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.
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 venue is consistently popular among 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.
At this Taiwanese restaurant’s condensing of its previous two sites into one compact Gerrard Street location, it’s business as usual: dark wood everywhere, minimal comfort, speedy service. Rather than a heavy reliance on strictly Taiwanese cuisine, there’s now a sushi bar, a hotpot table with a built-in heater and a menu segment devoted to ‘Poeken’ – a fusion of the Japanese rice dish donburi and poke, a Hawaiian raw fish salad. Confusing? More than a bit. But stick to the starred dishes (mostly regional Chinese or Taiwanese) and you’ll struggle to go wrong.
This Taiwanese street food will sate even the most homesick emigre from Taipei. Highlights of the menu include own-made Taiwanese sausages, and the salt and pepper fried tofu was sensational. From an oyster omelette that was stuffed and blanketed with tingle, taste and texture, to noodles that were nestled in richly-spiced broth, the short menu of affordable fare didn't disappoint. Be warned there’s no toilet on the premises and the place looks a bit drab, but the makeshift approach is reflected in the reasonably priced, cash-only bill.
One of the newish kids on the Chinatown block (it opened in 2010), this restaurant’s moniker doesn’t, sadly, refer to a mythical tale of steamed parcels. Rather, it denotes that it’s owned by the Leong’s Legends people (who like to tack the word ‘Legend’ on to all their gaffs), and that here, they specialise in making dumplings – specifically, xiao long bau, or ‘soup dumplings’. Prepared from scratch by a white-masked, four-strong line-up of chefs industriously working behind a glass pane, xiao long bau don’t get any fresher than this, their delicate skins bursting in the mouth to release both filling and ‘soup’.
Find more Chinese restaurants in London
Three Little Birds
Lord Sugar might have thought twice about chucking April Jackson off the last series of ‘The Apprentice’, had he known the Jamaican beauty queen would bounce back with an impressive Caribbean cafe like Three Little Birds. Not that’s she’s bothered. Her funky little Brixton hangout comes with a philosophy of good vibes, naturally inspired by Bob Marley and his 1977 song that gives the venue its name. She’s even got a wall displaying the reggae star’s merch for sale. But we’re not here for that. The varied and reasonably priced menu is the main draw, along with the well-stocked rum bar. And a quick whiff of the food says that someone knows how to throw down in the kitchen. Starters like the salt fish fritters were terrific: piping hot, wonderfully salty and chunky and with an ample serving of sweet chilli sauce. By comparison, the plantain seemed shrunken and a little greasy. My goat curry may have been on the small side, but the meat was tender, the sauce well-spiced, plus it came with rice and peas. And the jerk veggie beanburger was layered with coleslaw, onions and smoky mayo. The puds are more straightforward, but still delicious: let’s face it, a moist, sweet and crumbly rum cake is just how you want to end a meal. So, hats off to you, April. Three Little Birds is a cool local spot that spares you the worry of paying too much for food or service that doesn’t hit the mark. Every little thing is gonna be all right, at the very least, and often even better than that.