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A £100 Peking Duck Really Upset Critic Jay Rayner

Imperial Treasure’s “grinding, laboured, thudding mediocrity” left the critic furious

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Food critic Fay Maschler loved this Super Peking duck at Imperial Treasure Shanghai. The Michelin-starred Chinese fine dining restaurant group has opened its first London restaurant, and it really upset Jay Rayner Imperial Treasure [Official Photo]

Akira

A man called Sitwell was always going to appreciate the extra comfort provided by a luxury commode. Accordingly, high-end Japanese bathroom fixtures are front-and-centre in this week’s Telegraph review: High Street Kensington’s Akira is one of the few U.K. restaurants happy to bear the cost of a top-notch, ~£1,000 toilet.

But there’s another reason why Akira is currently the critic’s “favourite restaurant on the entire planet”: the food’s more than decent. An appetiser of sea bream is “delectable,” before the main bulk of the robata omakase arrives, a “vast box of treats,” almost a “sort of gastronomic advent calendar (the kind where you can open every window and eat every chocolate on day one without getting into trouble).”

Subsequent delights include “meltingly soft” wagyu and some “deliciously superfluous” sushi served alongside it; even if an “unnecessary” pudding of custard with green tofu doesn’t live up to its savoury forerunners, it’s a “forgivable blemish.” At Akira, it’s possible to eat every bit as well as one sits.

Lino

Fay Maschler doesn’t go into detail about the facilities at Lino, but she still leaves flush with positivity.

This former linoleum factory, overseen by The Ledbury alumnus Robin Falk, turns out “healthy, evolved, carefully considered, woke food” that finds added “edge and emphasis” in modish pickles, ferments, smoke, and salt, and a real “virtue” in “the scrupulous husbandry of resources.”

A perfect embodiment of this approach might be “crisply crumbed” sauerkraut and cheddar croquettes, in which the fermented cabbage acts as a “justified and delicious reproof to the creaminess of everything else.” Or maybe it’s a “lush coherent tartare” of beef “gilded” with smoked egg yolk and bone marrow, or a “buttery, cheesy, flaky, earthy, warming slice of tart.”

Then there’s the oxtail and potato hotpot, which “gets the best out of an often-neglected ingredient” — all of these dishes combining to leave Maschler convinced of Lino’s “stated aim to re-love, re-use and re-imagine”; the Evening Standard critic is convinced further by “notably well-crafted” breakfast and brunch menus. The pedigree of the team at Lino has Michelin stars in its past — might they be in its future, too? Time will tell, but for now, Maschler is more than happy to assert that this is cooking “well worth the detour.”

Imperial Treasure

Jay Rayner leads home a notably depleted critical contingent this week, and from his first paragraph it looks like his readers are in for a Le Cinq-style viral smash. The sort of person who gets off on these restaurant eviscerations will doubtless be rubbing their hands at one especially savage early simile: a meal at Pall Mall’s Imperial Treasure “is to joy, what a public enema is to dignity.”

Alas, it’s a false alarm: Imperial Treasure is just average. Granted, it’s a special kind of average: a “grinding, laboured, thudding mediocrity” — a mediocrity that comes at prices that incite genuine “fury.”

It’s also staggeringly ungenerous: the £100 price tag applied to the signature Peking duck only gets a diner half the bird. However “delightful” it may actually be — “soft meat, crisp skin” both present and correct — this sort of grasping spite still leaves a bad taste.

And at least the half-duck is good. Everything else is “merely adequate” at best, “overtly poor” at worst. What’s more, the cost of such adequacy is “ludicrous” — it’s “nose-bleeding,” it’s “shameless and violent.” Fried rice with a “smattering of chopped shrimp” and “tiny cubes of pork” is £18; “fewer than a dozen” king prawns are £28; a “small heap of soy-glazed Iberico pork lardons” comes in at four pounds more than that. The wine list starts at £38; the smallest turbot on offer would cost £104.

Of course, there’s no reason somewhere in central London trading on the “robust and filigreed” Chinese banqueting tradition shouldn’t charge big money for “fabulous” food. That’s the nub: Imperial Treasure is decidedly “not fabulous.” It’s “swaggering,” it’s “self-important,” it’s “ill-judged and ill-timed.” And perhaps worst of all, compared to places that deliver Imperial Treasure’s signature delicacy with skill and generosity, it’s a “waste of a nice duck.”

LINO

90 Bartholomew Close, , England EC1A 7EB 020 8016 5199 Visit Website

The Ledbury

127 Ledbury Road, , England W11 2AQ 020 7792 9090 Visit Website

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