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Hot Tables: Chinese New Year

The pick of the fiery dragon

Written by . Published on January 24th 2012.

Hot Tables: Chinese New Year

THE Year of the Dragon. Hurrah. The free spirit is upon us. Dragons in Chinese mythology are not the fire breathing monsters of western mythology but harbingers of good fortune and enterprise.

The best place to mark the occasion is of course Chinatown itself or its tributary in Queensway. Picking one address over another on the other hand is like playing Chinese whispers.  You might imagine the whole of Gerard and Lisle Streets as having a communal subterranean kitchen serving the same food into street level fascias mildly different in colour, atmosphere, service, even marginally too in price, but essentially all cooking the same food – the crab in black bean, lobster with spring onion, scallops steamed  in its shell…Chefs change, owners change, only the menu stays the same. Inscrutable but universally good value.

Along Queensway, there are exceptions to the same rule. The Mandarin Kitchen (14-16 Queensway W2 3RX, 0207 727 9012) stands out not for being mandarin at all but one of the best fish restaurants in west London, lobster being a specialty. While the chic Royal China (13 Queensway, London W2 4QJ, 0207 221 2535) is one of the capital’s aristocrats and has spawned siblings in Baker Street and Canary Wharf. Not cheap but elegant. For the duck alone, Four Seasons (84 W2 3RL, 020 7229 4320) is also good value.   ‎

Other restaurants, not supported by the communal Cantonese infrastructures but worth attention...

China Tang (The Dorchester, Park Lane W1K 1QA 0207 629 8888) The latest incarnation of the Dorchester’s up market – very up market – Chinese is from the illustrious David Tang founder of the Shanghai-Tang-fashion Tang. The menu is surprisingly familiar even if chicken and cashew nuts at £15 befits the décor rather than a takeaway. A clever mix of the everyday with the more esoteric like eight treasures winter melon soup, also at £15. A place to impress.

Y’ming (35-36 Greek Street, Soho W1D 5DL, 0207 734 2721) Christine Yau’s turquoise corner building across the road from Chinatown and next to such venerable Soho stalwarts as Kettner’s and Maison Bertaux has a devoted following which is really stylistic – i.e. unusually Y’Ming takes its inspiration from northern China which is unique in town. Not typical but noted for silken tofu, Tibetan garlic lamb. Special for the New Year is The Lady’s Pot, a vegetarian mix of  bean sticks, grass noodles, tree mushrooms and Chinese celery.


Wing Yip
(395 Edgware Road, London NW2 6LN, 0208 450 0422) Given the shenanigans with central London parking, this superstore has become a focus on Sundays for Chinese in north London. Less hassle than Chinatown and stocked by what it claims to be now the biggest traders in Chinese groceries – shop at home too.


Grand Imperial
(Grosvenor Hotel, 101 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1W 0SJ 0207 821 8898) In fact Malaysian run, but an overt assault on the upscale Chinese, with good value dim sum at lunch and a menu in the evening that appeals to chonophiles in particular – jelly fish with XO sauce, seafood soup with bean curd, barbecue honey eel. Set menus up to £58 a head. The New Year menu includes Braised Sea Moss with Dried Oyster.

Chilli Cool Restaurant (15 Leigh Street, London WC1H 9EW, 0207 383 3135) This is Sichuan – which might translate as chili with chili – they make their own chili sauce in this unexpected cafe in Kings Cross favoured by cash-strapped asian students for savory hot spicy chicken bedded with fresh tender bamboo shoot, beef and ox tripe in chili sauce, sliced belly pork in mashed garlic sauce.


(37 Charlton Street, London NW1 1JD, 0207 388 0808) Confusingly goes under different names on the door including China Snazz and the New China Club – which leads you to a medical site on a web search – but all roads lead to this Sichuan outpost in a very un-Chinese part of town. The menu reads like St John had a car crash on Tiananmen Square – from duck tongue to pig's tail and usually with chilli floating on top. Seriously enjoyable byways of the cuisine. Best to go in a party as the portions are large.

Hakkasan (17 Bruton Street, London W1J 6QB, 0207 907 1888) Alan Yau, better known for Wagamama, moved on to create the boutique Chinese eatery which picks up a Michelin star and every other dong as the most evolved of Chinese cooking and decor, so evolved it is now also a small global chain. Although Yau has moved on himself with a cute £60 million reportedly, although he still seems engaged. The original Hanway Street off Tottenham Court Road has just had a refit and reopens this week.


Good Earth
(233 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge SW3 2EP, 0207 584 3658) After more than 25 years, this small group with outlets in Mill Hill and Esher maintains its reputation among Chinese. Smart, predictable but correct and a good compass for the cuisine. Conservative but none the worse for it.


(28 Frith Street, Soho W1D 5LF 0207 287 6688) Another Sichuan on the edge of Chinatown’s Cantonese stronghold, tea house décor in heavy woods and a menu that encompasses fast fried duck’s tongues and is marked ‘very hot’ for dishes like spicy dry fried lamb, the meat almost collapsing, served with mustard greens.

Yum Cha (27-28 Chalk Farm Road, Camden NW1 8AG, 0207 482 2228) Ignore the fact that this venue is opposite the entrance to Camden Stables Market and parades itself as part Thai and all other things, in fact the dim sum is as good as anywhere outside of Chinatown. Inexpensive, fresh, surprising. They cope.


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