Looking for a Chinese restaurant in London? Read on for our guide to some of the capital’s best spots.
Best for… Modern Chinese
Kym’s, The City EC4
The latest restaurant from chef and restaurateur Andrew Wong, Kym’s takes a modern approach to the traditional roasted meats and flavours of China.
Londoner Andrew was born to Chinese parents and has been in the restaurant game since the 80s – his family’s first Cantonese restaurant, Kym’s, opened in Pimlico on the site that now houses (Michelin-starred) A Wong. Having trained in classical French cookery, as well as Chinese roasting, the ancient art of Peking duck, and dim sum, Andrew’s latest venture is a nod to his past, and a modern exploration of the diverse gastronomic regions of China and the ancient crafts they’ve become famous for.
Millennial pink menus and a towering fake blossom tree clash happily with moody metals and dark woods in this fresh new restaurant in the critically acclaimed Bloomberg Arcade. Choose between crowding into booths or at-the-pass counter dining, and expect to fight for space and attention with the rowdy City boys a location like this attracts. (We also spotted some of London’s top chefs checking out the competition, too.)
The menu is broken down into a selection of small plates, fritters, sharing plates, classics, sides and sweets. The idea is to order across the lot and expect them to come whenever chef says so.
From the small plates, silken tofu, cubed and bathing in a dark, garlic-infused soy sauce, with crispy shallots, mellow rounds of spring onion greens, intense hits of 100-year-old egg (better than it sounds) and toasted sesame seeds, is a bowl of umami joy. Szechuanese aubergine, too, is a dream – silky, collapsing hunks of the bulbous fruit are a delicious sponge for the pleasantly numbing spice this region is so renowned for.
We hear the rice cracker with 1908 ketchup is a must-order; but, we move on to a peppery pickled daikon, sunshine yellow, made brighter yet by another fiery chilli oil, bleeding out its flavoursome orange hue.
There’s crispy duck that tempts but a Xian City ‘lamb burger’ and Three Treasure serving of crispy pork belly, soy chicken and Iberico pork char siu catch our attention. They live up to their promise, too. The former arrives as a DIY slider – pillowy soft bao buns ready to be stuffed with pleasingly sloppy, spiced pulled lamb and a refreshing salad of sliced onion, pomegranate and herbs. The meats – tender flesh, crisp skins, sublimely seasoned – prove Andrew’s tour of China to learn his craft was well spent.
The cocktails here are similarly modern twists on traditional flavours – Japanese spirit shochu is blended with szechuan pepper into a sour; sake is topped with riesling vermouth, lemongrass and prosecco for a supremely refreshing spritz. The wine list is kept short and sweet – we try a crunchy Assyrtiko Lyrarakis from Crete, and it does its job, standing up to all those intense flavours across this cracking menu.
Skip the desserts unless you’ve a particular sweet tooth, and instead order a bowl of the Uyghur fries – matchstick potato fries seasoned with tangy mango powder, Thai shallots and carmine-red dried chillies, flabby from their frying.
Best for… authentic Szechuan
Chilli Cool, Bloomsbury WC1
This wallet-friendly Szechuanese restaurant, near King’s Cross, is noisy and crowded, the service brisk and the décor decidedly no-frills – but then what you’re really here for is the punchy, vibrant food.
A warning for the chilli averse: most dishes arrived blanketed in drifts of the stuff – dried and fresh – or draped in spicy oil. Some of the hits from the dauntingly lengthy menu include cold smashed cucumbers swimming in a salty-sweet, chilli-spiked dressing; blistered and charred fried green beans tossed with crispy minced pork; super-hot Chengdu-style dan dan noodles, juicy pork dumplings swimming in chilli oil and soft, wobbling cubes of tofu drizzled with more spicy piggy mince (are you detecting a theme here?). It sounds intense, but everything is in proportion. Chilli heat is balanced by the numbing qualities of Szechuanese peppercorns, and bowls of cooling steamed rice tone down fiery excess. And there’s always chilled bottles of Tsingtao beer to wash everything down. Click here for more Szechuanese recipes.
Best for… contemporary Cantonese
Duck Duck Goose, Brixton SW9
This Pop Brixton outlet draws inspiration from the roast meat shops and traditional canteens of Hong Kong to present a modern take on classic Cantonese cuisine.
Lusciously roasted meat is the name of the game here and Duck Duck Goose’s concise menu revolves around the staples of Cantonese barbecue: roast duck, char siu pork, pork belly and goose, all of which are air-dried and roasted on the restaurant premises in a custom-built air dryer and duck oven. Roast pork belly was buttery and tender and came swimming in juices fragrantly scented with five spice, while the char siu was juicy and beautifully coloured. Star of the platter was the roast duck, particularly its caramel-hued crispy skin. Delicious sweet-sour home-made pickles, a fiery mustard and a plum sauce proved elegant accompaniments.
Duck Duck Goose’s take on prawn toast will banish any memories you may have of the soggy numbers found in many Chinese takeaways across the country. This doorstep slice of deep-fried white bread and succulent prawn mousse was a delightfully kitsch creation that we devoured swiftly. Fronds of curly endive, kewpie mayonnaise, pickled kohlrabi and delicate flakes of bonito added a sprightly counterpoint to the fatty richness of the toast.
As befits its setting—a shipping container—Duck Duck Goose is cosy, with just 24 covers (expect to make friends with your neighbours). Designer Jamie Julien Brown took his cue from the utilitarian cha chaan teng cafes of post-war Hong Kong to create a retro yet functional space: think terrazzo vinyl floor tiles, orange and red butcher lights, pink booths and pegboard walls accented with inlaid mahjong tiles.
Best for… traditional banquet dining
Pearl Liang, Paddington
Business hub Sheldon Square may seem like an unlikely place for one of London’s best Chinese restaurants, but Pearl Liang is constantly brimming with large groups feasting around banqueting tables, businessmen doing deals over dim sum, and couples getting to know each other between water fountains and Chinese blossom wall murals.
The extensive menu can be quite overwhelming, with page after page of starters, meats, dim sum and noodles, ranging from Cantonese specialities to regional Southeast Asian dishes.
We recommend starting with a selection of dim sum (dumplings filled with gigantic prawns, crunchy prawn rolls wrapped in shredded taro, and juicy pork shu mai), followed by a few starters. Vietnamese spring rolls were deep-fried and crisp, filled with freshly shredded vegetables, and pan-fried chicken wings came in an incredibly moreish caramelised teriyaki glaze.
For the main course, there is everything from indulgent spicy crispy chilli beef to lighter fish dishes. We loved whole steamed sea bass with fragrant ginger and spring onion.
If you’re gathering a crowd, Pearl Liang’s sophisticated interiors and sharing ethos (there are five set menus to choose from) make for the perfect feast.
Best for….hand-made noodles
Murger Han Han, Mayfair W1
Noodle fiends should make a beeline for this specialist in the food of Shaanxi province and its capital, Xi’an. At the smart Mayfair branch (there’s also one in Euston) it specialises in two types of noodles, which cooks expertly hand-pull in front of diners. Bouncy, super-long belts of biang biang noodles (made in epic 12-foot batches) have just the right amount of bite and are made for slurping up with gloriously messy gusto. More unusually they also offer another regional noodle, la tiao zi (akin to a thickened udon), which is similarly elastic and satisfying to eat. You can choose from different toppings but the best is the spicy braised pork – served in enormous bowls filled with rich, umami broth, noodles, tender morsels of spicy meat, crunchy pak choi, chilli oil and softly cooked tomato and scrambled egg (another classic Chinese combination).
Best for….wine pairing
Imperial Treasure, St James’s
With various (Michelin-starred) outposts across Asia, luxe restaurant group Imperial Treasure’s first UK site enjoys a grand setting in a former bank in St James’s. Inside, discover a sleek, muted décor, high ceilings and screens that divide the imposing space into more intimate sections
Expect classic, mostly Cantonese dishes – from dim sum to roasted meats and braised fish and seafood. Star of the show is the signature peking duck – hand-carved at the table into butter-soft morsels with lusciously bronzed, impeccably crispy skin, served with handmade pancakes (probably the best ones we’ve ever tried). The duck is then served in a second course with either ginger and spring onion, black bean sauce or salt and pepper.
The restaurant is also known for its wine, and offers luxurious signature set menus (veggie options are available) with wine pairings curated by head sommelier Victor Almeida and wine writer Ch’ng Poh Tiong – matching dishes such as crispy lobster roll with golden okra and foie gras, claypot corn-fed chicken with Szechuan pepper and braised noodles with mushrooms and truffle oil with the likes of English sparkling wine, French riesling and Austrian gruner veltliner.
Prices are steep (the peking duck alone is £100) which makes this a special occasion restaurant, although Imperial Treasure has now launched more affordable set lunch menus (£38 pp) and a business set menu (£43 pp) where you can share a duck between four.
Best for… a sumptuous setting
China Tang, Mayfair W1
Walk through The Dorchester’s long, gilded lobby to reach this sumptuous restaurant, where the setting is as much a draw as the food.
The mostly Cantonese menu holds few surprises, instead focussing on familiar yet impeccably executed classics made with premium ingredients, from expertly bronzed Peking duck deftly hand-carved tableside, to silky dumplings.
Start by delving through the dim sum menu, from finely made xiao long bao – Shanghainese soup dumplings filled with ground pork and a savoury broth – to sweet and tender scallop-filled creations. On to mains, pork belly, braised to melting, tender unctuousness in a clay pot, bathes in a jammy, sticky sauce, with preserved vegetables for balance. Prawns, proudly plump, come coated in a delicate, batter-like coating of salted egg yolk – the end result richly umami.
The luxe and maximalist art deco-style interiors, designed to the last detail by late founder David Tang, are lavishly opulent – think 1930s Shanghai – with mirrored pillars, ornate dark woodwork, plush, intricately patterned carpets and delicate Chinese art on the walls. Combine this with smooth, attentive white-jacketed waiters gliding up and down the restaurant, a buzzy, surprisingly casual atmosphere and the possibility of spotting an A-lister or two (it’s long been a celebrity haunt) and it makes a luxurious choice for a special occasion meal.
Best for… budget dining
Xi’an Impression, Arsenal N7
For many years, visiting a Chinese restaurant in the UK almost always meant Cantonese food, but one of the more interesting restaurant trends of late has been the emergence of places specialising in different regional cuisines – from fiery Hunanese and Szechuan cooking to subtle, savoury Shandong dishes.
One such example is Xi’an Impression, a tiny, canteen-like outfit just minutes from the Emirates Stadium. From the team behind Sichuan Folk, it specialises in the street-food dishes of Xi’an (of Terracotta Army fame) in the northern province of Shan Xi.
There’s two elements on the menu you should pay attention to. The first are what the menu calls ‘burgers’ but which bear more similarity to pulled beef or pork: slow-cooked to melting tenderness, and redolent with meaty juices and fragrant aromatics, all sandwiched between a toasted, flatbread-like bun (and a token lettuce leaf). They taste far more sumptuous than their £4.80 price tag would suggest.
The other main attraction is the hand-pulled noodles. We try wide, ribbon-like ones – with just the right amount of elasticity and bite – slippery with copious amounts of chilli sauce, topped with tender chunks of beef and whole pak choi. It’s a dish that demands to be slurped with gusto.
Best for… great views
Hutong, London Bridge SE1
Hutongs are narrow, alley-like streets that – though fast disappearing now – once criss-crossed northern Chinese cities such as Beijing. Hutong the restaurant, located on level 33 of The Shard, is a decidedly glossier affair, plushly minimalist and dimly lit – aside from the scarlet flash of red lanterns – and all the better to highlight the crowning feature of the restaurant: the glorious panoramic views of London’s skyline, a sight that’s particularly impressive at night, when the lights of the surrounding city contrast against the inky surfaces of the restaurant.
Given such a setting it would be easy for Hutong to rest on its laurels when it comes to the food, but it doesn’t. The (pricy) menu draws mostly from subtle and savoury Shandong cuisine, but it’s the fiery Szechuanese-accented dishes – especially the seafood ones – that really impress. Chilled, milky cubes of tofu come topped with sweet shreds of white king crab meat, in a pool of darkly umami, garlicky sauce that offers a fiery foil for its delicate partners. Crispy fried ma la eel, coated in the lightest of batters and tossed with liberal amounts of chopped dried chillies and cumin, is superb, the luscious buttery flesh of the eel the perfect match for the well-balanced, smoky heat of the chillies, their heat tempered by numbing peppercorns. A side of aubergine tempura, crispy on the outside but creamily collapsing inside, comes draped in an almost jammy, spicy sauce – it’s worth ordering all on its own.
Best for… Xinjiang cuisine
Silk Road, Camberwell SE5
One way to appreciate the sheer size of China is the diversity of its food – from Cantonese roasted meats to the fiery, chilli-laced hot pots of Szechuan and hearty dumplings of the northern provinces. Xinjiang, the vast, remote region in the country’s north-west corner, is an especially interesting example, a distinctive cuisine that, with its grilled, cumin-spiked lamb skewers, flatbreads and pilaf-like rice dishes, shares more in common with Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.
Xinjiang restaurants can be found across China but are less common outside it – that is unless you pay a visit to Silk Road in Camberwell, a cheerfully unpretentious restaurant – with no-nonsense long communal tables and minimal décor – that’s become a favourite among in-the-know London foodies.
Do order liberally from the shish section of the menu. The lamb – grilled over charcoal and dowsed in cumin, salt and chilli powder – is superb, salty and umami, all tender meat and a joyous amount of crispy fat. A surprise hit, for an oft-maligned piece of offal, is the ox tripe, which is crispily flavoursome.
Another must order is the da pan ji (big plate of chicken). An earthy, hearty stew of tender chunks of bone-in chicken, potatoes and sliced fresh green chillies swimming in a gentle chilli broth. Save some of the latter, as once you’ve eaten the vegetables and meat your waiter will add in a pile of fresh, handmade noodles to mop up the rest of the sauce.
49 Camberwell Church Street; 020 7703 4832
Best for…Uyghur cooking
Etles, Walthamstow E17
For authentic Uyghur cuisine (created by Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region), head to family-run Etles in Walthamstow for fiery sauces heavy with szechuan pepper and silky hand-pulled noodles.
Da pan ji (big plate of chicken) is tingly with szechuan pepper and masses of black pepper, garlic, ginger and soy, with potatoes and chicken and bones that have been hacked into tender chunks. Unapologetically shouty in flavour, it comes with homemade flat noodles (lagman). Other highlights of the menu include ququre – silky wontons in a bouillon-like soup – and punchy beef and vegetable stir fries with more impeccably made noodles. Dishes are very wallet friendly and the restaurant is BYOB – what more could you ask for?
Best for… exploring different regional cuisines
A Wong, Victoria
Andrew Wong’s Michelin-starred restaurant in London Victoria is a dramatic modernisation of his late father’s restaurant, Kym’s. The fresh space has a bright dining room with a view over the big open kitchen, and a more atmospheric area just to the left. It brings together cuisine from all over China, and the menu is divided into snacks, dim sum (only available at lunch), wok, dishes (only available at dinner) and dessert. Expect everything from 63-degree tea eggs and slow-braised Iberico pork belly to steamed custard buns. The menu is best enjoyed as a selection of sharing plates, with small plates and bar snacks, and larger dishes. Check out its ‘Taste of China’ tasting menu, which showcases multiple dishes all from different regions in China.
Written by Hannah Guinness, Laura Rowe and Alex Crossley
Photograph credits: Paul Winch-Furness