Hong Kong Royale, a Cantonese seafood restaurant in Beverly Hills, would probably suit you just fine if you lived in Beverly Hills and had a sudden craving for Chinese food.
It beats driving downtown, doesn't it? And it's not bad at all.
Besides, it's surprisingly reasonable for the location if you don't go for the expensive lobster, top-dollar shark fin or bird's nest soup. You can pick up a decent lunch for about $5 and a simple dinner for two for about $25 or thereabouts. Not bad.
You'll do fairly well in the appetizer department with things like deep-fried prawns for $6.50 (the highest-priced item in the category) and Oriental chicken salad (about $4.50), although one aficionado of the salad gave it a mezza-mezza-- good, but not as good as half a dozen others around town. Frankly, I liked it, having no special favorites to compare it with.
Crispy Egg Rolls
The barbecued spareribs were OK, and the fried won tons (you get 10) and egg rolls (you get two) were quite tasty and crispy; cooked, I might add, in clean oil. You can tell clean oil from old from the odor as well as color of the product. A light product with no burned specks or residue is an indication. Return any rancid-smelling product, no matter where you dine.
Then you have a surprisingly good menu filled with usual and unusual seafoods. Things like conch, squid and abalone (canned) the year-round. Conch comes fresh from a New York distributor, I was told. There is lobster served in the shell mixed with fruit salad, which you must order ahead, as well as steamed and baked lobster with soup, ginger and one with black bean and chile sauce.
Ditto for the crab, also priced seasonally. Cooking methods are repeated for shrimp, many fish dishes, chicken, clams, pork and beef.
Pan-Fried or Deep-Fried
Oysters, too, come pan-fried or deep-fried, and scallops are baked, steamed and pan-fried whole and cost $3 each.
Meat and poultry lovers can find something good in the pork, beef, bean curd, vegetable, duck and squab categories. There is an unusual stuffed bean curd with shrimp dish, which tofu admirers may enjoy. Beef with walnuts was also unusual, and I tried the minced squab with lettuce, which is sometimes called Chinese tacos in some upscale Chinese restaurants. It's the same thing, though.
The kung pao chicken was also tasty, but ask for spicy kung pao. In the restaurant's attempt to match its perception of Western clients' taste sensitivities, it has reached the lowest registers of seasoning, so you really have to assert yourself, short of bringing your own salt shaker.
I have, in the past, criticized many West Side Chinese restaurants catering to Western customers for tampering with authenticity by modifying flavors and textures of many dishes to a point where no Chinese worth his salt would touch them. I've since come to the conclusion that they are correct in their assumption that Western taste for Chinese food is highly selective and requires modification--certainly for the average person who dines on Chinese food five or six times each year. The only problem is hitting the spot. Most haven't.
Let's go to my favorite section of the menu, the noodles and fried rice, which I found quite nice and the offerings quite varied. The rice and fried noodles (they use both standard and flat) are cooked with cod, chicken, sliced beef, roast pork, pork rib, vermicelli and oyster sauce.
Dim Sum for Lunch
Noodles in soup come in a huge bowl for about $5. Won ton soup is the only type you can get by the cup ($1.25) for reasons I fail to understand. I wasn't crazy about the texture of the hot and sour soup--too starchy--and the won ton soup broth was rather bland. The won ton dumplings themselves, however, were fresh and fine. In fact, I tried dim sum for lunch, which--apart from the less than so-so presentation--were fresh and quite tasty.
The restaurant's lunch offerings, by the way, are worth the trip if you are within distance. You get many of the dinner items (changed weekly) at far lower cost.
As might be expected of a Chinese restaurant smack in the heart of Beverly Hills, attempts have been made to upgrade the decor. The result is rather stark because of a high ceiling no one seems to know what do with, probably due to a strangely recessed loft area above. Otherwise, it's pleasant enough with its soft jade-green colors and Chinese modern furnishings. The service is refreshingly courteous.
Hong Kong Royale, 220 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (213) 273-1060 or 273-1062. Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. There is a public two-hour free parking lot next door. Major credit cards accepted. Reservations appreciated.