The phrase ‘let’s get dinner in Chinatown!’ is not helpful, at all.
There are dozens of restaurants jammed into an area the size of a five-a-side pitch, all offering some of the same food, while simultaneously offering completely different and totally wonderful dishes (from Hunan, Sichuan, and the greatest roast duck, ever). With so much choice, it can be hard to figure out what’s worthwhile and what isn’t.
Don’t fret. Our Chinatown guide gives you the lowdown on all the rice, noodles, and roast meat you could ever want to eat.
Roast duck. It’s the whole reason you come to Four Seasons, and while most of the other things on the menu won’t blow you away, the duck is by far one of the best things you can eat in the area, if not all of central London. You’ll want at least a quarter per person, and you’ll want it off the bone. The sauce they pour all over it is incredible, and can allegedly cure everything from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis (though not herpes. We’ve already tried). The stewed pork belly with vegetables is also a good call, and the Chinese broccoli is good too because health. Bring friends. All of them.
The first thing you’re likely to see through the windows of Jen Café is a lady methodically filling and sealing dumplings. That, is very much a sign. You want to get either plump boiled pork Beijing dumplings or fried ones. Actually, you don’t want to get either. You want to get both. Because dumplings is the reason you come to Jen Café, and it’s a fiver for a plate. So you may as well get two.
Jinli is 30 seconds from Leicester Square and if you’re craving Sichuan food, this is one of the spots to hit in Chinatown. The hot and dry pots, in particular, are perfect for a big group meal, and the whole deep fried sea bass covered in chilli oil is a must order. It’s crispy, it’s moist, and you’ll find yourself mining for more fish amongst the oil, dry chilli, and Sichuan peppercorns. If you’re moving in numbers and more than happy to eat out of the same (hot) pot, this is a good option.
There are a few reasons to hit up Leong’s Legend - and there’s often a queue in the evenings - but each time we’ve been, it’s been absolutely worth it. The Taiwanese dishes here are more interesting than your typical Chinatown joint, but there’s something for everyone here - the menu jumps around a lot, but you should definitely get the soup dumplings and stir-fried green beans with pork, and the whole crab that comes smothered in garlic and chilli. The hot pot is an awesome way to spend an evening with friends.
Food House is a comfortable Sichuan restaurant on the corner of Gerrard Street, serving chewy noodles, hot pots and, most importantly, a portion of 30 dumplings for under £20. That last point is an important one. Because, 30 dumplings. And also because they’re tasty boiled pork dumplings that - combined with a friend or two, some chilli oil lamb belt noodles, and an undying commitment to eating 30 of anything - make for a deliciously good value meal.
Baozi Inn, one of the anonymous-looking Chinese cafes close to Charing Cross Road, looks pretty unassuming from the outside but actually does brilliant bowls of spicy dumplings and noodles from Beijing and Sichuan. It makes for a perfect casual dinner with a few friends, especially if you’re down with amping up the spice factor.
Greetings from the cutest, charming spot in Chinatown. This little bakery just up from Leicester Square specialises in taiyaki - Japanese fish-shaped waffle cones - that they fill with either vanilla soft serve, matcha soft serve, or if you’re feeling wild, both. Of course, living in a city with weather that’s about as reliable as the wifi on a plane, it’s good to keep in mind that Bake also does great little cakes, Chinese pandan lotus pastries, and some excellent char siu buns to-go. Heads up, for anything under a tenner, it’s cash-only.
Everyone has that one friend. You know, the helpful one that actually stops drinking after their third glass and that lovingly butters a piece of toast for you whilst saying, “eat this, you’ll feel better for it in the morning”. For us, that friend is Old Town 97. This converted townhouse is one of the best spots in Chinatown for big group tables, a quick turnaround, and a 4am closing time. They serve great roasted meats, affordable fried rice dishes, and lots of other Cantonese classics. Their wonton noodles in soup are good, but what you’ll really want to get involved in is the duck section of the menu. Everything from the stir fried duck in black bean sauce to the fried udon with shredded duck are go-to winners here.
Sure, doing a little hot yoga or taking a lot of anything people offer you inside XOYO, will definitely get your heart rate going. But trust us, so will seeing a stack of bamboo steamers coming your way at Beijing Dumpling. As soon as you walk into this casual little spot on Lisle Street you’ll want to place an order of pork xiao long bao, huge seafood dumplings, and bright green vegetable wontons. It’s always a good idea to go heavy on the dumplings here, but they also serve things like dan dan noodles, rice dishes, and some excellent garlic prawns.
The char kway teow (smokey stir-fried flat noodles with pork and prawns) at Malaysian spot Rasa Sayang might well be the best £8 you’ll spend, even in this part of town. Everything else on the menu (like the beef rendang) is good as well. Head there for a casual dinner or catch up.
There are lots of restaurants in the area to visit if you just want a plate of roast meat and rice, or some noodles, but TPT is our favourite. Nostalgia for old-school Chinatown aside, we’ve been coming here for over 10 years, and you can get a full meal with friends, have a catch up, or eat solo if you have no friends but still want chow mein. Get the roast pork and char siu pork with rice, or the beef flank curry, which is one of the most underrated dishes in London. We’d eat it every day if we could drag ourselves from our sofa.
Barshu is the consensus number one option around town when you want to eat spicy Sichuan-style food in central London. The dan dan noodles and dumplings in chilli oil are very tasty, and the amount of spicy and deep-fried things on the menu means that it’s fantastic if you just want to knock back a few beers and eat with your hands.
This spot looks unpromising from the outside, but actually serves very tasty Taiwanese-style fried chicken. Everything is fried to order, it’s delicious, and you get a lot of food for your money. Skip the wings and get the popcorn chicken, or the flattened chicken breast if you’re hungry (it’s huge).
Joy King Lau is definitely one of the more relaxed restaurants in Chinatown, and one you should head to if you have a meal with your parents or relatives in the diary. Speaking of older folk, they also have a lift installed in case you don’t feel like trekking up the stairs, and it’s a multi-storey place, so there’s a good chance you might need it. The food’s solid, and we like their dim sum and their crab - it’s messy, but worth it.
The food at Ba Shan hails from Hunan province, and it’s generally spicier than what you might be used to The spicy softshell crab is excellent, and the red-braised pork is non-negotiable, so long as you’re not afraid of pork belly. The best seats are at the front of the restaurant, where it feels like you’re in a traditional inn in the Chinese countryside. It’s a little pricey, but the food’s worth it if you’re looking for a break from the typical Chinatown fare.