101 Buckingham Palace Rd
I’ve seen my fair share of wild things growing up in a Chinese kitchen; pig ears, chicken feet, cow tongue and various parts of animals I didn’t even know existed let alone thought that anyone would actually eat it (but somebody did eat it…me). It was nothing if not an experience every time I stepped foot into that room.
One of my fondest memories though is bearing witness to the preparation of Peking duck; partly because it is an interesting process but mostly because I love me some Peking duck long time. So I set off on a mission in search of a Peking duck that would leave me a sobbing mess as I reminisced of my childhood. Overly dramatic you say? Peking duck is serious stuff.
My search lead me to Grand Imperial, one of two resident lobby restaurants of The Grosvenor and conveniently located next to the Victoria train and underground station. I’m not one to usually be tempted by the hotel restaurant when I am a guest let alone for a night out but I put my scepticism aside and decided to give it a shot. Of course my decision was swayed heavily by the prospect of a whole Peking duck and champagne for two for only £38 (or £30 without the alcohol, thanks Top Table) and I wasn’t the only one as B and C joined T and I to make this the second recorded We Try Kai family function.
The duck was served predictably in two courses (as Peking duck should be); the first being with pancakes but surprisingly, you had a choice of either having the duck deep-fried and wrapped in a bean curd sheet or the more traditional method, sautéed and wrapped in lettuce for the second course. Benefiting from the double date, we wisely ordered both of them.
Now, I’m not claiming to be some sort of Peking duck connoisseur and I am certainly no expert, but I’ve had a fair few in my time so all I can speak from is experience; this duck is the best I’ve had in London thus far and one of the best I’ve had in my life.
From the moment the duck was presented to the table and I saw the skin glistening under even low lighting, I could tell I was in for a treat. This was all but confirmed when the waiter began to prepare the duck for the first course by first removing the top crispy skin layer from the meat with surgical precision, then taking off a thin layer of meat. This process highlighted the separation between the skin and the fat (and also the meat) which is a key outcome of the cooking method. In addition to the pancakes, the protein was served with the traditional accompaniment of cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce. These are just distractions though because it’s all about the duck and it was gooooooooooood; skin crispy with a great BBQ aroma and the meat was juicy and bursting with flavour. Those childhood tears were starting to well…
As much as I didn’t want the first course to end, I was intrigued by the second. The deep-fried duck in bean curd sheet was served with a soy sauce and was akin to a duck spring roll. The sautéed duck was cooked in a stir-fry of mushrooms, chestnuts, onions and sesame among other ingredients and served on a lettuce leaf. Call me old-fashioned but I preferred the old school lettuce leaf dish as I found the duck lost a lot of moisture and (more importantly) flavour when deep-fried. That’s not to say the bean curd sheet wasn’t good but it’s the lesser of the two choices in my opinion.
Well we had come this far in the meal so it would be remiss of us not to finish it off strong with a healthy order of dessert; an order of the deep-fried ice cream and the Grand Imperial green tea brûlée was our poison. Though the table was split on the green tea brûlée (B didn’t really like it whereas I found it refreshing; probably because I like green tea), it was unanimous that the deep-fried ice cream was a winner. The fact that it was served with a shot of melted chocolate probably also pushed our preference in its direction (I may or may not have embarrassed myself licking the cup afterwards).
Meal complete, I can safely say this is my go to place for Peking duck going forward. For the price we paid, it was fantastic value. In saying that though, even at the al carte price of £46, it’s not too bad considering it can feed two quite easily. Oh and it’s good, real good. How can I tell? Well, remember those tears I was telling you about earlier…?