Chinese New Year is on the horizon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to Chinatown. Many of London’s better, more interesting or just downright different Chinese restaurants can be found far away from the famous centre.
Just across Shaftesbury Avenue from Chinatown, Bar-shu was among the very first places in London to serve-up authentic Szechuan cuisine when it launched in 2006 and it’s still up there with the very best of them. It’s most fun if you and your group are feeling adventurous — dive into fiery, intoxicatingly spiced delicacies such as whole fragrant crab, sliced lung, or a boned pig trotter that’s described on the menu as being “as good as a bear’s paw”. There are more conventional options, but be prepared for most dishes to come with a significant hit of chilli.
Bo London, Mayfair
Set just off Regent Street, this maverick high-end Chinese is run by Alvin Leung, a man who bears more than a little resemblance to Ozzy Osbourne and is known as The Demon Chef. He’s also been dubbed the Chinese Heston Blumenthal. His London restaurant is big on wow-factor, with dishes such as Bed & Breakfast (a smoked quail egg in a taro nest with caviar) and Sex on the Beach (it looks like this) par for the course. It’s as unconventional as they come and many would argue that his so-called “X-treme Chinese” is more gimmick than gastro, but it’s certainly good fun. An eight-course tasting menu (the smallest available at dinner) is £70, though cheaper lunch options are available.
The Courtesan, Brixton
Clever cocktails and contemporary food is what this shabby-looking but very chic spot close to Brixton Village is all about. You can read our full review of it here, but expect small-plate, dim sum-style dishes such as duck puffs (a bit like ducky sausage rolls), excellent sticky ribs and very punchy cocktails that incorporate Chinese flavours. Just don’t count on anything too traditional.
Dragon Castle, Elephant & Castle
You might not initially think to look for a dim sum restaurant on the stretch of Walworth Road opposite the soon-to-be-demolished Heygate Estate, but you can’t miss Dragon Castle. With large palatial doors (guarded by stone dragons) giving way to a courtyard-style entrance, this is no shrinking violet of a restaurant. Though all manner of fairly authentic Cantonese dishes are available, it’s the extremely reasonably-priced dim sum menu that is the biggest draw. Fluffy char siu buns and delicate steamed prawn and chive fun guo boasting thin, soft pastry are both ones to try.
Modern dishes built on the tradition of Chinese banquets are the mainstay of HKK (younger sibling of even more indulgent Hakkasan), and diners here can’t choose specific courses, just whether they want 8, 10 or 15 of them. Dishes such as double-boiled chicken soup with pom-pom mushroom, or cherry-wood-roasted peking duck are complex, exciting and delicately executed, but you have to be willing to pay for the experience. The eight-course menu is £48 a head before drinks, though we know several people who’ll swear it’s worth it.
You’ll realise what makes this surprisingly not-all-that-well-known restaurant special before you even get a whiff of food. A waiter (or more likely one of the family) will enquire about allergies, how much spice you can take and your rough spend-limit, and then a menu will be put together on your behalf. Hunan cuisine is known for its chilli-heat, and there’s plenty of that here, while the team also enjoys the opportunity of including a few less Western-friendly ingredients (jellyfish, pig ears, fermented bamboo shoots) among its offerings, knowing too well that you’ll probably enjoy them but wouldn’t have ordered them from a menu. We’d suggest budgeting at least £30 a head.
Princess Garden, Mayfair
This Mayfair restaurant comes complete with a grand, artefact-scattered dining room that befits the area, but thankfully it doesn’t have the price-tag you might expect. It’s the dim sum that are the pinnacle here, and a combination of deft hands, attention to detail and generosity of ingredients make them among London’s finest. Peking ravioli with chilli sauce and pork and crabmeat dumplings are reliable highlights.
Silk Road, Camberwell
Representing the lesser-spotted cuisine of the north west province of Xinjiang, Silk Road offers food far removed from what we in the UK think of as Chinese. Its name references a trade route that at one time connected this part of China with the Middle East, and an increase in the use of spices and grilling comes as a result. Grilled skewers of succulent lamb interspersed with melting cubes of fat, and delicious burst-in-the-mouth dumplings that sell for next to nothing are obvious highlights, but do also explore the selection of spicy broths available.
Taste Inn, Lewisham
When this restaurant first caught our attention, it had a much better name. Le Wei Xiang was a rather witty pun, referencing the similar sound when pronounced in Chinese to that of its SE13 home. We’re not sure why it changed to this all too common a title, but by all accounts the food hasn’t suffered. For best reward, skip the generic dishes you’ll find at any Chinese takeaway and seek out the traditional Szechuan options towards the end of the menu. From a medley of bloodcurd, pig bowl, ox tripe and ham to a fiery sea bass stew, if you pick the right dish this cheap and cheerful spot can rank among London’s most authentic.
Tian Fu, Shepherd’s Bush
Looking similar to a high proportion of other Chinese restaurants up and down the land, it’s those in the know who frequent this Wood Lane restaurant, and it’s a reassuring sign that many of them are Chinese themselves. As in several of these Chinese restaurants we’ve selected as offering something a bit special, there’s a leaning towards Szechuan flavours and dishes alongside more commonplace Cantonese options. Silky, unctuous “fish flavoured aubergines” and fried strips of cumin-spiced lamb are two of the a la carte highlights, while there’s also a hot-pot buffet, allowing you pick your own meat, fish and veg for adding to bubbling stock.
Gong Hey Fat Choy! 恭禧發財
- A Wong – creative regional cooking in Victoria
- Chilli Cool – Szechuan in Bloomsbury
- Feng Shang Princess – a floating restaurant next to Regent’s Park
- Gourmet San – spice-heavy Northern Chinese in Bethnal Green
- Hakkasan – a posh Chinese icon and celeb hangout off Tottenham Court Road
- Hutong – high-up, high-end, high-priced in the Shard
- Magic Wok – Cantonese classics in Queensway
- Min Jiang – not quite as high-up but still high-end in Kensington
- Mongolian Grill – specialist hotpots and barbecues in Clapham
- Pearl Liang – sleek dim sum in Paddington
- Sichuan Folk – regional cooking on Brick Lane
- Yauatcha – pricey but oh so stylish dim sum and tea in Soho