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Four Seasons, London [Restaurant Review]

Friday, 26 June 2009

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Anybody of Oriental descent who has stayed in London for over a week will have known about Four Seasons already, unless s/he has: 1) no social contacts, 2) no interest in food whatsoever or 3) been staying with the mythical crocodiles in the London sewers the whole time. During my time in A levels, anybody who made a short trip to London (about 3.5 hours single way) was obliged to bring back some of the legendary roast duck for his/her friends who had to endure months of canteen college food.

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Our love affair with Four Seasons continued well into our university days, meeting up quite often to mingle, exchange stories and to eat food of course. Such was its popularity that if you a good enough social network, you were bound to meet a friend (or acquaintance or random person you met in class) while queuing up. Oh yes the queues were terrible too; 30 to 60 minutes outside in the cold were the norm on weekends. They did have a booking system (kind of), but it merely bumped you to the top of the waiting list and you still had to wait for the current occupants of the table to vacate it. And you were only allowed to sit if all members of the party were present. Being Malaysian, our national viewpoint of punctuality was that being an hour tardy was still acceptable. It doesn’t help prevent the gastric juices oozing out standing outside the glass window watching endless rows of roast duck being skilfully deboned.

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Tada! A plate of perfectly de-boned duck.

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Now for some of those awesome sauce!

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Located in the “other Chinatown” of Bayswater, it was easy to find, but parking on the other hand can be a bit difficult. We went at 6pm to “beat the queue” on a Saturday evening but still ended up queuing for 30 minutes.

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Inside, we got the table nearest the entrance which meant that the whole dinner we endured the jealous looks of people still queuing.

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Naturally, ordering at least half a roast duck from the “Roast Duck Specialists” (as it says on the menu) was a must, it was the main reason why we went back again after a year’s absence. The meat was tender yet full of duck flavour and the skin was crunchy, but the main difference between this and other restaurants was the sauce; it was amazingly rich and full of Chinese herbs and spices. The restaurant tends to debone the duck lately unless you tell them otherwise (I prefer not to as I feel it’s nicer to chew meat off the bone) and I suspect its because they need the duck carcasses to make the duck sauce.

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We also had a small plate of
siew yuk (烧肉) - roast belly pork. Our group of friends rarely order this in London but Four Seasons makes one of the better ones here. The meat was mixed with just enough fat to give it taste and make it tender, not too oversalted, and most importantly the skin was still crispy at 6.30pm.

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jiu yim sin yao (椒盐鲜鱿) - deep fried squid with salt and chillies is one of my favourite dishes (all the dishes today were amongst my favourites really). Quite simple dish really, squid in batter deep fried with salt, chillies n and chopped garlic, best eaten hot from the wok. Unfortunately, my friend The Suckling Pig complained that eating deep fried food on a hot summers day (20 degrees outside *sigh*) wasn’t ideal.


Jiu pai tofu (招牌豆腐) - tofu, house specialty style, epitomised the style of Hong Kong style cooking: lots of sauce, lots of starch in the sauce (it helps fill you up, and its cheap, so more starch = fuller customers at lower costs), strong flavours, (un)healthy amounts of oil.

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Anyway the tofu has been blended with some other secret ingredients and moulded into egg shaped balls then laid on a bed of green vegetables ladled with an oyster based sauce. The tofu had a softly springy texture and was already very tasty on its own.

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For the obligatory token vegetable dish, we chose baby
pak choy with garlic. Cooked with some oyster sauce, it was nothing special but done efficiently, not overcooked yet not raw.

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We ate all the above with some plain white rice but unsurprisingly, we couldn’t finish it and ended up taking away the leftovers. The PigPig loved the
lat chiu yau (辣椒油) - chilli oil here before, but they seemed to have changed brands since we last came. When we finished, a waiter quickly came and took away the dishes, changed the tablecloths and gave us some complimentary sliced oranges to clean our palate.

Now for some reason, as anybody who has gone to one of these old-school Chinese restaurants will know, the service is really bad. In essence, their priority is to get us the food quickly and once we finish, to get us out quickly too. Any lingering after completing our meal will be quickly challenged by the waiters. There are also lots of comments online that the waiters don’t explain the dishes well to non-Chinese people so they find it difficult to order things we usually order and up ordering the usual stuff like Peking Duck, sweet and sour pork, sweetcorn soup.

Anyway all that food (which could really feed four or five people) along with a can of Tiger beer and Chinese tea came up to just under £60.

Food - 5.5
Service - 4.0
Atmosphere - 5.0
Value - 6.5

I personally think that for standard Chinese fare, this restaurant does it the best. Forget Chinatown as I feel that most of them are tourist traps and they have survived so long because there is always another sucker coming around the corner. Obviously this isn’t “posh” Chinese food but there are lots of newer places that cater to the more upmarket crowd in London. Four Seasons is very much a place that university students love, because its good food for good value and students are much more tolerable of poor service.

Extra things:

  • This has absolutely nothing to do with the Four Seasons hotel chain.
  • They have a branch in Chinatown but my friends tell me to avoid it and to stick to the original.
  • A few doors down is a restaurant called Gold Mine and apparently the “original” chef and manager left Four Seasons to set it up. The food there is pretty good, but the duck at Four Seasons still feels better. The Pigpig however can't really tell the difference between the two in terms of the meat but thinks that the sauce at Four Seasons definitely tastes better.

Would I eat here again? Definitely.

Four Seasons
84 Queensway
W2 3RL
Tel: +44(0)207229 4320

Four Seasons on Urbanspoon

28 oink oinks...:

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

Great photos! Even the "obligatory vegetable" dish looks good! Excellent review!

Su-Lin said...

:D When I first came to London, everybody was telling me about Four Seasons! I do think I like the sauce at Gold Mine better though!

Ruth said...

Wow, the photography is amazing, seriously salivating here!

5 Star Foodie said...

I would love some of that scrumptious duck! Great review!

ARUNA said...

great pics.......amazing review!!!

Mely (mimk) said...

Great pictures! That duck looks so moist compare to the ones they sell here in my town. Good food sometime to look forward when visiting London.

KennyT said...

Roasted duck makes me happy all the time.

Marta said...

This looks like good enough Chinese food, like you say, it's not the upscale stuff, but it seems lean and clean, which is a good combo :)
I love the photos you sneaked in of the kitchen!

♥peachkins♥ said...

I lovea good roast duck. They have such a unique and tasty flavor!

burpandslurp said...

wow! The duck and that springy tofu looks freaking amazing. i never thought I would drool so much over duck and tofu!

Sara said...

Mmmm, duck. Looks like a great place to eat!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Look at those queues (always a good sign). I really like the kitchen shots you got too! *sigh* If only this wasn't a million miles away...

Forager said...

The duck & pork do look delicious! Well - first I've heard about this place, so I guess I'm living in those crocodile infested sewers! But maybe cos I'm in Sydney I'm safe? :)

Wild Boar said...

Shari@Whisk: a food blog:
Haha I sound so condescending towards vegetables. Sorry if you're a vege lover.

The best thing about Gold Mine is that its so much easier to get a table. Maybe the sauce tastes better since you're not as grumpy having to wait 30 minutes outside?

Ruth / 5 Star Foodie / ARUNA:
Thanks :-)

Mely (mimk):
The meat is SO juicy and moist with the oil and sauce. Its as dry as an alcoholic with the key to a liquor shop.

Nope just down-to-earth solid Chinese food. Not too sure how clean it is though to be honest.

Virtually all Chinese restaurants in London do roast duck, but not all of them does it well.

That's my favourite tofu dish in the whole world!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella:
There are about a dozen Chinese restaurants on that street and Four Seasons is the busiest out of all of them.

Isn't 8 out of the world's top 10 most dangerous animals in Australia? Watch out mate!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Good looking food and nice palce! thanks for sharing!



Elra said...

Such great and delicious food. I must admit that I never been to a very good chinese restaurant here in my neighborhood. They are all not really worth visit for the second time. I can not help but noticing that butcher block. It reminds me of my grandma's in Bali. I have one here in my kitchen (Boos block), but it's the blocks put together, unlike this one on your photo or my grandma's they are from a piece of wood. Great review WB!

foodhoe said...

Wow! What a fantastic looking meal, everything sounds good, but for some reason I find that tofu dish is really mesmerizing me. Your pictures are really good, is that a little point and clicker or an slr I wonder?

nora@ffr said...

great post and an excellent writing! wish m in London..the meals sound so delicious :) vat a lovely shots!! keep it up!

Lori Lynn said...

Great post! Oh that duck looks so good! Next time in London...on the list for sure!

Vera said...

If I'm ever in London, I will definitely visit this place! The food looks super delicious!

Dragon said...

Your photos are making my mouth water!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Excellent photos! I can't believe I've never been still, but as a huge fan of roast duck and siu yuk, I will have to go pretty soon...

Wild Boar said...

Its just a huge solid piece of wood! It looks like part of an entire trunk from a smallish tree.

Was it because the tofu was torn apart for you to inspect the contents? It was a DSLR; I'm not terribly technical in the details of these things, but it does look like there is a big difference in photo quality between a DSLR and a normal digicam.

Thanks :-)

Lori Lynn / Vera:
But there are so many good things to eat in London, it'll be hard to find enough days to fit them all in.

Helen Yuet Ling Pang:
If you're a fan of roast duck, then this is the best place in the whole of London for you, as determined by me and countless hungry university students.

Christelle said...

Humm, this one goes to my notebook too ;))

Lizzie said...

I'm of oriental descent and I've not heard of it! I clearly live in the sewers.

Wild Boar said...

How are them crocs?

Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprised by the service. We ordered a 'Pei-Pa' tofu and barely touched it. When the waiter asked why, we told them it was too salty. They ended up taking it out of the bill.

Wild Boar said...

That's surprisingly nice of them.

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