A. Wong’s got us all excited. We’re not the only ones; there’s been some serious buzz around this bright little Chinese spot on the unloved side of Victoria for its light and modern take on dim sum. It helps that we love dim sum; flavour-packed parcels just the perfect size to pop in your mouth, and you’d be surprised how many we can chomp down once we get started. Still, A. Wong’s offering is pretty special, with a focus on great ingredients, regional accents and a modern twist that lightens things up a little. Even better, you can order the dim sum individually, so no arguments over what to order, and it makes dining in small groups a whole lot easier. Dim sum is only served at lunch. In the evenings there’s a menu of larger dishes and an eight-course tasting menu very reasonably priced at under £40.
Royal China is more elegant than most of the other Chinese offerings in London, and it’s pricier too, but this place still gets packed to the gills every weekend lunch with eager dim sum eaters after delicately steamed parcels of deliciousness. Over the years, the popular and posh venue has expanded with a branch in Canary Wharf that does a healthy trade in business lunches, while the other venues tend to fill up with big groups and families. Be warned, the bill may make you gasp compared to other similar places, but you pay a premium for the atmosphere.
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Attached to the Wing Yip superstore in Cricklewood, this giant Chinese restaurant requires some dedication to get to, but still fills up every weekend with loud groups of shoppers taking a break from grocery duty. What the place lacks in glamour, it makes up for in authenticity. Service is as brusque as you’d expect from any Chinese restaurant worth its salt, but gets perfectly steamed morsels of dim sum delivered to the table with scary efficiency. The menu is as big as the place, but stick to the dim sum and barbecued meats to get the best from your experience. The crowds can be overwhelming, but turnover is fast and you can always get in your shopping while you wait.
This grungy little Sichuanese place tucked away behind King’s Cross hardly looks inviting with its neon yellow sign and stark interior. The wait staff won’t endear you to the place either; they’re not friendly and they’re not responsive. But take a closer look; the place is packed. Everyone’s speaking Chinese and you probably don’t recognise half the food they’re eating. Things are looking up. All the staples are there on the menu, generously lashed with pretty (dangerous) flecks of pink and red Sichuan pepper. Don’t miss the dry fried green beans, which are especially good here. The more adventurous should consider branching out to some of the less common dishes like the hot and chili crispy pork intestine, which sounds scary, but is satisfying like crackling.
This place is a favourite with London’s Chinese diaspora, even if the décor is a bit weird and it’s in the middle of the most soulless stretch of Paddington imaginable (it’s known as mini Canary Wharf for god’s sake). It’s in a basement, so obviously no windows and they’re going for oriental and elegant, but bright purple booths and giant flower frescoes tend towards the garish instead. Let’s focus on the food though people; that’s what we came for! If you’re around for lunch this place serves up some of London’s best dim sum. In fact it’s a veritable dumpling heaven and the prices will beat Royal China’s any day. Outside of dumpling hours, the food can be a bit more hit and miss, though order carefully and dinner is still very solid. Lobster noodles are a must (the head chef was poached from Mandarin Kitchen which is famed for this dish) and the king prawns with salted egg yolk generally require a double order.
This cavernous restaurant plonked right on Shaftsbury avenue won’t win any prizes in the style stakes, with its cramped tables, dated carpets, tacky chairs and paper tablecloths. But it’s opening hours are its saving grace – a 4am close right in the heart of London. Seriously, hallelujah! The food won’t win any prizes, but is pretty decent Cantonese. We always always always get the salt and pepper squid, crispy chilli beef and soft shell crab. But that could just be because those are all fried, and let’s face it, really hit the spot at around 3am. Don’t expect much from the service – the place packs out during peak theatre district hours and the waitstaff are rushed off their feet until the parties of drunks start rolling in by which point service with a smile might be a bit much to ask for.
Entering the Fitzrovia branch of this posh Chinese restaurant is a bit like descending into a sexed-up dungeon. Oh dear, now it sounds all 50 Shades of Grey. It’s not – it’s more Buddha Bar; sexy, Asian, urban and filled to bursting with a combo of city slickers and eurocrats. The Mayfair branch has the same vibe, except it’s on ground level – more for the voyeurs then. The food is what you’d expect from high-end Asian. It’s very tasty, very attractive and very expensive. Glug down a few of the Asian-flavouredcocktails and you won’t mind so much when the bill comes though. Must-order dishes include the signature roasted silver cod and black truffle roast duck. Despite the eye-watering price, don’t expect service with a smile, the staff seem to think their doing you a favour by being there. By the same token make sure you book ahead, it’s just not worth the disdaining looks at the door. And besides, it’s not the done thing dahling.
Nothing about the row of roasted fowl hanging in the window of this Chinese mainstay distinguishes it from the cluster of other dingy and carpeted Sino-style restos found along Queensway, but the queue that often stretches out the door tells you this is a place of legend. The roast duck from Four Seasons is talked about from Singapore to Hong Kong, and they should know a good roast when they see it. Mix up your order with a bit of roast pork as well then slather the whole thing in the super-addictive, salty sweet special sauce that makes this place so great (let’s be honest, it’s probably the MSG). Keep it simple with the roast meats, the other dishes are done much better elsewhere on the street – pop next door to Goldmine to top up the order if you’re really craving something more. As usual with Chinese restaurants in London, don’t be surprised by indifferent service and a bit of a wait; it’s all part of their charm after all.
Bar Shu is the brainchild of Sichuan-aficionado Fuchsia Dunlop. This upmarket Soho restaurant was one of the first mainstream Chinese restaurants to branch away from the traditional Cantonese fare available all over China. Mala lovers owe it a big debt, especially since it allows them to enjoy the firebrand cooking of this Chinese province in style, instead of the usual holes in the wall that specialises in this spicy brand of cookery. Entering Bar Shu feels like walking into a Chinese teahouse – teak tables and chairs and wooden wall apertures spread over three serene floors. All the Sichuanese staples are there; all done exceptionally well and there are a few of the fancier specialities too. The prices are on the expensive side, but it’s worth every penny. There aren’t many other places in London to get food like this. The two offshoot restaurants, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn offer variations on the theme at a lower price bracket, if austerity is biting.
The beautiful people flock to this terminally hip and ultra-slick Soho tea-house for its mouth-watering bites of sexed-up dim sum. Crisp-pastried venison puffs with steaming insides are too good to share (or maybe we’re just greedy) and classics like xiumai and hargao are equally well-executed. If you’re going at night ask for a table downstairs, where star-spangled ceilings and blue back-lit walls keep this place’s ultra-cool credo up to muster. During the day avoid the club-like basement and opt for the more civilised upstairs tearoom. There’s an impressively extensive tea menu, and a much shorter, but very fun, cocktail list. The place does a mean oriental twist on afternoon tea, which comes served with irresistibly attractive cakes. And if you’re in the mood for something sweet, don’t leave without a box of the decadent and exotic macaroons.