Upon learning that I will be reviewing a Chinese restaurant on Baker Street, I assumed it would be the revamped Royal China Club. To my surprise it was a different restaurant by the name of Bright Courtyard Club. Equally surprisingly, the two restaurants are within chopstick flinging distance of each other. How brave of Bright Courtyard Club management to have taken on what is a London favourite in its own neighbourhood. We navigated the pedestrian traffic with long strides, as I imagine the great sleuth Sherlock Holmes of 221b Baker Street would have done, to be on time for our reservation.
Established in 2011, a few years after Royal China Club, its Cantonese competitor at 40-42 Baker Street, Bright Courtyard Club of 43-45 Baker Street is an upmarket restaurant not too far from Mayfair or Marleybone High Street and a mere seven minute walk from Baker Street tube station. As we entered the restaurant, we walked past giant crustaceans housed in a bank of aquaria. I remembered reading on the restaurant’s website that they serve up Scottish diver-caught scallops at £16 per scallop.The giant sea crab that stared at me as I entered was probably wondering whether I could afford him or not. We are led into to a very spacious, sedate and elegant space. Modern, bright monotones and without the dark and moody East Asian look.
Before our meal, I had the chance to meet one of the partners, Edwina Ye Qu. I asked her how the current challenging economic environment is affecting the Chinese restaurant business. People in Britain are eating out more and more driven by demographic and consumer trends. But Brexit is around the corner. There are predictions of higher energy and commodity prices and possibly a squeeze on credit. There are a variety of cost pressures and all with a weaker pound thrown into the mix. Edwina was upbeat about the situation and even suggested that the Chinese sector may not be suffering as much as restaurants offering western cuisine.
In terms of staff recruitment, however, Edwina did acknowledge some difficulties. She reckons that the Chinese overseas labour market has not changed much in terms of volume but now has to meet the demands of many more Chinese restaurants or in her words “too many Chinese restaurants”.
Edwina is also keen to exploit other market segments – like the food-to-go sector. Bright Courtyard Club signed up with Deliveroo a year ago – initially with limited success. With a change to a simplified take-away menu consciously made a couple of months ago, Bright Courtyard Club have noticed a huge increase in sales.
Bright Courtyard also like to be down with the kids and are proactive in contemporary consumer culture trends. They have a large following on instagram, and a huge engagement on the Chinese social media site – Weibo. Short videos on Tik Tok also help spread the word about the restaurant to their Chinese clientele. Management keep a vigilant eye on review sites like TripAdvisor and discuss the feedback received on the site at weekly meetings.
Whilst the restaurant’s PR team are eager to highlight the Shanghai origins of Bright Courtyard, the menu also features Cantonese popular dishes and of course Dim Sum. When Edwina first came to London 12 years ago, Cantonese restaurants were everywhere in Chinatown. She suggests this was natural given Britain’s connections with Hong Kong and Macau and the access that that provided. However over time, she has noticed that mainland cuisine has been emerging in the London scene. Naturally then Bright Courtyard Club’s somewhat hybrid menu is a reflection of the realities of London’s market characteristics and perhaps also a competitive nod to the other place across the road.
The Dim Sum and the main dishes we sampled were immaculately presented, and in receptacles which were as interesting looking as the food.
First off was Har Kau. No Dim Sum meal can dispense with this prawn dumpling dish and it stands as an exacting test of the chef’s proficiency. The dough should be translucent so that the pink morsel of prawn is invitingly visible. There should be no stickiness or stodge. On that standard alone, Bright Courtyard Club’s chef passed with distinction. Next up the Cheung Fun. Rolled rice noodles, enveloping cuttlefish wrapped in crunchy Tofu and seeped in sweet and salty soy sauce made a change from the usual beef or prawn filling options available in most other eateries. The baked pastry puffs of sweet venison, glazed and sprinkled with sesame seeds, were absolutely delicious. These are known as “So” and the slightly sweet pastry is like the pastry in croissants and dare I say it, “So” more-ish.
Of the savoury dishes we tried, we were presented with two menus. An “English” menu and a menu for those people, we were told with an insider’s snigger, “who would not be frightened of liver”. We opted for the manly liver-eater’s menu and then for some reason stayed away from the liver. However we certainly appreciated the accessibility provided by the English text. This is often not the case for specialised menus in Chinese restaurants.
The prawn dish with asparagus and sliced scallops was delicately scented with XO sauce and equally delicately presented in a bed of frilly and edible rice paper. The lamb and beef dishes were as tender as you would expect in a top notch restaurant.
There is nothing boring about this restaurant’s innovative menu and its execution. It is certainly pricey and possibly best reserved for payday.
Bright Courtyard Club
43-45 Baker Street, London W1