Chinatown has long since been one of the most fascinating areas in London for its glorious gallimaufry of colours, cultures and cuisines.
Over the years, the timeless yet remarkably-adaptive neighbourhood has transcended its more traditional Chinese heritage, evolving into a much broader East Asian hub imbibing influences from Seoul to Tokyo. And with recent avant-garde additions offering the likes of raindrop cakes and the insanely-Instagrammable bubble waffles, it’s at the forefront of every foodie trail in the city too!
Whether you’re passing by or planning a dedicated visit, here are my top picks for where to eat what, in this vibrantly-eclectic pocket of West London…
A Foodie’s Favourites
Let’s start the tour on the Rupert Street. Situated just moments away from Leicester Square, the unassumingly quiet side-street is where you can take a trip back in time to 1930’s Taipei… or a cinematic reinterpretation of it anyways, at Xu – the latest restaurant from the folks behind the wildly popular Bao.
Experience easily surpasses the high expectations surrounding the restaurant, with the aesthetics of the stylised interiors holding as much appeal as the restorative quality of the Taiwanese cooking here. High-level attractions include the exquisite Mahjong rooms and a kiosk dedicated to celebrating the traditional Taiwanese tea ceremony. And while the menu majors in meaty dishes, we found plenty to whet our veggie appetite too – from the sweet potato taro dumplings, to the impressively silky steamed egg (dished up in a truffled-broth) and the searingly-spicy tofu… Full review, here.
Xu, 30 Rupert St, London W1D 6DL
Rupert Street is also home to the Palomar – one of my all-time favourite restaurants for its melting pot of a menu rooted in the food of modern-day Jerusalem. The dining space at the back is cosy and intimate, but where you really want to be seated is by the open kitchen so you can see the jovial chefs at work… and at play!
Warm and fluffy kubaneh (Yemeni pot-baked bread) is alway a good way to start here, with an abundance of other draws quick to follow suit. I particularly love how accommodating the kitchen is to my vegetarian lot, going as far as to tweak signature dishes on their menu – such as with the veggie spin on the Octo-hummus involving josperised aubergine, chickpea msabacha & burnt aubergine… Full review, here.
Palomar, 34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN
The Blue Posts
A few doors down, the same team behind The Palomar have reopened The Blue Posts, a pub in Chinatown tracing its origins back to 1739. There’s a cocktail bar upstairs – The Mulwray – and a bar menu overseen the executive chef of The Barbary. Expect restorative eats; a deep drinks list and style in spades… Full review, here.
The Blue Posts, 28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ
Cosseted below The Blue Posts is an eleven-seater kitchen bar, which adds yet another dimension to the city’s compelling counter dining culture. The concise yet convincing menu is loosely inspired by Southern European influences. Daily-changing fish dishes are a headlining act, the stars of which are the fresh catch of the day bought at auction from Cornish suppliers in the Looe Harbour. Veggie options are relatively limited, but no less enthralling… Truffled tagliatelle with butter and parmesan, anyone? Read the full review, here.
You can also find all manners of Insta-worthy desserts across Chinatown, starting with the revelatory macaron ice cream sandwiches at Yolkin‘s first permanent parlour (also situated on the erstwhile Rupert Street!).
Slipping past the hidden passageway of Rupert Court, you’ll find yourself drawn to the enticing aromas wafting down Wardour Street. Try a traditional taiyaki – fish-shaped waffle cones, piled high with a matcha soft serve at Bake; or indulge in legendary bubble-waffle.
Crisp-edged on the top and soft and chewy further down, each golden whopper is literally stuff of an Instagrammer’s dreams – served curled up in a cone and filled to the brim with generous wallops of gelato and all sorts of sweet trimmings and sauces from traditional mochi, condensed milk and red bean paste, to crushed Oreos, fudge and peanut butter!
Wandering along the zeitgeisty trail, head to Newport Court for Mamasons’ signature Filipino “dirty” ice cream, redolent of the street-style ice cream made in a steel drum (with ice and salt) in Manila. Flavours feature the likes of black coconut and Ube (a purple-yam), with star Insta-billing going to their ‘Bilog’ dessert – essentially a toasted milk bun which is packed with pastel-hued ice cream!
Newport Court is also home to Kova Patisserie’s new outpost, majoring in their magnificently-layered crepe cakes among other Japanese delicacies.
Ambling into the depths of Chinatown you’ll hit Gerrard Street, where the bubble and milk teas at Chatime provide for the perfect pick-me-up to beat a late afternoon slump. It’s worth perusing the local shops in the area after too, for their abundance of exotic fruits, veggies and other oriental imports!
And finally: the hidden gem
Of course, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of stumbling upon a hidden gem and Chinatown always delivers wonderfully well in this regard.
Caught in one of London’s infamous downpours recently, I sought refuge behind a numberless jade-hued door on Gerrard Street – the apt title of the establishment, Opium, speaking volumes of its speakeasy-esque nature.
Furtively climbing upstairs, I found my way to the Apothecary Bar here – a kitschy drinking den, tea room and dim sum parlour (rolled into one!). What followed was both an inspiriting and joyful couple of hours, fuelled by Eastern-inspired cocktails (taking their cue from the medicinal potions behind the bar) and steamed dumplings parceling a satisfying rush of comfort. It was most certainly a silver lining of that otherwise stormy evening!
Where are your favourite haunts in Chinatown? Do share in the comments below, or by tweeting me @foodiediaries.
This post was written in collaboration with Chinatown London.