So much was expected of Imperial Treasure when it arrived in London late in 2018. The restaurant group boasts four Michelin stars across its 23 sites, including the imperious two-starred Shanghai outpost.
Since then, the reviews have been mixed to say the least. The Guardian’s Jay Rayner said his experience at Imperial Treasure ‘deadened the soul’. Nicholas Lander of the Financial Times believes it was ‘missing a sense of value’. Not exactly complimentary.
But both reviews came shortly after the restaurant’s November opening. Since then, they have had six months to settle into their high-end Pall Mall location. Elite Traveler was invited to see if it was finally reaching its potential.
What is immediately obvious when stepping into Imperial Treasure is that no expense has been spared on the decor. The high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling doors give it a grand feel. It is carved into sections by tall wooden strips coated with gold – very oriental. The chairs are heavy and the tables are solid. It is, unmistakably, a fine dining room.
This opulence acts as the perfect indicator for the menu. Anyone walking in here will immediately sense that their bank balance is about to take a hit. Most cocktails cost £16.80 ($22) and the Signature Menu is priced at £128 ($168) per person – par for the course in this part of town.
We tried the new Cucumber and Yuzu Martini, which balanced out the strength of Yuzu with the delicacy of cucumber verll well. Perhaps most importantly, served in a tall martini glass, it looked as good as it tasted.
The culinary journey began with a tall cocktail glass filled with egg whites and topped with caviar. The white base gave the caviar a blank background from which to glisten. In one way it is photogenic, in another way it looks like a cocktail gone horribly wrong.
The dilemma continued in the eating. Initially, I was convinced I didn’t like it but then found myself reaching for another spoonful at regular intervals. I found myself wishing for a much smaller portion and ended up pushing what little remained out of my reach.
The next dish was something of a revelation: baked crab with cheese served in a shell. The mixture of two strong flavors was well balanced and put memories of giant egg white slivers into the shade.
The quality continued to rise with the next dish, baked silver cod served with superior soya sauce. The cod was perfectly cooked and flaked into pieces with the slightest touch. Three dishes in and we were certainly in our element now.
Momentum grew with Wagyu beef rolls, high-quality cow served in a savory pancake and enoki mushrooms. I was starting to understand why Imperial Treasure has such a big reputation in the Far East, but then, on this proverbial adventure, we hit road works.
The problem was not the roasted French quail itself. This tiny bird was delicately breaded and perfectly tender, but the whole dish was let down due to the fact that it was served on top of a token pile of shredded red cabbage. The heaviness of the quail was crying out for balance, but the garnish was designed to add nothing more than a sprinkle of color to the plate.
In fact, it would have been better if the quail was combined with the next dish, baby broccoli with mui choi. This dish was bland and the biggest disappointment of the evening, but would have been saved had it been served with the bird.
At this point – six courses in – I could have quite happily called it a day, but Imperial Treasure was saving its best for last. A wonderful seafood broth served with crispy rice was the star of the evening. The broth was full of flavor and the fish perfectly tender. The problem was that I was far too full to eat it. Imperial Treasure was revealing the ace up its sleeve, only to discover that the hand was already over. What an opening this dish this would have been in place of those darned egg whites.
The final course, a tasteless jelly and hot sesame custard donut, wasn’t what I had hoped for the equivocally named ‘selection of desserts’, but at that point I would have turned my nose up at Grandma Martin’s famous cheesecake. I was finished.
Overall, The Signature Set Menu has a lot of potential. The cooking is quite clearly very accomplished and several of the dishes (the crab, the cod, the soup) will live long in the memory. But then again others will sit for the wrong reasons.
Unusually with fine dining, the portions may be too big, leaving you feeling too full and heavy before the piece de resistance, the soup, has even come off the boil.
So, six months in and perhaps Imperial Treasure needs a bit more time to refine its menu and reach its full potential. Then again, improvements have clearly been made since the aforementioned critics visited. It’s not at Michelin level yet, but it is heading in the right direction.