Jay Rayner

The Observer Magazine - - Contents -

Out for a duck at Im­pe­rial Trea­sure. Plus, af­ford­able pinot noirs

Im­pe­rial Trea­sure

There is an as­sump­tion that the more you spend on an ex­pe­ri­ence, the bet­ter it will be. I am for­ever guilty of such a delu­sion, borne more of hope­ful­ness than stu­pid­ity. Few things give the lie to this bet­ter than the grind­ing, laboured, thud­ding medi­ocrity of a meal at Im­pe­rial Trea­sure, the Lon­don out­post of a gilded Chi­nese restau­rant group which is to joy, what a pub­lic en­ema is to dig­nity.

It is the man­ner in which they serve their “sig­na­ture” Pek­ing duck which most spec­tac­u­larly dead­ens the soul, though why any­body would want to sign this beats me. Granted, Pek­ing duck can be a truly marvellous thing. If your only ex­pe­ri­ence of the Chi­nese way with duck is the aro­matic crispy va­ri­ety, the crowd-pleas­ing ef­fect achieved via a jour­ney through the deep fat fryer, then con­sider the joys to come.

Pek­ing duck is aro­matic crispy duck’s grown-up sib­ling, the one that’s been to fin­ish­ing school and learnt a few manners. Often, it must be or­dered in ad­vance, for this is cook­ing as per­for­mance: the bird must be steamed or plunged into boil­ing water, dried, sea­soned and left to hang for 24 hours be­fore be­ing roasted so that the skin be­comes like amber glass. And yes, it costs. Here, it’s £100. Ouch.

But look, this is Im­pe­rial Trea­sure. It oc­cu­pies ies a huge mar­bled space just off Pall Mall, with ceil­ings so high they are hid­den in the shad­ows. It is dec­o­rated in sexy strips of tex­tured, golden wood, soft leather and finely ely chis­elled hubris. The web­site an­nounces they have Miche­lin he­lin stars at their other restau­rants in China. Hug your­self elf with plea­sure, sell a kid­ney, or plun­der a for­mer Soviet oviet cen­tral Asian state. You might as well. Many of the clien­tele en­tele who can af­ford this place prob­a­bly will have done.

For here it comes and oh, what a beauty, shim­mer­ing him­mer­ing gold and cop­per and bronze. Do we eat this bird ird or hang it on the wall? A fully to­qued Chi­nese chef hef lays it on a board ta­ble-side and sets to work, first tak­ing ak­ing off a thin layer of fat­less skin, pre­sented in squares res with a bowl of sugar to dip it in. We pluck away dain­tily in­tily with our chop­sticks, and ooh and sigh, be­cause this is cost £100. The least we can do is look like we are enjoying our act of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. They bring ring bam­boo steamer bas­kets of hand-shaped pan­cakes, along­side shred­ded spring onions, cu­cum­ber and hoisin sauce. All is good. Here are slices of the duck, and yes, it’s de­light­ful: soft meat, crisp skin, the liquorice, soy and caramel kick of the hoisin.

As I eat, I glance at the duck. Hur­rah. There is so much 9 Water­loo Place, Lon­don SW1Y 4BE (020 3011 1328) Starters £12-£36

Main cour­ses £18-£100+ Pek­ing Duck £100 Desserts £7.50

Wines from £38

eTall orde or­der: (from left) Pek­ing duck; the restau­rant; aubergine mapo to tofu; chicken with flaked al­monds; prawns with chilli and cash cashews; dumplings; veg, shrimps and noo­dles; and pork

more to go. The legs have barely been touched. There’s a bal­las bal­last of glis­ten­ing skin and meat around the arse end, and more around its back. Sud­denly the chef lays down his h blade, picks up the plat­ter, bows and walks off back to the kitchen. Hang on a sec­ond. That bird is barely half-cut half-cut. I paid a ton for it. And you’re tak­ing it away? At Min Jiang Jian on the top floor of the Royal Gar­den Ho­tel in Kens­ing Kens­ing­ton where the dish costs £72 and is also avail­able by the half, h the meat re­turns in a sec­ond ser­vice, per­haps as a stir fry or in a soup. Here, we are told, it is a pan­cake fill­ing and a noth­ing else. Lord knows what hap­pens to the rest. Fur Fury, is a £100 half-cut duck.

I should shou have said some­thing. I should have roared like Brian Bria Blessed, af­ter he’s stubbed a toe. Per­haps if I’d asked aske for it they’d have re­turned the rest of the bird, but the whole place is shaped to smother dis­sent, even of shouty, self-con­fi­dent sweary bas­tards like me. It’s de­signed to make you feel as if they are do­ing you a favour through grit­ted teeth. There is crisp linen. There are bat­tal­ions of heel-click­ing wait­ers, all but one of whom is Euro­pean; the Chi­nese are on the other side of the kitchen door. The ju­nior wait­ers wear high-but­toned

The slices of Pek­ing duck are de­light­ful: soft meat, crisp skin, the liquorice, soy and caramel kick of the hoisin sauce

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