Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A culinary tour in London's Chinatown

When you are mostly living in Europe, and craving for decent Chinese food, life is not easy. So, a recent trip to London allowed me to visit Chinatown. First on the agenda was xiaolongbao, but even I cannot live on xiaolongbao only.
London's Chinatown is one of the better organized I have ever visited. Of course, the size of the Chinese population does help London, but the local shop owners had their stuff pretty well organized. A decent website, regular performances and loads of people. Almost 100% pedestrian area, nice decorations and too many restaurants to choose from. We could not scientifically compare all the offerings, but we were able to visit and eat in four restaurants.
The winner is Dumplings' Legend, who offered not only dumplings, but almost anything you can imagine. Their xiaolongbao were excellent (unlike one of the other restaurants we visited). The restaurant had departed from the traditional Chinese outfit and had clean while walls with nice pictures. People had to queue up, and did so for a good reason.
Staff was friendly and efficient.

Dumplings are made behind glass by a legion of workers, offering nice entertainment while queuing up. When you can only visit one restaurant, this should be your choice.

Second best was Taotaoju, in terms of quality, although their xiaolongbao was slightly disappointing. Other food was excellent, although the portions could not have been smaller. Quite nice and clean, and a fairly new addition to Chinatown (we learn from the reviews). And as you can learn from the reviews: they go to both extremes.

Most disappointed experience was at the Er Mei restaurant. The restaurant was packed, and advised by a friend, so we thought this would be a positive experience. We did get an excellent fish head soup, but the rest was pretty much junk food. Quantity (we did get enough) went over quality, although we did not have to send dishes back to the kitchen (like our neighbors), because the food was still cold.
We were initially stuffed into a kind of corridor, but could get later a better place. When we visited the toilets, we discovered, we could have been worse off: the cellar was also changed into a restaurant floor. I'm not sure how they was pass any fire safety controls, but it seemed like a pretty dangerous place.
They also failed to invest in a decent airco, but obvious all these points did not deter people from visiting the place.

One lunch we had at Jen's Cafe: basic food for a quick fix, and way too expensive tea.  What we had was good, but the place combined old Chinese traditions, like a lack of choice and a lack of hygiene.
Hard to miss, so a lot of people looking for a seat had to move on.

Of course, we look forward to expand this experience, by visiting other restaurants. As a concept China town is almost too successful, looking a the large crowds and the lack of restaurant space to accommodate all.


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