Opening a Chinese restaurant in London’s Chinatown is not for the faint-hearted. Competition is fierce, so to stand out you need to be special. Wardour Street’s Orient London hopes to be just that by offering both dim sum (aimed at theatre-goers looking for a quick meal); and ‘authentic Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine’ for diners with more time to spare.
Orient London actually serves three menus – dim sum, Chinese, and a set menu – but, oddly, upon arrival we were offered just the latter, and only learnt of the other options once we’d got home and checked the website. So if you want to try something adventurous (including braised sea cucumber with fish lips, marinated spicy duck tongues, and fresh lobster with turnip paste and pepper sauce), make sure you ask your waiter for the ‘Chinese’ menu.
The set menu (which turns into an a la carte on page 4) sticks to the classics – hot & sour soup, crispy duck, sizzling king prawn – and delivers them well, at good prices. Cantonese style sweet & sour pork was coated in a thick, glossy sauce with just the right level of sweetness, and the vegetables mixed in were crisp and fresh, a steal at £8.80, given the size of the portion (easily shared between two). Pan fried fillet of sea bass with teriyaki marinade came in bite-size pieces and was wonderfully sticky, and perfectly seasoned – but again, impossible to finish on your own.
We did sample the dim sum as a starter, but with the exception of a particularly juicy minced shrimp dumpling, they weren’t up to the standards of nearby dim sum restaurants. A word of warning: the a la carte ‘dim sum platter’ isn’t just dumplings; it also comes with prawn toast, spring rolls and all the other usual suspects, despite not mentioning it on the menu.
Our advice is to skip starters, and go straight to the reliable mains. That will leave room for dessert – not usually an event at a Chinese restaurant, but here it’s the highlight. Mango pudding has a velvety smooth panna cotta-style base with a sharp, intense layer of mango coulis on top; black sesame balls are pillowy soft and subtly sweet; and Chui ma fa (deep-fried paper-thin parcels) surprised us with their airy texture, and came drizzled with coconut and syrup. You should try all three, if possible. The wine list is excellent too, and pretty unusual – we tried a creamy, nutty Lebanese white that went well with the sweet ‘n’ saltiness of our mains.
At four storeys high, it’s not the place for a quiet, romantic dinner – music is pretty loud, and by the time 7:30pm hits the whole joint is buzzing (you can even sing karaoke upstairs). As such, service can be a little slow and the waiters, though friendly, could do with acquainting themselves with the menu a little better – a difficult task, given that there are over 300 dishes to choose from…
Bullesye: the desserts. Some of the best we’ve ever had at a Chinese restaurant.
Misfire: a good restaurant, serving decent classics at reasonable prices. But the menus are a little scrambled, and all three should be offered upon arrival. But we’re putting that down to the fact that Orient London is brand new, and just needs a little time to adjust.
By Charlotte Morgan
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