25 Newport Court, London, WC2H 7JS
A hot little number, the Baozi Inn mini-chain was among the first to break the Cantonese stranglehold on Chinatown. These folksy looking trio of restaurants, related to the more upmarket Bar Shu, major in the flavours of regional China, especially the fiery cooking of Sichuan – though each branch has its own specialities. There’s no doubt you’ll get ‘proper’ Chinese food whichever you choose, witness the likes of cold ‘golden coin’ ox tripe, served as a starter at the Little Newport Street outlet (a tiny little townhouse formerly called Baiwei). If you’d prefer a less uncompromising introduction to the cuisine here, head for the mao cai hot-pot broths, into which you can drop up to 16 different ingredients to boil. The Romilly Street operation is where to order jiaozi (wontons), grills and ‘flaming skewers’, while Newport Court has more of a northern Chinese accent; don’t miss the house special baozi filled buns either, which are fluffy, soft and delectable.
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10 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 5PW
On the face of it, New Fook Lam Moon, now nearly 30 years old, is just another Chinatown eatery complete with the obligatory lacquered ducks & ribs hanging in the window & a dreary, narrow
frontage. The raft of colourful, laminated menus doesn’t bode well either; set meals at £11.50-18.50 & a £5 lunch offer little more than garish sweet & sour pork or beef in oyster sauce,
while the main carte – running to hundreds of dishes – is almost off-puttingly long. Persevere, however, & you’ll discover a haul of exciting, well-made Chinese & Malaysian dishes. Bu ka
ta, the euphemistically named ‘mixed meat’ soup in its rich shiitake broth is one such delight. Also worth exploring are the crab specialities, the belly pork, even the distinctly odd-sounding
prawns with margarine. Staff can be a bit short, but they’ll warm to your enthusiasm.
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8 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 5PJ
Haozhan may no longer be at the cutting edge of Chinatown eating, but it continues to offer novel tastes, without a red lantern or dragon motif to be seen – instead, black walls, geometric mirrors
and emerald-green lighting set a thoroughly modern tone. The extensive menu features twists on favourites such as aromatic crispy duck pancakes – although more adventurous diners are rewarded with
‘unusual selections’ including palate-jangling Szechuan soup, chilli quail, jasmine tea-smoked pork ribs or stir-fried chicken with lemongrass, lime and mint. Haozhan also majors on daytime dim sum
(12N-5pm), offering everything from steamed king prawn dumplings and squishy roast pork buns to slippery cheung fun and gnarly chicken’s feet. House wine starts at £15.60; otherwise, a pot of
‘blossoming’ floral tea makes a soothing alternative. ‘Charming’ staff and ‘incredible value’ mean this Chinatown fixture comes ‘strongly recommended’ by readers.
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15-16 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 6JE
Arranged over three floors of a dodgy-looking townhouse, this neat Chinatown cutie is from Eric Yu, he of 68 and Boston and Marylebone newbie, Burlock. All peeling parlours and louche dens, the look is high-class 1950s knocking shop masquerading as a Hong Kong herbalist's consulting rooms. Seasonal prescriptions rely on homemade tinctures, syrups and restorative fine-leaf infusions from Opium's Apothecary bar and teashop: signatures of note include The Devil Doctor, Golden Lotus, The Dragon & The Unicorn and Gunfire – an incendiary bullet of spiced rum, lemon oil and black tea that will blow your wig off. Head down a corridor to discover Peony, an enigmatic saloon high on absinthe, mezcal and rye. Cha and steaming baskets of plump dim sum act as damage limitation. As Glaswegians say, you’ll be ‘in a worse state than China’ (ie blotto) if you get hooked on Opium’s charms.
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8 Little Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JJ
Following on from big hitters Bar Shu, Ba Shan and the Baozi Inn, “scruffy, but cool-looking” Baiwei completes a gang of four Szechuan firecrackers in Soho Chinatown. The name means ‘a hundred flavours’, and the kitchen deals in authentic home-style dishes from the south-western province and neighbouring areas, with chilli warnings and plenty of anatomical curiosities on the pictorial menu. Choose from a lengthy assortment of ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ specialities ranging from aubergines with preserved egg or plates of pig’s ear, tongue and tripe dressed with astringent black vinegar to chilli-flecked lamb with roasted rice, bowls of dan-dan noodles or beef and coriander won tons in broth. It’s a tiny space with Spartan decor – save for some hand-painted Maoist propaganda posters proclaiming ‘the big leap forward’. Service can be “grouchy”, but it warms up slowly.
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3 Leicester Street, London, WC2 7BL
‘People queue up here for a reason’, according to one of Joy King Lau’s regular customers, and that is for the cavalcade of trusty dim sum – inexpensive, tasty and served up without any fiddle-faddle in a vintage Chinatown setting. Steamed delights include prawn har gau, Shanghai dumplings, prawn cheung fun, roast pork bun and pork ribs; then there are fried chicken’s feet, grilled chive cakes, squares of turnip paste and crispy won tons. By night, the four floors resound with groups munching their way through plates of crispy ‘seaweed’, sesame prawn toasts, hot and sour soup, chicken with cashew nuts and other mainstream fare. Better to come at the weekend for brunch with a few friends, order dumplings galore, then ‘sit back and watch as the bamboo baskets stack up’.
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