The best Chinese restaurants in London
Forget gilded dragons, book-length menus and stir-fries by numbers, Andrew Wong’s pared-back Pimlico Chinese is a singular affair offering elevated cuisine at everyday prices. Preserved duck egg with marinated tofu, chill and soy is typical, as is poached razor clam with sea cucumber, vinegar tapioca and wind-dried sausage. Enjoy at your leisure.
Kitsch Communist Revolution decor meets northern Chinese street food tidied up for London at this lively joint on Newport Court (there’s a second, much more intimate off-shoot around the corner on Romilly Street, too). True to Sichuanese form, red is the predominant colour and chilli fire the overriding taste sensation: dan dan noodles, ‘smacked’ cucumber salad and crescent dumplings are all good. Yes, the food’s spicy, but it’s also deliciously cheap.
The original of a Sichuan gang that also includes Baozi Inn, Barshu is a refreshing change from Chinatown’s mostly Cantonese restaurants. Come here for prairie tripe, ‘fragrant and hot’ pig’s trotters, stir-fried chicken gizzards with pickled chilli and other fiery tongue-tinglers – just remember to have plenty of soothing tea on tap.
At a glance, Café TPT’s menu looks longer than the complete musings of Confucius, with offerings from across mainland China and beyond. Best bets are Cantonese staples such as succulent roast duck on rice or garlicky prawn-stuffed tofu in a hot stone pot, although we crave the Hong Kong-style ‘Tai pai tong hawker dishes’ too.
A world-famous Taiwanese restaurant with an outpost in Covent Garden, Din Tai Fung is known for its street food small plates and signature xiao long bao (soup dumplings). These delicate steamed parcels come served in bamboo baskets and filled with the likes of spicy pork, chilli crab and soft prawn. While you’re there, be sure to order the crispy prawn pancakes, and the wontons with black vinegar and chilli oil.
Something a bit different, this family-run restaurant specialises in Uyghur cuisine – a fusion of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Persian influences developed by ethnic groups around the Silk Road. Traditional dishes such as ox tongue in chilli and vinegar or herb-marinated lamb hoof with peppers are great value – and a world away from sweet-and-sour.
A famous purveyor of Cantonese roasted meats, long-serving Four Seasons still deals in the ‘golden trio’: crispy duck (a contender for London’s best), char siu (barbecued pork) and siew yoke (crispy pork belly). Everyone is here for plates of these chunky specialities on rice, although the 20-page menu is full of possibilities.
It may look like a provincial function room, but this Chinese roast meat specialist attracts as many visitors from the Far East as it does local students. The must-orders are the duck and char sui (barbecued pork), which can be seen hanging in the open kitchen by the front window – although most dishes pass muster.
Launched back in 2001, this Michelin-starred Cantonese trendsetter remains a benchmark against which all high-end Chinese restaurants should be judged. It’s one for the big spenders, who lap up dazzling signature dishes such as roasted silver cod with champagne and honey or jasmine tea-smoked organic pork ribs. Sexy, moody and oh-so cool.
Visit this acclaimed but under-the-radar Chinese and you’ll be asked if there’s anything you can’t/won’t eat and what level of spice you like. After that, you’re in the kitchen’s hands as wave upon wave of progressively larger plates arrive, often with the distinctive taste of Hunanese regional cuisine. Not cheap, but worth it.
One of only a handful of London restaurants dealing in refined Cantonese food, Imperial Treasure is a grand, high-ceilinged spot in Mayfair with classy service and even better barbecued duck (the delicious kind you’ll find hanging in the window in Chinatown). The prices border on blow-out, so order carefully. One for a special occasion.
Like the original Hutong in Hong Kong, this London offshoot is a glitzy, high-end Chinese with magnificent views. It has the same northern Chinese menu, the same plate glass surrounds and the same ersatz Old Beijing decor. The only difference is in the spicing, which has been slightly dialled down for Western palates.
Although this green-painted café calls itself a tea specialist, it’s the hand-wrapped dumplings that keep us coming back. The cheapest are the northern Chinese jiao zi (aka ‘Beijing dumplings’) – eight white sachets filled to bursting with pork or vegetables for a fiver. OK, we’ll come clean – they’re one of our go-to Chinatown snacks.
Andrew Wong’s Bloomberg Arcade restaurant specialises in small plates of modern Chinese food (though there are larger plates too) and has great vibes and great service to boot. The street food dishes are a delight: don’t miss the trio of soft bao, served DIY-style with juicy lamb that’s been doused in warm cumin and a smooth sesame-and-peanut dip on the side.
This buzzy Chinese restaurant on the northern edge of Chinatown is a hotspot for hotpots. Choose your broth (they range from the healthy-sounding ‘herbal tonic’ all the way through to the ‘hot and numbing pot’, heady with the smell of Sichuan pepper), your raw ingredients (pork, beef, lamb, squid, fish balls) and get cooking at the table.
Inspired by the Beijing stall run by owner Ning Ma’s grandparents, deliciously ramshackle Mama Lan serves hearty northern-Chinese street food – in particular, dumplings. Brown-bottomed beef and pork pot-stickers fly out of the kitchen at an impressive rate, although veggie alternatives filled with wood-ear mushrooms and spinach are also good.
We’re very fond of Min Jiang, not only for its superlative daytime views of Kensington Gardens, but also for its celebrated take on Beijing duck – a dish of two gigantic ritualistic servings that needs to be ordered in advance. Also expect Sichuan classics such as double-cooked pork belly with Chinese leeks.
A former pop-up offering dim sum-style dining for local hipsters, MNTD’s watchword is definitely not ‘authenticity’. Still, the dumplings themselves are excellent, with handmade pastry and irreproachable fillings. We’re also fans of fusion riffs including the spicy peanut and celery salad, as well as the saké-based cocktails (great while you’re waiting for a table).
Another best-in-show contender from Alan Yau, this hugely atmospheric Mayfair rendezvous channels 1930s Shanghai with its slinky velvet-toned restaurant and jazz lounge. The PC carbonara – a Chinese take on the Italian classic that replaces pasta with udon noodles – is a must-order, as are the all-too-sinkable signature cocktails. Pricey, but perfect date territory.
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Don’t let the traffic mayhem and less-than-lovely tower blocks around Paddington station put you off coming to Pearl Liang: its sophisticated, blossom-decorated dining room and moodily lit cocktail bar are real lookers. And the mainly Cantonese menu rarely disappoints – especially the choice of exquisite dim sum (visit during the day for the full selection).
Decked out in lavish Oriental style, Phoenix Palace is a favourite of international businessmen, but its easy-going bustle also suits local families who crowd round circular tables for the excellent weekend dim sum (reservations are a must unless you fancy queueing). Dinner is a blast during Chinese New Year.
A stalwart of London’s dim sum scene, Royal China’s original Queensway branch serves up some of the best nibbles in town, from fried turnip cakes to steamed crab and spinach steamed dumplings. The full Cantonese menu is also primed to please in the gilded splendour of RC’s black-and-gold lacquered dining room.
As the exclusive clubby name suggests, this premier link in the Royal China chain has an air of quiet five-star elegance, right down to the faint tinkling of a piano. The kitchen turns out consummate Cantonese cooking, using prized ingredients at every opportunity, while polished staff make everyone feel like a visiting dignitary.
The owners doubled their bets when they launched Shikumen, opening branches in Ealing as well as here in Shepherd’s Bush. Food-wise, top marks go to the exquisitely crafted dim sum (from signature xiao long bao to sophisticated scallop siu mai topped with tobiko), while the dining room reflects the comfort and class of its hotel setting.
A hotpot hotspot offering a fun, modern twist on things, with diners encouraged to pick ingredients from a conveyor belt. Here’s the drill: choose your flavour-packed broth, add a dipping sauce, then cherry-pick anything from marbled Japanese beef or ‘luncheon meat’ to cuttlefish buns from the kaiten that snakes around the gleaming white-and-steel space.
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Smack-bang on Chinatown’s Gerrard Street, this Sichuan spot has a space built into every wooden table for bubbling hotpots. If you’re a fan of face-numbingly spicy food and cooking your own meat at the table, head here to feast on adventurous ingredients like brains and beef aorta. Less adventurous ingredients like fish balls are available, too, but be warned: this place doesn’t pander to Western palates.
With its karaoke room and laminated picture menu, this fiery Sichuan joint is old school – although its food has real depth and complexity. The chef’s fish special comes with a Scoville-scale sucker-punch, but don’t ignore the dan-dan noodles or pork dumplings bobbing in soupy red chilli sauce. Portions are generous, so share with friends who aren’t faint-hearted.
A pioneer of regional Chinese cuisine in London, this Camberwell cutie puts the focus on dishes from the north-west frontier province of Xinjiang. The flavours can be fiery, although they’re tempered with a plethora of spices – a legacy from the namesake Silk Road that was used to transport treasures between the East and West.
Chef Wei Guirong’s no-frills restaurant by the Emirates Stadium peddles street food from her birthplace, Xi’an (home to the Terracotta Army). Her cooking is marked by rich combinations of spices and soft hand-pulled noodles – although hardcore fans come for her stonking Xi’an pork burger.
We don’t want to get pernickety, but – strictly speaking – this restaurant from the crew behind Bao is Taiwanese. Still, who cares when the kitchen can deliver hero dishes such as lamb’s sweetbreads with fermented greens or a delicate cold collation of tomato and smoked eel. Xu’s vintage looks, buzzy tea bar and reasonable prices are further clinchers.
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There’s substance behind the style at this Soho stalwart, which mixes high-concept design with day-and-night dim sum – think sticky-sweet venison puffs, umami-filled foie gras taro croquettes and lobster dumplings with tobiko caviar. With exotic teas, bigger plates, premium sakés and patisserie treats also on offer, it’s easy to see why Michelin came a-calling.
There’s no shortage of budget chop suey joints in She Bu, but this is a proper Chinese restaurant serving more than the usual takeaway scoff. Sichuan cuisine (including a tongue-numbing mala hotpot ‘buffet’) is the draw, backed by gentler items such as Hunan-style red-braised pork belly. Fans of blood tofu and chicken stomach are in for a treat here.
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