Much to our delight, Imperial Lounge was a serendipitous encounter. Located in Croydon, it is set within the site of London’s first major airport. The name Imperial Lounge was derived from Imperial Airways, which was the first international airline to fly from London to India. With the site’s rich history, Imperial Lounge offers contemporary Indo-Chinese cuisine which encompasses India’s rich and diverse regional differences.
As soon as you step inside Imperial Lounge you are instantly hit with the unexpected yet sensational interior, with understated elegance and sophistication that one would not immediately associate with Croydon. It is here where you will experience fine Indo-Chinese specialities cooked by Chefs that have come from some of the finest hotels in India.
Our invitation to Imperial Lounge began with a sampling of non-alcoholic cocktails. To begin with we tried the Mixed Berry Virgin Mojito. Each sip brought up a pulp of fresh berry that provided a burst of natural fruit, combined with the refreshingly carbonated berry mix with a subtle hint of lime. A classic combination but with contrasting flavours executed elegantly. The Spiced Mango Virgin Cocktail was truly a shock to the system. Shockingly spectacular. The humble mango, with the addition of chilli, that’s right, chilli, transformed into a seductively addictive concoction. When you first take a sip of the cocktail, the sweet mango taste delicately coats your mouth, then suddenly the heat from the chilli provides a delicious kick to the tastebuds. Undoubtedly one of the most unusual and yet stupendous drinks that we have ever experienced.
Moving on to starters, almost everything on the menu was mouth-wateringly attractive. With such a diverse and vibrant array of dishes on offer, you better invest in a pair of elasticated trousers, so to let the indulgence begin. If you are dieting, you may have to fast for the next couple of weeks.
The Mixed Non-Vegetarian Indian starter was presented elegantly and visually colourful, much like the streets of India. Each component was extravagantly and expertly spiced with different flavours, all rich and vibrant.
The New Zealand Prime Lamb Chops, marinated overnight in raw papaya, garlic, ginger and Chef’s special spices boasted layers of intense rustic flavours. The rawness of the spices came through positively and the meat had the texture and succulence of slow cooked meat. These tasted exquisite; so much so that every bite of joy drew us closer to sadness, as the dish inevitably reached its finale. The Malai Tikka was chicken breast marinated in matured cheese and cashew paste, grilled in the tandoor. Neither the cheese or cashew flavour was obvious, unfortunately, and was not as memorable as the other components.
The Machi Sarson was Tilapia fish cooked in mustard, garlic and ginger. The fish was delicately spiced and cooked to precision. The flesh of the soft fish flaked off effortlessly and melted in the mouth.
The Murgh Ka Chops was chicken thigh cooked with kaffer, yoghurt and spices. The flavour was epicurean and bold with the thigh meat succulent and flavoursome.
The Mongolian Vegetable Crispies were Chinese cabbage and lady fingers marinated in szechuan spices and deep fried. Although crispy, we were not as blown away with these compared to some of the other dishes. The szechuan spice flavour was mild and the accompanied mint sauce diffused the flavour further. In our opinion a chilli based sauce would have complimented these far better.
The classic pani puri with spiced chilled water was underwhelming at first until we realised much of the spiced flavour of the water had settled at the bottom and it was only when we got to the last few mls, the spiced flavour came through, which was delicious with a kick from the chilli hitting the tastebuds as an after taste. These were good but not the best we have tasted.
The crispy won tons were topped with chicken and szechuan spices. The flavour was bold and intense with numerous contrasting textures working in harmony; crispiness from the filo, creaminess from the won ton filling and crispiness from the coated chicken, all lubricated within a rich and spicy szechuan flavoured sauce.
The honey chilli duck was crispy duck coated with honey, chilli and spring onions. Although it was our least favourite, the duck meat inside the crispy outer coating was perfectly tender, and also the meat was generously coated in the honey sauce which provided a sticky sweet like texture, which was balanced out from the heat emanating from the chilli seeds.
When we saw Baby Lamb Ribs on the menu, our mouths started to salivate uncontrollably like a three month old baby. The rib meat was succulent, delicate and tearing off the bone with ease. Our only disappointment was that this dish wasn’t served first as by this point we were so full, we couldnt appreciate it. The meat of the lamb, marinated in the sticky sweet BBQ sauce, with the added kick from the red chilli was sublime.
The food was well paced giving sufficent time for the starters to digest and make room for yet more food.
The Chicken Mazi Mazi was Kenyan house hold preparation of baby chicken on the bone cooked in subtly spiced watery based gravy not too dissimilar to the homemade cooking method for a curry, and as such it had a homemade feel and taste to it. It was one of those dishes which got better with each bite as the fresh chilli kicked in, whilst the richer components of the gravy collected at the bottom. The curry was still mild in flavour compared to what we are accustomed to and perhaps not something we would order again but nonetheless, it was as it was described.
The growing need for halal fine dining in a largely ethnically diverse town of Croydon is why Imperial Lounge’s popularity is growing exponentially. Their expertly spiced food together with the precisely cooked meat and fish has raised the bar high for halal fine dining in Croydon. The hospitality from the moment we arrive to the moment we leave was impeccable. The food eloquently showcases the owners’ passion to deliver fine Indo-Chinese cuisine artfully encompassing an array of natural ingredients, techniques and flavours, drawing influence from all over, with “Chaats” from the streets of Mumbai to “Rustic Kebabs” from India’s clay oven to “Indo-Chinese” fusion bringing the best of ‘Hakka’ and ‘Shicuhan’ cuisine, thus embarking on a culinary journey through India.