Chinatown is one of my favourite places in London. It’s a wonderful unique part of the city with lots of interesting places to explore. For a start there are a few hidden treasures crammed into this small patch of inner London. There’s the experimental cocktail club, a tiny noodle factory in Dansey Place, and of course every year you can come here to see the incredible Chinese New Year celebrations. However it is for the food that most people come to Chinatown, with an incredible eighty plus restaurants located here. Unfortunately a good deal of the food here is on the average side, so allow me to present my guide to the best restaurants I’ve come across. It must be admitted before we begin that I’m no food critic but I do have some modicum of taste, and having tried at least fifty of the restaurants here, I feel I can at least impart some knowledge about the most interesting places to go. So without further ado let’s begin.
For me Hung’s is Chinatown! A bazillion drunken misadventures count this place as their glorious resting place. In my student day’s I had so many wonderful nights in which I ended up drinking a tad too much. Thankfully in such circumstances some part of my brain managed to keep functioning and before too much alcohol could be imbibed it would sound a deep ancestral call that would lead me to salvation. Like some sort of drunken equivalent to a Canadian goose, in the early hours I always knew to head to Hung’s. It was always a joy to slowly come back to my senses in the early hours, in the company of my best friend, some complete stranger who we had dragged along, and some incredibly tasty food. I do not know what magic is at work in this oriental greasy spoon, but I swear that the cure for the hangover resides somewhere on this restaurant’s premises. Hung’s is open from 10am and remains open until 4am, the food’s delicious and thus there can be no excuse for not trying it once if you’re based in London.
If I could think of one word to sum up this charming green cafe on the corner, it would be Spartan. In an area renowned for its curt and brisk service, Jen’s café finds itself in a league of its own, with endearingly grumpy staff reminiscent of Oscar from Sesame Street. Attempt idle chit chat at your peril dear reader. However it’s not just the enchanting service that you come here for, no, it’s the best dumplings in all of Chinatown which make this café an absolute gem. The dumplings here are pure perfection and one can see them being made fresh every day in the shop window. My personal favourites are the fried ones, as they have a thin crispy outer layer that then quickly leads into a soft doughy centre that melts in the mouth, positively awesome. Aside from the dumpling’s the rest of the menu is a tad underwhelming, but the dumplings are godly I tell you, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you drop by here sometime for a quick snack.
Next door to Jen’s café is another fantastic no frills restaurant, The Tokyo Diner. A specialist in Japanese food, the restaurant is spread over three levels and has a simple wooden décor that gives it a warm cosy feel. What I really love about the Tokyo Diner is that it has so many little unique touches. For a start they refuse to take tips, you can increase the amount of rice you have with a meal at no extra cost, and you are always greeted by a complimentary cup of green tea on arrival. Combine these tiny differences with the delicious food here and the result is that you leave with a genuine sense that you’ve been given a taste of another culture. Recently the Tokyo Diner has grown in popularity so expect queues to get in. The dish everyone raves about in this place is the Chicken Katsu Don, which is insanely good. My favourite dish however is the Udon (soupy noodles). It is one of those rare dishes that prove a great comfort as a result of its simplicity. I think in many ways that best sums up the whole feel of this delightful diner.
Tao Tao Ju
The Tao Tao Ju is a restaurant with a nice atmosphere, some seriously tasty food, and some awfully friendly staff (which in these parts amounts to a small miracle). Yet none of these fine qualities, admirable though they may be, amount to my reason for including it on this list. The fact that it makes the cut is almost entirely down to one thing, that ancient art practiced by drunken masters of all nationalities, namely karaoke. The spiritual power of this social ritual cannot be denied, terrible singers with delusions of grandeur aside, the fact is that karaoke has the magical ability to bring people together. There’s just something so human about it and yet I cannot for the life of me pinpoint what it is. It is perhaps fitting then that the name Karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’, which is some serious mystical sounding shit. However it works, it does, and I highly recommend you hire a booth at the Tao Tao Ju, where you can combine this mystical experience with some fantastic food. (Just be sure to book in advance).
Duck and Rice
The Duck and Rice definitely should not be on this list, for a start it’s not even officially in Chinatown (it’s a tiny walk away in Soho). Moreover while the food in this establishment is excellent, I think the price just isn’t quite worth it. So how come it made the list? Because it’s a maverick damn it, a Chinese restaurant that follows nobody’s rules, not even its own. Nah, just kidding, the real reason is that this place does the most fantabulous prawn toast ever. In all seriousness it’s definitely worth trying at one time in your life. Thankfully you don’t have to go to the restaurant to try it. The ground floor of this establishment is a bar and has a great selection of craft beers which you can combine with the delicious dish in question. So if you ever fancy a mini adventure when you’re in Chinatown, that may turn out to be a complete disaster due to my subjective opinion, you know where to go. I can already picture death cries from my readers as they realize that a better restaurant was forsaken for a trendy hors d’oeuvre that they have found wanting.
Sticking with the theme of expensive restaurants that aren’t technically in Chinatown but are literally across the street, allow me to introduce for your delectation Bar Shu. A restaurant that specialises in the fiery cuisine of Sichuan province. It differs significantly from most places in Chinatown which tend to offer Cantonese cuisine, and over the last few years’ food critics appear to have gone positively barmy for this restaurant. The food on offer here is delicious and incredibly spicy, more specifically this place is renowned for the unique way it mixes unusual flavours and textures. The dishes on offer often combine, hot, sweet, and sour, flavours. The result is that the meal you order is often greater than the sum of its parts. To enter the realm of hyperbole briefly, by the time I had finished my first meal here I felt that I had experienced a well-orchestrated cacophony of flavours the like of which I’d never tasted before. Do not worry about the fact that you will likely not have a clue about what to order, the staff here are fairly friendly and more than happy to help you choose a selection of dishes. I have a feeling that given time this style of food will really catch on across the country, but in the mean time you might like to give it a whirl the next time you’re in Chinatown, just try not to have a heart attack when you’re handed the bill at the end.
There are two Four Seasons in Chinatown that’s how popular they are, and both are famed nay renowned for offering the most awesome roast duck in all of Chinatown. If you order the roast duck in either establishment then you will soon be greeted with a truly superb dish. Nicholas Lander of the Financial Times goes as far as to assert that this is the best roast duck in the world. Putting such grand assertions to one side, I can at least say that it’s pretty damn good. The dish in question consists of delightful thin boneless slices of tender duck, which possess a wonderfully crisp sweet soya sauce infused skin. The result is a veritable taste sensation. The rest of the food on offer is unfortunately quite average; it’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t come close to matching the duck. Quite simply if duck is your favourite dish, then this is where it’s at, if not then this is not the restaurant you are looking for.
Joy King Lau
Joy King Lau is an unassuming place and one of my favourite restaurants in Chinatown. It is home to some superb crispy noodles and has a fantastic dim sum menu that includes such unusual and exciting dishes as, Octopus Curry, Marinated Duck Tongue, and Drunken Chicken Feet. I think I like this place so much, because in a case of pure happenstance the noodles there match perfectly the one’s that I ordered so many years ago at the first Chinese restaurant I ever went to. Given that said restaurant no longer exists, I was absolutely ecstatic to discover Joy King Lau. Nostalgia aside, this restaurant is in my wholly inexpert opinion a wonderful place which is off the beaten track and well worth a try. However I must also impart a warning about this restaurant to my readers. Located on the second floor is the gentleman’s toilet which has a rather unique feature. I discovered it on my first visit, it made its presence known to me by means of a frosty chill, by which I came to notice a massive window which was wide open and overlooked the main street. It soon occurred to me that anyone looking up could see my Johnson going about its business. I trust you will all learn from my mistake!
Tucked away on Macclesfield Street, is a little door, with a tiny sign, and some rickety stairs, that either lead straight to heaven or a sugary grave, depending on your outlook on life. Once inside you’ll find a small room with a drab interior but for heaven’s sake don’t be put off. The candy café is a pure delight that specialises exclusively in Asian deserts and bubble teas. The deserts here are well portioned, all under a fiver, and amazing. Personal favourites here include green tea ice cream and anything with mango. I truly adore this place it brings out the child in me and sends me on a glorious sugar high. One time I even left with the thought that world peace is indeed possible. It’s just a simple matter of fact that diplomacy needs more ice cream. In short this place always has me brimming with light heartedness, and in such a crazy world that can’t be a bad thing.
So those are my favourite places in Chinatown. Did I miss out somewhere totally unbelievable, am I a cotton headed ninny muggins, or do you agree with all my opinions and wish to help me create the greatest echo chamber of mutual-congratulation that the internet has ever seen. Whatever your views, be sure to post in the comment section below.