Friday, June 17, 2011

Royal Garden

Royal Garden is a Chinese restaurant located in the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Some of the staff pushing carts of food. You can get full just from eating the food on the carts.
Menu (side 1)
Menu (side 2)
My grand-aunt, my grandmother, my father, and I had an 11 a.m. reservation on a Wednesday and splurged big time. We ate just about every type of dim sum out there, plus some roast duck, cold garlic chicken (boiled chicken served with green garlic sauce on the side), spring rolls, fried cake noodles, mochi rice, jin deui (sesame ball Chinese pastry) and custard.

Lots of dim sum
Roast duck
Don't worry, the chicken is cooked (boiled)
Cold garlic sauce for the cold boiled chicken
Spring rolls (two fried rolls each cut in half)
Fried cake noodles w/stir-fried veggies and seafood
Mochi rice in lotus leaf (there is meat on the bottom)
Jin deui (black bean paste inside the sesame ball pastry)
I liked all the dim sum Royal Garden offered, and it was my favorite overall due to all the work the staff puts into each dish. Virtually all the dim sum we ate were steamed (a couple were fried). The flavors were just right, not too salty. The spring roll was also good, but perhaps a tad too oily for me (yeah, it's fried of course).

The chicken was OK. It was boiled chicken served cold, so it may turn off people who are used to temperature-hot chicken with a bit of color on it. On its own, the chicken had zero flavor. It was meant to be paired with the cold green garlic sauce (shown in the above set of pictures), and yes, it worked well together. Again, I took the fatty skin off the chicken (skin only meant to give flavor to the meat itself).

The duck looked good on the plate and tasted pretty good. Again, I took off the fatty skin. For the record, the skin wasn't fried, so it was really just a way of flavoring the duck meat underneath. It was served with a nice plum sauce (not pictured). I thought the slightly sweet plum sauce worked very well with the savory duck. Nothing special on the duck prep, really, but at least it was a bit more flavorful than the chicken (judging just the meats, not the accompanying sauces).

The fried cake noodles were acceptable, but not great. I appreciated the freshness of the product, as you could tell the noodles, vegetables, and seafood had just come out of the wok. The vegetables and seafood were perfectly cooked, no rubbery seafood here! However, as you could expect in a Chinese restaurant, it was just too damn oily overall for me to fully enjoy the product.

The mochi rice was OK, but not my favorite. I thought the presentation in the lotus leaf was pretty cool. The sticky mochi that combined with the rice made the dish a "super sticky" sweeter rice. The meat was on the very bottom here, and I would have liked more meat added on the top. I was fine with the texture of the mochi rice (I'm used to sticky rice anyway), but the dish as presented lacked popping bold flavors.

I thought the two desserts were the highlight of the meal. The jin deui was properly made -- basically a hollow sesame ball filled with just a little sweet black bean paste. The key was the black bean paste; it wasn't overly sweet and paired well with the sesame ball itself.

The custard was delicious -- and also warm. I liked that they made two "mini-custards" and put them on one plate. It's really perfect for four people to each get a half of the custard, and trust me, you'll want to just split it after eating a ton of other dishes here.

When we got to Royal Garden for our 11 a.m. reservation, the place was still fairly empty. However, by the time we left about an hour later, Royal Garden had quite a few patrons dining in. So I'd say it's in a successful location.

The employees are definitely Chinese, but that comes with a huge downside: my family and I had a problem communicating with the staff. They all likely speak and understand very little English, so the language barrier was in full effect. While food can somewhat break through that barrier, it would have been nice to get some real popping flavors for that "wow" factor.

I don't know what the total bill was here, but it's pretty safe to say it was expensive (heck, look how much food we ordered -- and we were in a nice hotel). My awesome grand-aunt picked up the tab and basically didn't tell anyone how much it was.

I think Royal Garden is a place that serves pretty authentic Chinese food, but I still think the food gets an average rating overall. One of my aunts is Chinese and could probably replicate all of the dishes (and even teach me how to make them). Also, you'd probably need someone fluent in Chinese to be able to effectively communicate with the staff.

I do like Royal Garden's decor. It looks quite elegant and heavily Chinese-influenced. The best part is you can still wear casual attire here.

The already-average rating (based just on the food's flavors and freshness) plummets due to the prices (trust me, having a ton of small dishes adds up over time), the language barrier with the staff, and the extremely oily Chinese dishes. I'm pretty sure I can make Chinese food without all that oil going in my system, thank you. In my opinion, aside from the decor and the sea of food carts the staff pushes all over the restaurant, Royal Garden doesn't separate itself from any other Chinese restaurant.

If it's hard to communicate with the restaurant's employees and if I can get less oily Chinese food elsewhere, it's not worth my time and money to return, no matter how good the decor and desserts were. 2.5/10

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