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…
New and old favourites: Xu and Palomar
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.
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.
Keeping up with the London Foodies: trendiest treats for summer 2017
Slipping past the hidden passageway of Rupert Court (leading right off from Rupert Street), you’ll find yourself drawn to the enticing aromas wafting down Wardour Street, which boasts not one, but two of London’s most sought-after desserts this summer… taiyaki (fish-shaped soft-serve cones) and those bubble waffles!
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Given my insatiable 32 sweet teeth, the myriad of Asian desserts on offer are reason alone for me to pay a visit to Chinatown. Forever favourites include eggy Hong Kong-style “bubble waffles” and taiyaki (fish-shaped) waffle cones piled high with a matcha soft serve! You can find both at Bake, a fuss-free bakery situated amidst the bustle on Wardour Street! ⠀ @the_foodiediaries ⠀
Wandering along the zeitgeisty trail, head to Yamagoya‘s pop-up at Shaftesbury Avenue next to try the wondrous creation that is the “raindrop cake.”
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Have you tried the Mizu Shingen Mochi @YamagoyaUK? Also known as the #RaindropCake, it’s an ethereal and enchanting creation made with just water, agar and a pinch of sugar, settling overnight into its wonderfully wobbly form. It’s quite mildly flavoured on its own, so mix it well with the brown sugar syrup and roasted kinako served on the side. It makes for an unusual yet rather refreshing dessert! @the_foodiediaries ⠀
Each ethereally-translucent wonder is the labour of love and rigour, with the deceivingly-simple appearance belying a meticulous control over heat and time during the production process, not to mention the superlative quality of the two main ingredients used – spring water and a type of agar especially imported from Japan.
Each “cake” is vegan and nearly calorie-free, with the mild and delicate texture quick to absorb the more pronounced flavours of the brown sugar syrup and kinako (roasted soybean powder) served on the side. The final taste is unusual (with an almost cereal-like after-taste from the kinako) but rather refreshing – the perfect palate cleanser to go with your bowl of ramen at the restaurant.
And then: ambling back 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!
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While I’m famously quite a stickler for Indian chai, when in Chinatown I do love to indulge in a bit of cha time instead @chatimeUK – the well-known Taiwanese teahouse specialising in bubble and milk teas. The choices here are enticingly unusual, running from honeydew milk tea to fruit-based black teas. I reckon I’ll have to make several trips back to slowly (but surely) work my way through the varied menu!⠀ @the_foodiediaries ⠀
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.