Heading to Chinatown with a rumbling stomach is both a brave and brilliant move. The options are endless, so you need to have a clear idea of what does what well. Where one spot excels in plump little dumplings, so soft, so adorable, you’d consider adopting them if they weren’t already smothered in chilli oil and heading towards your mouth, another will pride itself in lush and lustrous roast duck. It could be confusing, but we’ve broken it down into delicious bitesize sections of craving.
FOR ROASTED MEATS
Order: siu aap (roast duck), char siu (barbecue pork), siu yuk (roast pork).
Unlike a prepubescent teenager in Amsterdam, we have no shame in eyeing up a seductive, glistening leg looking down at us from a window. There are plenty in Chinatown. Golden and meaty, spotlights shining on their body, with salivating punters gawping outside, and Four Seasons has the best of the lot. Whether you go to the Wardour Street or the Gerrard Street branch, it’s their siu mei that you should be ordering and, in particular, the roast duck.
Order: char siu (barbecue pork) and siu yuk (roast pork) with rice.
TPT is an all-people, all-occasions, all-dependably-delicious choice. So if you’re looking for an all-rounder, TPT is where to head. Meat-specific, the honey-glazed char siu pork is a favourite. Piled on top of rice with some cursory (but appreciated) steamed cabbage underneath, it’s juicy and generous in flavour and portion.
Order: chilli oil belt noodles with lamb.
Though Food House screams group restaurant - see our dumpling section below for confirmation - it can still just as easily be enjoyed for a bowl of hand-pulled noodles. Topped with moist lamb and a little numbing but a lot enjoyable chilli oil, their belt noodles are one of Chinatown’s most reliable orders.
Order: prawn dumpling noodle soup (with char siu pork).
Turning up at Hung’s on a bleak day, when the windows are steamed up, and your patience for humanity is thin, is the perfect time for a bowl of their noodle soup. The broth is light and it’s filled with bobbing prawn dumplings the size of a toddler’s fist. Ask for char siu on top as well. It’s restorative respite at its best.
Order: char kway teow, Singapore laksa.
The Malaysian spot off Shaftesbury Avenue has fine selection of noodles that are reasonably priced and reliably tasty. Char kway teow - bouncy stir fried flat noodles stained brown from sauce and best enjoyed with a shovelling motion - are a delicious surf ’n turf choice (they come with pork and prawns). Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more warming, there’s a Singapore laksa too.
Order: boiled jiaozi, fried jiaozi.
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 boiled Beijing dumplings or fried ones. Plump with pork and chive stuffing, they’re either soft and slippery or crisp and caramelised. 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.
Order: siu mai, cheung-fun, pork bun .
A Chinatown classic and go-to for traditional dim sum, it’s more than likely that Gerrard’s Corner has everything you’re after. There’s slippery cheung fun, steamed barbecue pork buns, pork and crab dumplings, and an array of beige-coloured wonders you will more than likely welcome onto your table.
Order: 30 (thirty) dumplings.
Wait. Wasn’t Food House a noodles recommendation as well? Yes, yes it was. And it’s a dumplings one too. If you ever woken up with a craving for not 10, not 20, but 30 plump pork dumplings then, well, you’re in luck. They’re straightforward boiled numbers that are best enjoyed with chilli oil and chinkiang vinegar. And for under £20, they’re a snip.