New year dining, dragon style
Chinese Lunar New Year is upon us and 2024’s Year of the Dragon couldn’t be more fitting. Walking around London’s Chinatown, you can’t escape depictions of the mythical beast so intrinsically linked with Chinese culture.
The vibrant neighbourhood centred around Gerrard Street has been a colourful melting pot of culture since the early 1970’s when Chinese immigrants first moved from Chinatown’s original home in the East End, however modern Chinatown is so much more than just a centre for Chinese food and culture.
Southern Chinese and Cantonese cuisine is now augmented by an ever growing number of eateries from all corners of East Asia, many of whom are as much of a draw to Chinatown as classic Peking Duck, slurpy hot pots or traditional dumplings.
So, whether your taste buds just need a tickle or you’re hungry as a dragon, we’ll run down our favourite spots for some Pan-Asian gastronomic delights to celebrate the Lunar New Year, dragon style…
Without wanting to state the obvious, we’ll kick off with Chinese. Heralded as the best Peking Duck in Chinatown, Plum Valley also makes fresh dumplings daily, creating occasional limited editions for holidays like Lunar New Year.
Spanning three floors, this is one of Chinatown’s more upmarket restaurants and features a modern menu that is less traditional Chinese, more fusion, including Thai and Japanese inspired dishes as well as an extensive all-day dim sum menu. Oh, and did we mention the entire floor of karaoke dining rooms..?
Any trip to south-eastern Asia isn’t complete without a stop in Thailand, where the beaches are picture-perfect, the climate tropical and the food sublime. Whilst we can’t promise the feeling of soft white sand between your toes at this buzzing Thai restaurant, you can be assured of a seriously authentic experience – and not just by perching on plastic stools that are standard for Bangkok’s street food vendors.
This retro restaurant serves classics with just the right amount of kick, like Thailand’s most revered dish Pad Kra Pao along with pickled mustard greens and Chinese sausage. To temper that spicy hit to the senses, why not cool down with a refreshing Thai Singha draft beer?
This simple-looking Japanese restaurant wouldn’t look out of place on one of Tokyo’s Yokocho. Situated on the corner of Newport Place and Little Newport Street and equally unassuming inside, this historic eatery’s menu is as thick as an old telephone book and features Japanese classics from sushi and katsu curry to udon noodles and bento boxes, with everything in between.
Not only a Chinatown institution for over 30 years, but a modern-day champion for sustainability, the restaurant runs on entirely renewable resources and, in stark contrast to almost every other Japanese restaurant, there is no tuna on the menu as they feel that current fishing techniques are unsustainable and not to be supported.
The beauty of eating out is having someone else do the hard work, save pondering the menu over an aperitif. So the concept of cooking your food whilst in a restaurant environment may be a little baffling, but hold that thought, as Korean barbecue is not only tasty but fun! Olle is regarded as one of the best Korean restaurants in London and encourages budding chefs to create their own meals to a soundtrack of vegetables, meats and fish sizzling away on their own mini-grills in front of them.
If that feels a little too much effort, fear not as there are plenty of dishes served the old-fashioned way (ie cooked) that don’t require a patron’s culinary prowess, such as seriously crunchy Korean fried chicken or perfectly seasoned bibimbap accompanied by their spicy kimchi.
Family recipes. Often passed from generation to generation, perhaps with the odd tweak here and there but never straying far from the tried and tested, always the most authentic kind of cooking. Any menu stating ‘authentic family recipe’ makes a dish stand out as you know you’re in for not only a treat but a slice of real life that has come from an honest kitchen and enjoyed by generations in the comfort of their homes. Well, C&R Cafe is a no-nonsense restaurant serving authentic food you’d enjoy in a Malay family home.
Opened in 1998 by immigrants homesick for the taste of laksa at a time when Malaysian food was non-existent in London, today C&R Cafe continues to serve up some of the best beef rendang in the West and Malaysia’s national dish, Nasi Lemak, a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk that is often enjoyed for breakfast. And of course, hearty bowls of laksa are a menu staple. This reasonably priced cafe/restaurant is always popular and caters for walk-ins only, but service is friendly and swift, so it’s well worth a small wait for a table.