Come with us to Chinatown!

Come with us to Chinatown!

We explore the hidden gems of London’s Chinatown

Words: Hannah Hoeffner

Top image: Haydon Perrior

This much-loved part of London is always a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Much has changed in recent years so we headed down to take a fresh look and discover some hidden gems.

One thing that never changes is the buzzing atmosphere and the picture-perfect Chinese gate and a sea of glistening lanterns to walk under. But where to eat? There are now over 100 restaurants and cafes to choose from.

I first tried Rasa Sayang, a Malaysian and Singaporean restaurant and its excellent array of dishes: roti canai, their signature Singapore chilli crabs, and the BBQ platter. The food was superb. Every dish was carefully crafted, filled with delicious and savoury flavours that I find myself craving as we speak. The roti canai was fluffy, yet perfectly crispy, and the chilli crabs were so tender and juicy. The BBQ platter was an absolute delight – chicken satay, tiger prawns, and chicken wings coated in barbecue sauce and served with a side of peanut sauce, delicious! All the dishes we tried were so good we simply cannot pick a favourite. Along with top-tier food, the staff was excellent and supportive. Highly recommend!

Next, I stopped at Tsujiri, a dessert shop dedicated to matcha. I tried their scrumptious matcha sundae, filled with soft serve matcha ice cream, kuromitsu (a Japanese sugar syrup) served in the middle, then filled again with matcha ice cream, and topped with shiratama, a type of mochi and kinako, a fine powder. It tastes as delicious as it sounds! Have something else in mind? Go for their lattes, frappes, bubble tea, mochi cheese tea, or their cakes or tarts. Their other flavours include yuzu, houjicha, and red bean.

With a bright pop of red, Kova serves French patisseries with a Japanese twist. The first thing to notice is the stunning display of mouth-watering cheesecakes. You can expect refreshing fruit teas, including the signature “Cheezo tea” – a layer of salted cream cheese foam served on top of a fruit tea, mille crepes, cakes, and matcha tarts. With so many options to choose from, I finally decided to go with a strawberry cheesecake and an Oreo one. The former felt refreshing and light, the latter –  super creamy.

With an appetite still for dessert, I ventured into Bubblewrap, a trendy, street-style shop inspired by one of Hong Kong’s most popular snacks – egg-shaped waffles. The smell of freshly made waffles nearly had me drooling – this dessert shop is a must. You can watch the friendly and attentive staff as they make the ever-so-tasty waffle base: plain, chocolate, or matcha. You can build your own, or you can pick one of their specialty wraps. A blend of hot and cold is flawlessly crafted to give you an extraordinary dessert that melts in your mouth. I chose to eat the Delux Lover, which includes a waffle base, a creamy vanilla gelato, topped with freshly cut strawberries, and sprinkled with Nutella, my favourite spread. As their mantra goes, “If you’re not munching on a bubblewrap, then what the waffle are you doing?”.

My next destination was Chinatown Bakery, a full Chinese bakery that offers pork buns, sweet treats, and other baked goods. The shop was buzzing, a sign that what you’re about to eat is probably really good, and that you’ll most likely be back. The bakery is renowned for its adorable fish-shaped waffle that is filled with a gooey custard, but this Chinatown bakery has much more to offer. Think black sesame rolls, BBQ pork buns, spring onion chicken floss rolls, and basically any baked good you can think of! It also sells beautifully decorated cakes that are perfect for any celebration. I picked up some pandan bread – the texture and consistency were excellent. The bread was a beautiful pastel green colour, light and fluffy in feel and taste, and there was a small layer of whipped custard throughout. Authentic flavours with great pricing.

Above and top pictures credit: Nic Crilly-Hargrave

Mosey along the aisles of Asian supermarket, SeeWoo. First established in 1975 by Stanley Tse, SeeWoo brings Chinese groceries to London. SeeWoo is the major supplier to most of Chinatown’s restaurants and it was the first retailer to bring in pak choi into the UK. What started as a small business is now booming with a total of four units that offer Chinese groceries. The store houses live crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans as well as fresh seafood, a wide range of exotic vegetables, and everything else in between.

Standing proud on Charing Cross Road, Oseyo is the largest Korean supermarket chain in the UK. They have all the classics: kimchi, noodles, mochi, rice cookers as well as K-pop music, K-beauty selections, toys for the little ones, and even houseware and electronics. I found myself feeling like a tourist, peering up at the selection of goodies that surrounded me. The store is well kept and the food looks so bright and colourful and screams fresh. It was a new experience for me – Oseyo is a fascinating find with so much to explore and try. If you’re feeling hungry, grab a hot steamed bun to go with pork, red bean, or vegetarian fillings.

A hidden paradise located away from the bustling streets of Chinatown is Opium Cocktail Bar, an exotic bar that serves dim sum, tea, and cocktails. Where else will you find a bar like that? Voted “Best bar team” in 2019, Opium offers three different cocktail bars under one roof. The Academy Bar, located on the top floor, is split into two sections: the first one being a more loungey feel, laid-back, with lower coffee tables, sofa seating, and what they call “quirky” booths. The second area is where the bartender’s table is and you can take a seat and watch them make your drink. On the second floor is the very vintage Apothecary Bar. The decor is stunning – it has really pulled the 1920s Shanghai look off and medicine bottles adorn the bar. Lastly, Opium has the Peony Bar hidden behind the red curtains, its smallest yet most intimate bar. I was delighted to try the signature Opium No. 8, Cloud of Pearls, and their Skinny Lychee Colada. Opium No. 8 looked very cool with dry ice giving the illusion of “smoke”. The taste of tequila came through strong! All cocktails were so creative and something I have never seen before. The Cloud of Pearls was marvellous. The foam the bartender had created had a hue of pink and purple, and I just had to taste it by itself. I mean, there was an edible cloud right in front of me! The real kicker was that it included yuzu pearls. I was pleasantly surprised when I felt something suddenly “pop” in my mouth and got a taste of citrus. Very cool! My last drink, the Skinny Lychee Colada, was a real find. If you’re into piña coladas or if you like lychee martinis, this is the drink for you. The staff was polite and attentive, and the bartenders really know how to make a drink, and with a smile to it.

Whether you think you know Chinatown or just passing through, this is fabulous destination to enjoy night and day.