Service is as smooth as a 1982 Château Léoville Barton at the European debut of Asia’s acclaimed Imperial Treasure group, based in St. James’s.
Imperial Treasure has much-feted restaurants in Singapore, China, Hong Kong and South Korea. The grand grade-II listed former Lloyds banking hall on Waterloo Place, cosied somewhat by the French firm, Studio Liaigre who styled the original Hakkasan on Hanway Place, is the European debut; France is next.
Dynamic, ideas-forward head sommelier, Victor Almeida previously ran his own wine bar in Barcelona, sourcing direct from Catalonian producers. He also worked at Alex Atala’s D.O.M. in São Paulo, and, in London, Skylon, Berners Tavern, Park Chinois and Aquavit – where he offered wine discovery aperitivos and dedicated a section on his list to wines produced by itinerant Scandinavians.
At Imperial Treasure, Almeida builds upon the input of the group’s sophisticated wine expert, Ch’ng Poh Tiong, a lawyer by training and Chinese art expert turned wine journalist, judge, publisher and far-reaching consultant. Ch’ng Poh Tiong gives insight into how wines are selected. “In reds, the tannins should be resolved and evolved (decanting can also help achieve this state). Raging, pent-up, angry tannins do nothing for the drinker nor food. Nor spiky, edgy acidity for that matter. Tannins should be mature and integrated with the fruit.”
At Aquavit, Almeida is excited for diners to explore the globe via fermented grape, “discovering the finest Old and New World wines, paired with the authentic flavours of Cantonese cuisine.” The list includes Chinese reds such as Tiansai Skyline of Gobi (Xinjiang) and Jia Bei Lan from the Ningxia dessert, alongside a shortlist of Burgundy and Bordeaux, including the wares of a friend to the restaurant, Damien Barton Sartorius. “We wanted to bring to the attention of diners wines which have a story to tell,” says Almeida. “We are, for example, very proud of our two English sparkling from Bride Valley, Dorset winery of acclaimed writer Steven Spurrier and his wife Bella, and Coates & Seely, partly owned by Englishman, Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes.” Given its association with prosperity in Chinese culture, the lucky number “8” features frequently on the list in vintages and pricing. Almeida also added two Baijiu’s: Kweichow Maotaizhen three-year-old and nine-year-old alongside a large whisky selection.
Dishes by executive chef, Wee Boon Goh (formerly of Hakkasan) include signature ruddy, bloated and sensational Peking Duck carved at the table, a good gathering of caviar with scrambled egg white, baked crab with pepper, and grilled silver cod. On food matching, Almeida is pragmatic. “The team is always there to offer recommendations if asked. We are also mindful that diners themselves are very knowledgeable and may have their individual preferences. There are no hard and fast rules although – for most people – a full-bodied red with oysters or a lively white with beef will not work.”