, and I remembered the food being top notch.  The cherry on the cake was that, seated next to us, were Saif Ali Khan and Karina Kapoor – a meal and a show.

Recalling how full the restaurant was, I was surprised when China Club quickly confirmed my table for three, at 1 pm.   So, we make the trek out to Deira – restaurant looks a little smaller than what I remember, but pleasant enough.  We were seated quickly at our table and our drink orders were taken – I would highly recommend their home made ice tea, which is available flavoured with either Lychee or Lemmon – I took the Lychee option and it was delicious….and refills were free.


For the meal – its really a simple option.  One price gets you unlimited Dim Sum – there is a list on your table, and you can order what you want, and it is brought around.



A decent selection, as you can see above, is decent, and the price is very nominal – sub AED 100 per person.  We pretty much ordered everything, plus we ordered a Peking Duck, a la carte.   The food itself, was hit and miss.  Some things were good (not great) and some were not so great.



Superior Siew Mai with Crab Roe – the chicken filling was dense and provided a nice chew.  Texture wise, it was nice, but not too much going on in the flavour department.  I had to douse my dumpling in some chilli/soy sauce hybrid, which I concocted on the table.



Mince shrimp wrapped in tofu skin – blah, uneventful, forgettable.   Could have dipped the menu into the sauce and had a similar experience.



Steamed Chicken with Mushroom and Ginger Dumpling – this was quite good, actually.  The ginger notes were spicy, and provided a great balance to the subtlety of the mushroom and the chicken.



The above is a selection of the fried dim sum.  With the exception of the shrimp wrapped in the spring roll wrapper, the rest was a bit of a hot mess.  Oily, soggy, cool – not fun at all.  The deep fried seafood wontons (top right) were a disaster – they could have been filled with any paste at all – no taste of seafood whatsoever – thankfully there was a sweet chill sauce that helped mask all the things that were going wrong.  The squid rings….chewy, which is exactly how i DON’T like my calamari.  The shrimp roll thingies (Crispy Fried Prawn in Golden Pocket) were ok – relatively speaking – but then again, the bar on this plate, was set exceptionally low.


Yang Chow Wok Fried Rice – this was absolutely awesome.  One of the best fried rice dishes that I have ever had.  The rice was perfectly wok fried, to the point where there was a little bit of char on some of the grains.  This contributed to the wonderful aroma, and the smoke flavour I got from eating it, was scrumptious.  The one complaint – the serving size was small, to the point of being comical.  However, they were quick to bring out more, when asked.   Definitely the highlight of the meal.



Har Gau Shrimp Dumplings – very nice.  Nice chunky pieces of shrimp for the filling – very nice texture, and silky smooth wrapper.  Enjoyed this one, and had thirds.



LOVE the Steamed BBQ Chicken Buns.  LOVE them.  Sticky, sweet chicken filling inside and airy, fluffy steamed bun.  Rare to find a better combination – dipped in soy and chilli oil, its a magical thing.



The Peking Duck – Please scroll to the bottom.



The Peking Duck – this is where the lunch truly went pear shaped.  This was terribly.  Look at the pictures……now lets think of what makes Peking Duck so special:

  • Shiny, Crispy, Light, Glistening, Caramelised Skin
  • Moist, tender, pink, succulent meat
  • Slightly fatty aroma, that makes you want to scoff it down as soon as its set out in front of you
  • Light pancakes, with fresh cucumber and spring onion, and some sweet, rich hoisin sauce

Now lets look back at the picture.  The skin was anything but shiny, crispy, light, glistening etc.  It was, in fact, dull, limp, soggy, and extremely unappetising.  The duck meat was grey, dry, stringy and tough.  The fat wasn’t melt in your mouth, buttery and complimentary – it was like a cold fat cap – stick to the roof of your mouth, kinda fat.

We put it in the pancakes, slathered on the hoisin, but got nowhere.  We left it, pretty much as it, and continued with the Dim Sum.

It was a nice afternoon – got to hang out with my family on a beautiful day in Dubai.  The food was a mixed bag – but the Peking Duck was a major disappointment.  With the options available now, for dim sum in the city, especially in New Dubai, and the location of this restaurant in Deira in relation to where we live – I doubt  that we will be making a return trip here anytime soon.  I do, however, keep fond memories, as The China Club was the very first Friday Brunch type experiences my family and I had when we first landed in Dubai – we have a lovely picture of my wife and my son, who was then 18 months old, in the hotel lobby.

Till next time.