It’s always a pleasure to find a new ethnic enterprise in our capital, we have so few. It is a chilly Wednesday night and we enter the shiny interior of the cleanest, brightest, Chinese restaurant, I have ever seen. No paper lamps, flying dragons or pagodas here. We are shown to a neat table in the centre of the premises. Menus and wine lists appear delivered by a waiter who is clearly not oriental, nor are any of the other service staff. Are there any Chinese on the premises? Yes indeed; there are six of them beavering away in the kitchens. The companion and I agree that we will cover as much of the menu as appetites allow. The obligatory basket of prawn crackers arrive with our drinks. The card is extensive and requires careful study; it is divided into soups, starters, salads, and the various meat and marine dishes, including 26 twenty six chicken and duck preparations.
We select a hot sour soup for me and a crab and sweet corn for the companion. The hot sour is perfect for a winter’s night, traditionally containing up to 20 different ingredients, which in northern China will include a good measure of pig’s blood to give it that rich colouring. A very generous portion is served and meets all requirements: hot, spicy, rich in contents and not too much MSG. However, the crab and corn is a disappointment, the companion detects the presence of the awful crabsticks drawn from the depth of the bowl in all its shiny disguise. Crabsticks, have little or nothing to do with crabs. Originating in Japan and marketed as Kanikama and Surini, it is processed white fish – usually pollock – bound with starch and sometimes albumen then coloured with carmine – a cochineal product – flavoured with artificial crab essence and moulded to appear like crableg meat. Damn. She was looking forward to the taste of real crab. But not to be.
We ordered the Szechuan spare ribs from the starter list and eight of the little devils were consumed with pleasure. There are 88 main courses to choose from including an array of Thai dishes, as well as noodles and rice in their various forms. The companion fancies the aromatic Peking duck with the usual attendants and I select sizzling beef; I like the delivery ceremony, when the waiter carries the sizzling hot iron plate through the tables. Unfortunately, the companion is having a bad night. The steamer containing the pancakes is not steaming, in fact it is cold. The duck is dry, there is no sign of scallions, only sliced cucumber, but the sauce is alright, so is the egg fried rice. My beef is excellent; tender, spicy and surrounded by crispy vegetables in a rich brown sauce. We had decided to share our dishes so the companion abandoned her duck and tried the beef, but not too much.
At this stage the restaurant is full, mostly with women diners, all 93 covers are taken. We decline a sweet. The proprietors of the Imperial are no strangers to Chinese cuisine, they have been serving the natives of Paphos and their visitors for 16 years. Victoras, the owner of the Engomi operation, states they have two establishments in Paphos and opened the Nicosia branch seven months ago. We were unlucky it seems for we are surrounded by happy, contented troughers that appear week on week for their oriental delights.
Imperial has a thriving take-away service, and being positioned at the foot of the largest student accommodation in the capital, they should have no worries for the future. Maybe we hit an off-night in the kitchen, who knows.
SPECIALTY Oriental cuisine
WHERE 14 Porfiriou Dikaiou, Engomi (next to Starbucks), Nicosia
WHEN Open Monday to Sunday – lunches only Friday to Sunday. Booking essential.
CONTACT 22 313960, 96 247425
PRICE Not cheap