From gloopy orange sweet and sours to Michelin stars, UK Chinese food has come a long way in 100 years
The first Chinese restaurant in London opened in 1907 and established Cantonese food as the UK’s idea of what Chinese food is all about.
Maxim’s in Soho, though, was the first Chinese ‘name’ restaurant and in the 50s the owner’s son started doing takeaway for people who couldn’t fit in his very popular joint.
Believe it or not, Chinese food was spead nationwide by Butlin’s, whose owner, Billy Butlin, put chop suey and chips on the menu. Chinese food became a lowest common denominator of sweet, Anglicised nonsense: chips and bright orange, vinegary sweet and sour sauce. Embarrassingly, this became the UK’s most popular takeaway food for many years.
In the last 10-15 years Chinese food has broken out of this ghetto. Hakkasan became the first Chinese restaurant to win a Michelin star, and others have followed in its wake, attempting to create an authentic, yet unique experience for diners. Here are just some.
TEN MUST-VISIT CHINESE RESTAURANTS IN LONDON
Princess Garden is a Mayfair Cantonese joint that can accommodate large banquets and is famed for its dim sum. The Phoenix Palace in Baker Street has extravagant interiors but is down to earth and will serve you a succulent suckling pig. It’s all about the dumplings at Dragon Palace in Earl’s Court. Similarly, but more famously, it is the dim sum which makes Royal China a must-visit got anyone serious about London Chinese. Near to the Royal China in Queensway is Four Seasons, which makes such good duck they run out regularly.
Robust Sichuan and Hunan flavours abound at Baiwei – from the same group that owns BarShu – and it is again an authentic and well-presented menu, thanks again in part to Sichuan food’s great translator Fuchsia Dunlop. Hakkasan is another must-visit _ check your bank balance before you go – for the ultimate upmarket Shanghai tea house experience, featuring delectable cocktails. You’ll be in the swim in Oriental Dragon in Fitzrovia with amazing seafood including jellyfish, scallops and razor clams.
If you have won the lottery recently, try Hutong at the Shard: the soft shell crab is the signature and the views will astound. A Wong is an ambitious and highly successful attempt to capture the essence of a range of Chinese cuisines – if you are hungry and near Victoria, you can’t go wong (sorry).