Where to eat in Chinatown
From Sichuanese to dim sum and beyond, there’s so much choice that it’s hard to know which one to plump for. But Time Out’s food reviewers have eaten at all of them – many times, over many years – to produce this definitive list on the best places to eat in Chinatown, including traditional dim sum parlours, stalwart Chinese joints, eateries doing modern takes on classic Oriental cuisine and a few fine non-Chinese options (including – gasp! – Spanish tapas).
Baozi Inn (Newport Court)
Kitsch Communist Revolution decor meets northern Chinese street food tidied up for London at this lively joint. True to Sichuanese form, red is the predominant colour and chilli fire the overriding taste sensation: dan dan noodles, ‘smacked’ cucumber salad and crescent dumplings are all good. Yes, the food’s spicy, but it’s also deliciously cheap
Big menus are commonplace in Chinatown, but such a vast repertoire seems impossible from a galley the size of an origami boat. Still, TPT manages to deliver its pan-Chinese bonanza with commendable aplomb. Best bets are Cantonese staples such as succulent roast duck on rice, although we crave the Hong Kong-style ‘Tai pai tong hawker dishes’ too.
It may be getting ragged round the edges, but this plainly furnished Chinatown veteran is once again on song – especially when it comes to its famed one-plate rice and noodle dishes piled high with juicy meats (roast duck, barbecued pork, soy chicken etc). Service is noticeably friendly and accommodating by Chinatown standards.
Never tried xiao long bau? Sometimes called ‘soup dumplings’, these Shanghai beauties are steamed parcels containing both filling and broth ¬¬– so be sure to pop them in your mouth in one go. The classic pork version is our favourite, while dim sum fans will also like DL’s moreish fried turnip cake and quivering cheung fun.
A small wooden bridge spanning an ornamental fish pond, warm wood panelling, kind lighting and a second floor offering a view of the dining room below set this Cantonese standby apart from its Chinatown rivals. The food is reliable, authentic and of decent quality – even if portions can seem rather miserly.
Although this green-painted café serves everything from buttered toast and barbecued pork to bubble teas, it’s the hand-wrapped dumplings that keep us coming back. The cheapest are the jiao zi (aka ‘Beijing dumplings’) – eight morsels filled to bursting with pork or vegetables for a fiver. You guessed it, they’re one of our go-to Chinatown snacks.
Cheap and cheerful is an increasingly rare commodity in Chinatown, but this casual Vietnamese joint could change all that. We’ll forgive one rather bland pho, because some positively classy food is on offer here – from juicy prawn summer rolls and pork dumplings wrapped in betel leaves to an utterly zesty mango salad with crispy shrimps.
Now condensed into one site, Leong’s Legend has morphed into a multi-ethnic melting pot. Yes, it still has a Taiwanese slant, but there’s also a sushi bar, a hotpot table and a mini-menu devoted to ‘poeken’ – think Japanese donburi meets on-trend poké. However, stick to the regional Chinese ‘starred’ dishes and you won’t go far wrong.
Old Tree Daiwan Bee
North London’s Old Tree Bakery comes to Chinatown in the shape of this makeshift Taiwanese eatery. Ok, it’s not exactly luxurious, but there’s plenty of authentic stuff on offer. The homemade Taiwanese sausages, salt-and-pepper tofu, oyster omelette and noodles in richly spiced broth are all worth their modest price tags. Note: cash only, no loos.
Don’t be fooled by the dull decor and hotel lounge muzak: this Korean barbecue restaurant is the real deal, with ‘bulgogi’ and other meaty items grilled on hotplates built into each table. Fancy something raw? Try the classic yukhoe (Korea’s answer to steak tartare infused with fresh pear). Go on, make your own fun.
With its hawker (street) food and low prices, this bustling Straits café reminds us of hot and humid days spent in Penang. Choose the light ground floor rather than the dim basement for ambience, and expect a greatest-hits menu of satays, roti canai, noodles and composite plates such as nasi lemak. Drink bubble tea or teh tarik (‘pulled tea’).
The West End’s most unlikely hot-ticket restaurant/bar is a rambunctious amalgam of pulse-quickening music, free-flowing drink and vibrantly flavoured food with a modern Israeli slant. Our favourite dish? Shakshukit – spicy mincemeat served in a swirl of tahini and yoghurt with laffa (flatbread). Sell your soul for a seat at the high-energy no-bookings bar.
The Shan State
Chinatown’s first Burmese restaurant takes its name from Myanmar’s largest region – and it does the country proud. It’s tiny and cramped, although nothing should distract you from the laminated ‘street food’ menu – go for the fermented green tea salad with dried shrimps, the State noodles and the wacky south-east Asian desserts. Frills? No. Thrills? Yes
A hotpot hotspot offering a fun, modern twist on things, with diners encouraged to pick ingredients from a conveyor belt. Here’s the drill: choose your flavour-packed broth, add a dipping sauce, then cherry-pick anything from marbled Japanese beef or ‘luncheon meat’ to cuttlefish buns from the kaiten that snakes around the gleaming white-and-steel space.
Tapas Brindisa (Rupert Street)
Brindisa is synonymous with jamón and imported Spanish provisions, but this branch of the chain shines the spotlight on slow-roast meats, grilled and braised dishes. It’s hearty and self-consciously rustic, but the kitchen makes a good fist of things – even if it lacks some of that visceral, smoky flame-licking drama. Spanish wines fit the bill.
Throwing down the Vietnamese gauntlet outside the entrance to Chinatown, this hip outfit puts a fashionable ultra-chic spin on things with its blend of traditional South-East Asian decor, industrial chic and throbbing dance music. The cooking’s pretty cool too, with a pick ‘n’ mix menu of stellar street food devised by ex-Hakkasan chef Jeff Tan.
From the crew behind bun sensation Bao, Xu’s mission is to plunder the treasures of Taiwanese cuisine and create hero dishes. Bow down to the lamb’s sweetbreads with fermented greens, marvel at the delicate cold collation of tomato and smoked eel – this is seriously smart cooking. Xu’s vintage looks, buzzy tea bar and reasonable prices are further clinchers.