Speaking from experience, high-end Chinese dining in the UK can be a bit of a minefield. I’ve often found that it’s not worth the extra cash but lately the game has been upped, so to speak.
Min Jiang is one of a new breed of restaurants that have sprung up over the last few years that are helping to drive this change. We headed over there a little while back on the look out for a certain menu item: Beijing duck.
If you’re a lover of aromatic duck served with pancakes, you definitely need to try the real thing. In truth though, Beijing duck is a world away from the deep fried, (probably frozen) aromatic duck that we’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to. We were curious to see if we could find an authentic example of the dish in London so our first port of call had to be Min Jiang.
Their menu claims to serve Beijing duck “prepared meticulously by chefs from Beijing according to an ancient recipe. Min Jiang’s wood-fired duck is truly authentic.” We were keen to put that claim to the test.
As you can see, this is not your usual Chinese restaurant. This is fine dining Chinese style. Think HKK or Hutong at The Shard. Both of these apparently do fantastic Beijing duck too, but alas their set menu prices are pretty eye-watering and reservations can be scarce at peak times.
Min Jiang may not quite have Hutong’s elevation but it’s on the 10th floor of Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel, overlooking Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park and I have to say that the view is pretty impressive. There was also a reassuring number of Chinese diners enjoying their meals when we arrived, which is generally a good sign.
We had pre-ordered our ‘Legendary wood-fired Beijing duck’, so as to avoid the 45 minute wait advised by the online menu. The duck comes in two servings. The first is eaten with pancakes, the second uses up the rest of the meat. There are four options but we chose to have ours with fried noodles.
Our first starter was the steamed dim sum platter. These certainly looked stunning, almost too good to eat.
The duck duly arrived with more than a slice of theatre, as it was expertly carved at the table. It was served with pancakes and two types of condiments. One was traditional; hoisin sauce with shredded leek and cucumber. The other was their own invention; garlic paste with radish and tientsin cabbage.
We were advised to dip the skin in sugar and eat this first. Not the healthiest snack I’ll admit but when it tastes this good, who cares? The skin was crisp, smoky and unctuous without being greasy. We were given eight pancakes for half a duck which was about the right meat:pancake ratio.
The best main course was braised pork belly with Chinese buns. The pork was soft, full of flavour and beautifully presented and served in a lovely, rich sauce. The buns were very small though, so it was more of a tiny bite on the side rather than something you could put the meat into. I didn’t think they added much to the dish.
We also ordered Gong Bao tiger prawns. As you can see from the picture below, there was no shortage of prawns but it wasn’t anywhere near as spicy as we’d hoped. Unless of course you want to chew on dried red chillis. Note: this would be a mistake.
The remaining duck came with the noodles, as we had chosen. However, we wouldn’t recommend this as the dish was rather bland, greasy and lacking in duck meat. Perhaps the ‘spicy minced duck with a lettuce wrap’ would be more interesting and have had more meat content.
Desserts were the weakest part of the meal. We had the Min Jiang Sichuan pancake, which was filled with red bean paste and the chocolate hazelnut cake, which resembled a chocolate brownie. Both were served with ice cream and did the job, but were nothing to write home about.
Overall, we had a pleasant experience here. There wasn’t a hint of the infamous bad service that you often find in cheaper Chinatown establishments, at least not this time. However, my dining partner The Hog returned here for lunch with clients shortly afterwards and while the food was up to the same standard, the attitude (and tea pouring skills) of one waitress left a lot to be desired. I guess it shows how hit and miss these things can be.
Min Jiang is a great place to try outstanding Beijing duck. Most of the other dishes were tasty too but were probably no better than I’d expect at some of the nicer restaurants in Chinatown. If I were to return here, I’d definitely go large on the duck and skip dessert.
Meal for two (includes some drinks and service) approx. £120
Address: Royal Garden Hotel, 2-24 Kensington High St, London W8 4PT
Phone:020 7361 1988