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Cover Story

Sprouting Royal Chinese Delights

By Dining Out Team Photos By Leah Friel
January 20, 2013

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STORY BY RACHEL BREIT AND ALANA FOLEN

While there is always a place for fusion fare, mixing the best of indigents and cooking styles from vastly different locales, you will not find it at Royal Garden. No, what you will find and savor here is the Hong Kong-style of traditional Chinese dishes, such as Peking Duck.

The love of traditional Chinese cooking (and eating) is what inspired owner Calvin Wong, and his brother and head chef Johnny Wong to open the restaurant back in 1984, shortly after Johnny completed culinary training in Hong Kong.

Their concept quickly took off. It wasn’t long before their delicious, high-quality food won over the general manager of Ala Moana Hotel, who after frequently dining at their former location on Keaumoku Street, offered them a space in the popular hotel.

Dining Out sat down with Wong to learn more about what makes Royal Garden unique, which dishes we should set our sights on and ways that we can celebrate Chinese New Year.

DO: With all the different Chinese restaurants here in Hawaii, what makes Royal Garden stand out from others?

Wong: Royal Garden offers authentic Chinese food prepared Hong Kong style.

My brother, Chef Johnny Wong, was trained by a well-known, international chef from Hong Kong. The Hong Kong style is traditional and authentically Chinese — very different from the local Chinese style.

DO: Speaking of tradition, in what ways is Royal Garden celebrating Chinese New Year?

Wong: There are many traditional dishes for Chinese New Year, and gau, a mochi rice cake and jai, a vegetarian dish, are the most popular ones. All of these dishes will be available during Chinese New Year at Royal Garden.

DO: Please tell us a little about the menu. What dishes would you recommend to your customers?

Wong: First I would recommend the Baked Stuffed Top Shell with Seafood ($6.95 per piece). But for a different flavor I would suggest, the Crispy Tofu Stuffed with Shrimp Paste ($11.95). We also have a wide selection of dim sum ($3.10 to $3.50) if you want a variety of flavors. Those looking to enjoy a special feast should order the Peking Duck ($50 usually, but 50 percent off with coupon good until the end of Feb). For traditional New Year’s offerings go for gau and jai.

DO: Sounds like you have quite a variety of dishes to choose from. For someone who has yet to dine at Royal Garden, how would you describe the dining concept?

Wong: A lot of the dishes we serve are unique to Royal Garden and different from most of the other Chinese restaurants — dishes like Baked Stuffed Top Shell and Crispy Tofu Stuffed with Shrimp Paste. Another specialty unique to our restaurant is Live Maine Lobster Royal Garden Style, which is cooked with minced garlic, butter, shal-lots and a very rich chicken broth. We also serve this dish with e-mein upon request.

DO: We’d like to know a little bit about the history of your restaurant. When did Royal Garden open its doors and how did the idea for the restaurant come about?

Wong: Royal Garden opened almost 30 years ago, in 1984. We first opened on Keeaumoku Street with my brother Johnny, shortly after he completed training with his teacher. The reason we opened the restaurant is because cooking is my brother’s passion, and he wanted to have his own restaurant. I also am passionate about food, both eating and cooking it, too. We quickly built up our reputation as soon as we opened our doors. A lot of well-known local people would come to our restaurant and have very good compliments for us, including the general manager of Ala Moana Hotel. He was a regular who enjoyed our food so much that he asked if I was interested in opening a Chinese restaurant in his hotel. He had moved Plantation Cafe from the third floor to the ground floor so there was an available space. We took his offer and here we are.

DO: What are some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes?

Wong: Peking Duck ($50, whole) is by far the favorite. Other special favorites are Baked Rock Salt Ranch Chicken ($45) and Live Maine Lobster Royal Garden Style.

DO: These favorites all sound wonderful, but if we are looking for something new to try, what items would you point us to?

Wong: The new items we have on the menu are Short Rib with choice of black pepper sauce or bell pepper with black bean sauce. We also have a new Vegetable Stir Fry with minced garlic, which is a very famous and popular dish from Taiwan. This is a special dish that no other restaurant serves because we have a special request with our local supplier.

DO: Besides your delicious traditional offerings and new menu items, what is the common thing that people love about Royal Garden?

Wong: We always keep up our standard and quality. We order only good quality food, which we know drives food cost up, but the satisfaction of our customers is more important.

DO: What kind of a crowd does your restaurant draw?

Wong: We have both locals and tourists, but most of our business is from our local repeat clients.

DO: Who is the main chef at Royal Garden?

Wong: Johnny Wong is the chef and my brother. Both of us have been working together for more than 30 years. One thing I would like to mention is Johnny enjoys his work, so he is always coming up with new dishes. I think this is very important for a professional chef and something that shows he is very dedicated to his craft and pleasing customers.

DO: Besides your entrees, do you offer any appetizers?

Wong: Yes, we do. Our famous appetizers are Crispy Tofu Stuffed with Shrimp Paste ($11.95), Baked Stuffed Top Shell ($6.95 per piece), Deep Fried Butterfly Shrimp ($19.95) and Drunken Ranch Chicken with Jellyfish ($16.95).

DO: What can we look forward to from Royal Garden in the future?

Wong: We will try our best to serve our customers, and we have confidence that they will keep coming back as long as we can give them good quality food and service.

DO: How would you describe the atmosphere and dining environment at Royal Garden?

Wong: We have five private rooms, which can accommodate anywhere from 10 to 50 people. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. There are orchids around, and the place is clean and spacious.

Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant

Ala Moana Hotel
410 Atkinson Drive, Honolulu
942.7788
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Dinner: Daily, 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.