The first thing I noticed when the lift doors opened at the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel in London’s trendy Kensington was the smell. Sweet and rich, the unmistakable scent of Chinese food hit me like a brick wall and my stomach gave a rumble of approval.
It was the nearly 8pm on the 8th day of the 8th month, and here I was at Min Jiang restaurant to celebrate their 8th birthday, having opened in, you guessed it, 2008.
So what’s with all the 8’s?
In Chinese culture, the number 8 (pronounced ba) sounds much like the word for fortune (fa), and for thousands of years has been considered to be one of the luckiest numbers. In fact, just this year a number plate simply reading ’28’ (which in Mandarin sounds like ‘easy fortune’) sold for over 2 million US dollars. Quite some lucky number!
So I had no doubt that my visit to Min Jiang would become a night of good food and good fortune. I was excited.
I met fellow bloggers Jess, Katharina and Guilia in the bar for a quick cocktail before dinner (check out their blogs for some SERIOUS food and travel envy!). The Min Jiang bar has amazing views across Kensington Gardens to the city in the distance. Its location on the 10th floor means that the views really are worth it, and with cocktails starting from about £9 each, it’s cheaper than some of the other bars with views in town.
I chose my drink of choice (a Canton Ginger – sweet, spicy, punchy and highly recommended) and settled into the relaxed rhythm of the evening. When we were ready, and not a moment before, we were seated at our decadent round table, perfect for the four of us.
Then the real fun began.
It’s said that this is the most authentic Chinese restaurant in London, as none of the dishes have been tweaked for western palettes and are exactly as you would find them in their respective Chinese regions. On the menu for us was steamed Dim Sum from South China, wood fired Beijing duck from North China and Sichuan pancake, so we could taste the whole country!
Skimming down this menu I was almost salivating at the Beijing duck… Each course was also paired with a wine or champagne to bring out the flavours of the dishes.
So let’s get eating!
My first dish was a dim sum platter, served steaming hot in a traditional bamboo steamer. Social politeness made us all pause for a minute, waiting for someone else to dig in first. I put everyone out of their misery and dove in!
Three prawn (each with a different secondary filling) and one vegetarian… four each. Served with the most gorgeous dry champagne with just enough bubbles to feel them in your nose.
I awkwardly shuffled in my seat, not sure if I should be ‘that girl’ who moans about having a seafood allergy. Honestly, I wish I could eat prawns… Based on the veggie dumpling I knew they would be amazing, but sadly for me, my face swells like I’ve done ten rounds with Tyson. You should see it sometime. It’s really something!
After a few minutes of watching the other girls oooh and aaah over their dishes, I couldn’t resist, and mentioned my allergy to the waitress who was very kind and discreet and immediately ordered me my very own veggie selection! I was thrilled!
I asked her to thank the kitchen, including legendary chef Weng Han Wong who trained in Malaysia before coming to the UK. Next up, we were treated to a real show – a whole Beijing style wood fired duck being carved at our table.
Can you see the embroidered text on his chef whites? This man is a certified Master Duck Chef! I was so excited to see why this restaurant would need a special chef just for the duck, but as I later found out, it’s their speciality dish here.
Ducks are sourced from a farm in Ireland and are smoked with applewood to give them a really rich, smokey and sweet flavour running throughout the meat. Fun fact: since Min Jiang opened in 2008 they have sold over 40,000 ducks!
You can just about tell from the blur on this picture how fast he is working, but let me tell you, there is an art to it, and he’s got it down!
I was almost a little disappointed that he didn’t leave the rest of the bird to feast on, but to be fair it is all about the breast meat, which they serve with soft pancakes and a selection of sides including a sticky plum sauce and crunchy greens.
See that meat at the bottom of the pic above? That’s duck neck meat, and next to it is a very fine sugar. Dipping this meat in the sugar was absolutely amazing! Sounds strange, but this is one of the reasons why Min Jiang is so authentic, I guess.
Next, we feasted on diced rib eye steak, sliced pork belly and (not for me) spicy king prawns, paired with a light red wine to bring out the sweet flavours.
With the sliced pork we had the option of making up some delicious pork buns. These were one of the highlights for me – I’m a sucker for Chinese steamed buns and used to crave them whilst I was travelling through Asia. So, so, moreish!
Our final course was Sichuan pancakes with a rather un-Chinese side of Cornish ice cream! Still, I’ll forgive this little nod to British cuisine as it was my favourite – made with clotted cream and full of at least a million calories!
The pancakes themselves were light and crispy, with sugary layers throughout. The perfect texture to pair with a rich creamy ice cream!
I finished. Every. Last. Bite.
Draining my glass of the last of the almost honey-like desert wine, I congratulated myself on being able to eat every last scrap of this indulgent meal. As a massive contrast to most Chinese meals (especially in the UK and doubly especially in China Town in London), the food at Min Jiang was filling without being overly heavy. I just hate it when you get a bucket of grease or MSG on your Chinese meal – a real turn off!
And just when I thought it was all over, we were presented with four individual ‘number 8’ cakes, made with a crispy white chocolate topping and a wad of fantastic custardy loveliness… Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? After all, it’s my lucky day!
Need to know:
- Min Jiang is located on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.
- On the night there were 3 special regional menus priced at £48 featuring dishes from North China, £68 for the Sichuan region and £88 for South China. These menus are no longer available but all dishes are on the a la carte menu. There are also set menus available.
- The Beijing duck needs to be pre-ordered. Weekends are always very busy so you’ll need to plan well in advance if you’re planning to visit on a Friday or Saturday night.
Disclosure: I dined as a guest of Min Jiang – all opinions are of course my own. As if you’d expect anything less!