So many chopstick and rice parlours; so hard to know which one to choose. But Time Out’s food and drink reviewers have eaten at all of them – many times, over many years – to produce this definitive list on the best places to eat, including traditional dim sum parlours and eateries doing modern takes on classic Oriental cuisine.
RECOMMENDED: Check out our full guide to Chinese New Year in London
Where to eat in Chinatown
Dispelling misconceptions about Chinese food and educating the masses on proper Chinese food one book at a time, Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop has also left her mark on the menu of this newest addition to the Barshu, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn restaurant group. Dishes are true to Sichuan form here, robust with an abundance of dried chillies, Sichuan pepper and fragrant garlic.
At Baozi Inn, kitsch Communist Revolution decor meets northern Chinese street food tidied up for London. True to Sichuanese form, red is present in most dishes – if not as a slick of potent chilli oil, then in lashings of sliced or whole chillies. The kitchen occasionally gets things wrong, but when it’s on song – which is often – the food is spicy, delicious and cheap.
It’s not unusual to see a big menu in Chinatown, but such a vast repertoire seems impossible from a kitchen galley the size of an origami boat. Not so, because dishes from Hong Kong, mainland China and the diaspora are all produced competently, and some of them with commendable aplomb. TPT isn’t the cheapest of the budget Chinatown cafés, but both cooking and service are better than you might expect.
This plainly furnished Chinatown veteran seems be getting even more ragged around the edges. But don’t be misled by looks: Canton has become reliable once again for one-bowl dishes of rice-with-meat or noodles-with-meat. Service is friendly and accommodating by Chinatown standards – we watched in admiration as staff tried to find something suitable for two elderly and rather demanding vegetarians.
Famed for their Cantonese-style roast duck, this modest restaurant displays barbecued meats – pork ribs, pork belly and whole ducks – in the window facing busy Wardour Street. Of the two Four Seasons in Chinatown, this branch has the friendlier service. Four Seasons is a decent restaurant for a late night meal in central London that wouldn't burn a hole in your pocket.
The interior is bigger than the narrow frontage suggests; staff will hasten you towards any unoccupied booth seating. The menu covers Chinese standards, such as roast duck (impressively succulent), but on our last visit we were most struck by the generosity of the seafood (scallops, carved squid) in a noodle dish. Everything was perfectly cooked and the service was gracious, which is reflected in the prices being a little higher than the Wardour Street norm.
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 stalwart apart from all others in Chinatown. The food is reliable, authentic and of decent quality. Portions can be rather miserly, however, especially given the high prices compared to rivals in the neighbourhood. Then again, Imperial China appears to get away with it. The relatively handsome and comfortable decor, accessible location and clean toilets seem to keep the venue consistently popular among both Chinese and Western diners.
This green-painted café occupies a prominent Chinatown corner site where you can often watch the cooks sitting in front of the windows wrapping the hand-made dumplings. There are plenty of other dishes served at this simple, no-frills café, from buttered toast through barbecued pork to Hong Kong-style tea and Taiwanese-style bubble teas, but it’s the freshly-made dumplings that keep us coming back.
They offer a single concept: ‘Taiwanese’ cooking in tea house surrounds. In truth, the menus are dominated by Cantonese dishes, with just a sprinkling of Taiwanese options, but the decor delivers – doing away with white tablecloths and round tables in favour of dark woods and carved latticework. The cooking isn’t always as successful; however, the full-flavoured one-bowl dishes (such as dark, sticky pork belly on a huge mound of steamed rice) offer terrific value, and are reason to visit alone.
The hearty cuisine of north-eastern China is rare in London, but Manchurian Legends – which since summer 2012 has been ensconced in these folksy little premises – specialises in the food. The menu, brought by young smiling waitresses, is long and enticing, with robust meat and offal dishes dominating. Lamb, wheat (rather than rice) and hotpots characterise the cookery. Alternatively, there’s a fine choice of fried dumplings.
Find more Chinese restaurants in London
The classier vibe at this Chinatown restaurant is in stark contrast to many of the Chinese restaurants in this part of town, where 'no-frills' can be a generous description. Here, expect a classy, modern look with branding everywhere. Dim sum is available at lunchtimes, with dishes ranging from sesame prawn rolls, cheung fun with dried scallops and har gau dumplings to tripe in black pepper sauce, marinated spicy duck tongues and chicken claws in Chinese wine. The evening menu also goes from well-known Chinese crowd-pleasers to dishes many Westerners might balk at. Expect, then, roast duck, kung po chicken and stir-fried beef in oyster sauce alongside fish and tofu soup with preserved egg, and braised sea cucumber with fish lips.
"Mention Time Out and receive a free 125ml glass of red or white wine when ordering set menu C or D. See the menu for more details!"