Imperial Treasure is a restaurant in the part of St James’s where Leopold von Hoesch, the German ambassador to George V, buried his dog Giro after Giro electrocuted himself by eating a cable. (Everyone is a food critic. Giro was merely an unlucky one.) And this seems apt. Because it’s rare to see people in St James’s these days. Dog bones and tourists and BBC crews shooting dramas in which actors are spying or arguing about politics are multiple. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Benedict Cumber-batch pretending to be Liz Truss pretending to be Josip Tito.
But not real people. They have all gone, presumably to Zone 3. Or they have died of Brexit-related ennui and despair. Not that this is a column about alienation disguised as a restaurant review. I would never do that to you. The celebrity duck will come later. It is waiting for its close-up a few paragraphs on. It has been briefed.
It is clear that what London lacks — what it really lacks — is more expensive restaurants in which rich people can enact their own Instagrammable Fall of the Roman Empire. (My idea for a restaurant, a Great Fire-themed bakery inside the Monument, is apparently too early modern, but I like buns. You cannot have enough buns. That is my wisdom for you).
Why don’t I review street food, you may ask. London has excellent street food. The answer is: they don’t issue receipts. When I covered the street food at Winter Wonderland (the chorizo pretzel still haunts me) I submitted a receipt drawn on a napkin, like the Laffer Curve, and this vexed the accounts department on which we all depend.
Imperial Treasure does issue receipts, if only to mock you with your snobbery in spending so much of your own treasure here, mere yards from Chinatown and its many Chinese restaurants. You will have your favourite, and mine is the terrifying Golden Dragon on Gerrard Street. I stopped a fight there once. But the Golden Dragon does not and will never do ‘fine dining’. It would interfere with its amazing ability to smash down the bill just as they remove the plates.
Imperial Treasure lives on the ground floor of an Edwardian palace on Waterloo Place. It is all pale pomp and, therefore, presumably the Queen’s Chinese takeaway of choice. It is part of a chain, or franchise, that springs from China to Hong Kong to South Korea and Singapore, where it won a Michelin star. It is very beautiful in the generic way that rich people favour. That is, it looks, as I have noted before, like the BA First Class Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5 to me; and presumably like the whole world to them. It is grey, brown, clean and silent and I think that is what we pay for — the silence that bespeaks, for now, calm.
We sit in this weird silence, and order a Beijing Duck for £100. It comes with great ceremony: the chef himself appears, and slices it into a porcelain dish with a porcelain duck’s head attached, a joke on a duck that quacks no more. It is deep red and it tastes sweet and sour, this fantastical and important headless duck. We have plain water, which seems to faintly alarm the staff; I sense angst off-scene. Why would you come here, shabby hacks of The Spectator, and only order duck and water, when you could eat the world? Why didn’t you bring Taki? The answer, of course, is curiosity, but that is an ebbing thing.
Having seen it, I cannot wait to leave. There is something dead about Imperial Treasure, you see, and it is not just the duck.