Bordered by Soho to the north and Covent Garden to the east, and heralded by a set of striking, Qing-era style gates, Chinatown is one of the most bustling, colourful pockets of London. Since the 1970s, Gerrard Street (and the alleys casting off it) has been a hub for the city’s Chinese community, packed with fantastic regional Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and small businesses. At first, it was a stronghold of Cantonese and Southern Chinese cuisine; but head there today and you’ll find places representing not just Northern China, but also Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar.
Credit: Jakub Kadiec/Flickr
Like everywhere in London, Chinatown has undergone a fair amount of change recently, with many of the old stalwarts of the area finding themselves pushed out by rising rents (and finding themselves replaced by more polished, instagram-friendly versions). However, there’s still a huge amount on offer, from traditional dim sum spots to DIY Korean BBQ; communal hotpot restaurants to durian mille-crêpes served in a café-slash-swimming pool.
Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think. – Chinese proverb
But specifically, enjoy yourself at one of these establishments, which we’ve handpicked (employing our usual exacting criteria of atmosphere, menu, execution and karaoke) for your delectation. – The Nudge
JUMP TO: RESTAURANTS | SNACK STOPS | BARS
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN CHINATOWN
C&R Cafe Restaurant
C&R has been serving up steaming bowls of authentic Malaysian fare since 1998. Tucked away in Rupert Court, it’s a little off the main tourist thoroughfare, and sports considerably more up to date decor than most. Come here for the creamy laksa, nasi lemak (fragrant rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaf) and bah kuh teh (pork rib soup).
Details: 4 Rupert Court, W1D 6DY | ££
Legend dictates that you’ll need to knock before entering this low-lit, rustic feeling Taiwanese eatery. The xiao long bao here – silky, broth-filled dumplings – are, indeed, legendary, counting chef Mark Hix and critic Jay Rayner amongst their fans. For best results, pick them up by the crown, allow them to cool on your plate and pop the whole thing into your mouth about three minutes after they arrive.
Details: 39 Gerrard Street, W1D 5QD | ££
Jeff Tan was chef de cuisine when Hakkasan in Mayfair won its Michelin star. Unluckily for them, he left. Luckily for us, however, he opened his own (far more affordable) Vietnamese spot in Chinatown instead. Choose between seven types of pho, bolster it with buns stuffed with fresh chargrilled tiger prawns and lip-smacking glazed lemongrass chicken wings, and sip caramel-laced Saigon beer in the convivial surroundings.
Details: 34-36 Wardour Street, W1D 6QT | £
DIY BBQ doesn’t sound like something you should be attempting for at least another 3 months. At this Korean restaurant, however, it’s addictively simple (and weather independent) – pick your ingredients, and they’ll arrive at your table, raw, and ready for you to sling onto the sizzling grill at its centre. If you prefer your restaurant food served the old-fashioned way, i.e. cooked, there’s plenty of classic Korean dishes to pick from, too – from bibimbap to Korean Fried Chicken.
Details: 88 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 6NG | £££
A flower-filled, plush spot, Orient London specialises in Cantonese and Sichuanese dishes. Dim sum is served until 4.45pm here, making it the best restaurant in Chinatown for a late lunch of king prawn and truffle dumplings with XO sauce, miniature roast pork buns and steamed egg yolk buns.
Details: 15 Wardour Street, W1D 6PH | £££
Like all respectable hotpot restaurants, Little Lamb on Shaftesbury Avenue has DIY hotpots that can hold 3 different broths at once, fresh Chinese and Mongolian ingredients to toss inside, and a collector’s statue of Iron Man overseeing the proceedings.
Details: 72 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 6NA | ££
Plum Valley stands out from its counterparts on Gerrard Street for various reasons. 1) They serve dim sum all day long, not just for lunch. 2) The cuisine is very much ‘modern’, and ‘fusion’ – so expect flavours catering to a more Western palate than a fully authentic recipe. 3) The decor is suave, dark and more suited to a date than some of the more crowded but characterful places – they have intimate booths as well as the classic round table seating arrangements. And 4) They have an entire floor devoted to karaoke dining rooms.
Details: 20 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JQ | £££
For just over a decade, Rasa Sayang has been feeding the masses with their Peranakan dishes, drawing on Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine. Best as a speedy lunch spot (service is not quite leisurely enough for dinner), all the classics are here and in good order: beef rendang, laksas and mooli cakes. Finish up with a cup of kopi – a Singaporean breakfast staple of coffee and condensed milk.
Details: 5 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AY | £
Thai Tho is part of a 20 year old restaurant dynasty, which started with Fat Boys Thai in Chiswick. Nowadays, its Chinatown spot has a rep for great Thai food, served up in a colourful, well-kept dining room. Service can be a little on the slow side, so don’t bank on a pre-theatre dinner – but if you’ve time to spare, settle in and feast on Massaman curry, grilled chicken skewers and corn fritters.
Details: 42 Rupert Street, W1D 6DP | £££
Wan Chai Corner
Wan Chai Corner is a real institution in Chinatown. Named after a Hong Kong neighbourhood, it serves up excellent dim sum, including fried turnip cakes, prawn and chive dumplings and great cha siu bao. The à la carte, too, is pretty expansive – and one of Chinatown’s more navigable menus for those with dietary requirements.
Details: 3 Gerrard Street, W1D 5PD | £££
New Loon Fung
Another long-standing Chinatown spot, New Loon Fung is a sprawling, well-regarded restaurant found next to the Loon Fung supermarket on the main drag. It’s presided over by the septuagenerian Lee Shun-bun, who’s one of the last remaining restaurateurs here of his generation, having arrived here in Hong Kong back in 1975. There’s now a menu of over 100 excellent, authentic Cantonese dishes, and this is the place to come for yum cha (dim sum ‘brunch’) on Sundays, and traditional speciality dishes through the changing seasons.
Details: 42-43 Gerrard Street, W1D 5QG | £££
Lido has been serving its predominantly Cantonese menu since 1969, making them one of the longest-standing restaurants in Chinatown. It’s one of the most reliable spots, too – portions are well-sized, the service is decent, and the menu is colossal. Dim sum is served through till evening here – try the sizzling chicken.
Details: 41 Gerrard Street, WID 5QF | ££
Tao Tao Ju
Without a doubt one of the more upmarket restaurants in Chinatown, Tao Tao Ju is a sleek, evening spot decked out with low pendant lighting and elegant wooden screens. Come here for an elevated ‘takeaway’-style set menu with crispy seaweed, spring rolls and sesame prawn toast, or try a more adventurous offering from the à la carte. The gentle soundtrack and slower pace of service make it a spot to linger in.
Details: 15 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BE | £££
Tokyo Diner live streams a restaurant webcam. This isn’t so that you can check ahead for seats, or watch people eating – it’s so that they can prove to prospective young chefs coming over from Japan that they are ‘a real place’. This, they hope, allows them to attract the best talent from back home, and thus continue to serve perfectly authentic Japanese cuisine – and seemingly, it works. Most popular dishes are represented – donburi (rice bowls), sushi, katsu curry, bento, udon and chicken karaage – and the quality’s excellent. They don’t accept tips here: any money unwittingly left behind is donated to the St. Martin-in-the-Fields homeless centre.
Details: 2 Newport Place, WC2H 7JJ | ££ | No bookings
We’re yet to find an establishment with chefs in the window studiously hand making dumplings that doesn’t serve delicious food. Michelin-recommended Beijing Dumpling is no exception. There’s usually a line out the door, but stick with it – it tends to shift in 15 minutes or so, and the xiaolongbao are well worth waiting for.
Details: 23 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BA | ££
WHERE TO SNACK IN CHINATOWN
Golden Gate Cake Shop
The GGCS makes some of the most colourful, elaborate celebration cakes around – but if you’re not in the market for a five-tiered diamanté-studded wedding cake, then there’s plenty of freshly baked sweet and savoury Chinese buns to grab and go, too. Pandan swiss rolls are a must, but the beautiful chocolate marbled sponge rolls scoop the prize for looks.
Details: 13 Macclesfield Street, W1D 5BR | £
Ice cream and fish.
They’re not exactly a match made in heaven. But at Bake, they coexist quite happily. See, they’ve taken the classic fish shape of Japanese taiyaki cakes, recreated them in waffle, and filled them with soft-serve matcha ice cream. And the result isn’t remotely fishy…
Details: 9 Wardour Street, W1D 6PF | £
Chinese Tapas House
A proper late-night, hole-in-the-wall spot, dishing out mini £1 ‘kebabs’ with bean curd, black fungus and lotus fillings; bubble teas and piping hot buns over the counter.
Details: 15 Little Newport Street, WC2H 7JJ | £
This ultra-futuristic, beautifully sleek Japanese café has got the menu to matcha. Totally streamlined, they specialise in ceremonial-grade matcha tea, red bean iced blends, and crispy matcha ice cream sundaes.
Details: 33 Newport Court, WC2H 7PQ | ££
Perpetually rammed, the freshly baked pastries at Chinatown bakery fly off the shelves almost as quickly as the staff can restock them. There’s a huge range of sweet and savoury snacks here, with a Hong Kong flavour – like custard tarts, youtiao (a churros-style doughnut) and BBQ pork buns. Get there early (and between mealtimes, if you can) and don’t forget cash.
Details: 7 Newport Place, WC2H 7JR | ££
Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream
‘Dirty ice cream’ is the affectionate local name for the ice cream sold on the streets of Manila, traditionally made with “little more than ice, salt, a steel pot and a sturdy pair of hands”. Here, however, the ingredients are a trifle more attention-grabbing: there’s ube made with Filipino purple yam; black buko (coconut with activated charcoal); a sweet and salty cheese sorbeto; and some interesting vegan options, too.
Details: 32 Newport Court, WC2H 7PQ | £
Inspired by the popular Hong Kong street food snack, Bubblewrap Waffle had people queuing up to four hours when it first opened. Order one, and you’ll see why. Cones of bobbly waffle are filled with scoops of ice cream, nutella, peanut butter and fruit, and – just like bubblewrap – they’re immensely satisfying.
Details: 24 Wardour Street, W1D 6QJ | ££
THE BEST BARS IN CHINATOWN
There are a couple of pubs in Soho called The Blue Posts, but stumble into the right one (on Rupert Street), and you’ll find an elegant drinking house set over three powder blue levels, from the team behind The Palomar and The Barbary. The ground floor is a gussied-up pub, with fancy beers on the taps and occasional live music; downstairs is an intimate chef’s table, Evelyn’s Table; and upstairs is the refined Mulwray wine bar.
Details: 28 Rupert Street, W1D 6DJ | £££
“Your teacher can open the door, but you must enter by yourself”. – Chinese Proverb
And today, the door we’re teaching you about is the unmarked jade green one on Gerrard Street, which, should you successfully enter, will lead you to a maze of beautifully styled rooms variously filled with smoking cocktails, midnight dim sum and, er, shouting toilets.
Details: 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JE | £££
Experimental Cocktail Club
A low-lit, illicit drinking den also set over three levels, only here they’re given the New York prohibition-era treatment: exposed brick walls, twinkling art deco wall sconces, and smartly dressed barkeeps serving up an experimental menu. Hidden behind an unmarked, battered black door for over a decade now, it remains one of the best hidden bars in London, despite the dozens that have followed in its steps since.
Details: 13a Gerrard Street, W1D 5PS | £££ – please note a £5 entry fee applies after 11pm
In Chinatown but don’t feel like Chinese food? Head to one of these excellent Soho restaurants
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