Wai Chan Corner, Chinatown

Another Chinatown restaurant… this is one that I first went to in 2001 with my my friend Sarah and her family in a quick stopover in London after having studied in Spain for a year. I have been back a few times since, and like it, as it’s one of the only dim sum spots in Chinatown that still uses trolleys on weekends.

This time around, however, I didn’t pick so well… I wanted to switch things up a bit, so tried some new dishes…

First of all, I ordered the prawn wrapped in crispy spinach. I wasn’t expecting this much crisp… so I took most of it off (it was TOO fried). But underneath, the spinach was also crispy, in a nice way, and the bits of prawn were well-flavoured and almost bouncy in my mouth.

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Then, the easy one, the steamed dumplings… these were dried shrimp and fresh pork dumplings with peanut… for a while, I have been craving cunchy peanut in a dumpling, so this really hit the spot! To be honest, I could hardly differentiate between the tastes of the shrimp and pork in the dumpling, they were more of a softer texture within the dumpling that was complemented by the crunchy peanut… but with some chili oil and soy sauce dousing it, I was happy.

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Then, the beef dumplings. These were okay, though again, I didn’t feel like they were as strong-tasting as they should have been. I liked the combination of the spring onion and ginger with the broth under the dumplings, with the thinner, almost wonton-like dumpling wrapper, but the meat inside was just… blah. Really not tasting of anything.

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Finally, I chose the fried salt and pepper squid, which I imagined to be large pieces of squid, lightly battered and topped with tons of spring onion, peppers and onion, along with the salt and pepper spices… but this dish also, sadly, lacked. Instead, I got deep-fried strips of calamari with the salt and pepper seasoning, but none of the vegetables. I had a few pieces, but was pretty disappointed and didn’t even finish.

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So, my overall thoughts? Difficult, as this is somewhere I had been a few times over the years (though not in the past few) and always had a good experience. I’m thinking that perhaps my choices were to blame for me not liking the food, but even the two sets of dumplings were just okay at best. So, this isn’t a place I feel that I need to come back and try again!

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One +, Chinatown

A new place to try in Chinatown, with all sorts of wonderful-looking Sichuwan dishes like boiled fish in chilis… but you really need a group for those kinds of dishes, as you want to try several ones and each dish is quite large…

So we went for simple. Smacked cucumbers in a Sichuwan chili sauce… healthy but tangy!

And vermicelli noodles with egg, sprouts and scallions. The noodle are springy and the egg, quite tasty in the soy sauce mix… with the sprouts giving just enough crunch to counter the spring in the noodles and the squishy scrambled egg..

While it hit the spot, I don’t think that the noodle dish really demonstrated the best of One +’s cuisine… we’ll have to come back to try some of the more regional dishes!

Old Town 97, Chinatown

The weather’s been pretty crappy, rainy and cold the past few days, which is a real change from the 30 degree, sunny weather we’ve had for most of the summer. It almost feels good for a few days, until you’re sick of having wet feet…

One of these days, I headed down to Chinatown for a bowl of noodle soup to warm me up. Seeing the roast duck and char siu hanging in the window, I walked into Old Town 97 to have a bowl there.

The place is quite simple, not very decorated, and the staff is quite busy, so it took me a good ten minutes to order. Then much longer to get my food.

But when the soup came, it really hit the spot. The duck was good, large pieces with a good amount of fatty duck skin and not much bone (my pet peeve is ordering roast duck, and being given the scraggly pieces with lots of bone and not much meat, what’s the point!?!) – but the real winner of the soup was the noodles; soft, springy and almost fluffy, these were the lightest noodles I’ve had in a while, all while not being mushy or breaking apart. I usually notice bad noodles, but never good ones, and these ones were really that good.

At £7.50, this was a perfect lunch break that warmed me up, and the noodles brought that extra little bit more that will make me come back here for noodle soup again.

Kiln, Soho

I finally had some time to steal away and grab lunch at Kiln, which received an award for best restaurant in the UK this year! On a Monday in August, I came and sat at the bar with no wait… they even put me at the kitchen table to watch the prepping!

The restaurant is called Kiln, as most of the cooking is done on grills, either through a big industrial grill (left side), or in smaller pots filled with charcoal, that are topped with a wok. The food mostly has a nice grilled, blistered taste to it that adds a smokiness to the flavour!

As I was on my own, I didn’t get to order everything that I would have otherwise… so I started with a skewer, then got one curry with some rice and veggies on the side.

The skewer that the waitress suggested was the lamb skewer wtih cumin… it was juicy, with bits of fat still on the meat, and with a very cumin-like taste, but also something slightly spicier that reminded me of Sichuan pepper (it tingled in my mouth)… it was much more subtle than just a cumin taste. I finished this in about two seconds!

Then, the rest of the meal. The brill in sour turmeric curry was to die for… briny and, well, sour tasting, it had a good punch of tangyness. To the point that I wanted to keep drinking the sauce. The brill was lightly fried, which helped it to not get too sogy in the curry, and there was also a vegetable that I think might have been gourd inside too… whatever it was, it was light and crunchy.

Served with some Jasmine brown rice and greens on the side, this was the perfect amount of food.

A side note about the greens, that were special in themselves… they were stir-fried in a sweet sauce that caramelised the greens sligthly. Mixed in were some yellow beans, which I love, that gave a soft texture next to the almost crunchy greens… these would have been a good meal on their own with the rice!

So there we go. That’s all I had. I wanted to try everything on the menu, but it’ll have to wait until next time!

Shuang Shuang, Soho

A while ago, I saw that a new hot pot place was opening in Chinatown, and took note, but it was only recently that I actually made my way there. Shuang Shuang’s claim to fame is that not only is it a hot pot restaurant, but it also has a conveyor belt… so you can choose your hot pot ingredients! Genius.

Everyone gets their own individual hot pot station, with the pot, a dipper, dish, spoon and a sieve spoon to catch your cooked food.

Shuang Shuang has a Market Lunch Special for £10.5, where you get to choose three green or white dishes, one black dish (intended to be noodles, but they also have a few other black dishes floating around), a side dip, and broth.

I went for the original broth, the Black Bird broth which is a chicken broth that’s especially fragrant, with jujubes floating in it… and the House Sauce, wihch has a blend of sesame butter, red beancurd paste, and a dab of chili oil… the chili oil wasn’t very apparent, and the sauce tasted much more creamy, and less spicy than I wanted… so I added a good extra dash of sesame oil to it!

So, here’s what I tried out. Lots of greens (cabbage, boy choy), some tofu, and some slices of beef… all which came under the green and black dishes (there are other coloured dishes which are more… in the end, you pay per dish, so you can have as little or as much as you want).

I was impressed with the beef slices, doused in the creamy, spicy dip… and the tofu was delicious once it had soaked in the hot pot broth for a while… also dipped in the sauce!

Now, I’ve been back again, so I’ve been here twice at this point, and both times, took the Market Special and ended up getting two extra dishes of food to feel full.

This is a perfect place for lunch, where you can come with someone else but choose exactly what you want to eat – and, healthier than other Chinese dishes with sauces or noodles, you’re cooking you lunch in a hot broth and adding a bit of sauce at the end if you want… an easy, interactive and heatlhy lunch!

Eat by Chloe, Covent Garden

A few months ago, by Chloe opened up in the UK… for those of you that don’t know it, by Chloe is a vegan “fast food” joint that has popped up all over the US. When I saw that they were opening a store in Covent Garden, I was pretty excited…

So were a lot of other people… I waited in line for more than five minutes… checking out the surroundings and the Grab + Go section (that has salads, juices, and other beverages.

The seating area is also quite cool, and well-decorated… doesn’t it make you want to sit and spend some time here?

And the cash registers… four total, with a place to pick up your meal on the left. Like at Shake Shack, you get a beeper that lets you know when your meal is ready to pick up…

So what I liked was that every employee I saw in the store was a woman… both up at the counter, but also in the kitchen. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just by chance?

Here I am with my takeaway bag… made with eco-friendly ingredients.

Then, back at my desk, I got to check the food out… I went for the Guac Burger (a sweet potato, quinoa and black bean burger served with a corn salsa, guacamole, tortilla strips, onions, and topped with a chipotle sauce, served on a whole grain bun).

And it was pretty delicious. The patty itself was very tasty, with a good amount of flavour and spice, not tasting like meat, but like the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had (and I’ve actually had quite a few!)

The corn gave it crunch, the guacamole gave it creaminess, and the lettuce and tomato gave it the normalcy of a typical burger… all encased in a really nice, firm but soft bun… impressive!

The sweet potato air-baked fries were also very good… I ate the entire box!

So, my overall thoughts? This is a new, exciting place to visit in the neighbourhood, especially as I’d like to try their vegan macaroni and cheese with shitake bacon, along with some of their tasty-sounding salads.

At the same time, I was stuffed after eating the burger and fries, in a way that I’m not typically, even after having eaten a bigger meal. Maybe it was the extra-fluffy bread? It wasn’t the protein, as there wasn’t too much of it in the patty (or elsewhere…) so who knows!

One of the things I always wonder about with vegan food is how healthy it really is. Everyone goes on and on about the lack of meat, and I agree that it’s healthier to mainly be eating plants… but when you think of the cashew cream and all the other very fatty foods you end up substituting for things like milk or meat, you can end up eating many more calories… and even if they are healthier, it can make a difference over time.

I had checked out the calories for this food, out of interest, on the website, and no information is listed… other than a note saying that the focus is that “By eating carbs from veggies, healthy fats, and plant-based proteins you will stay full longer, maintain your blood sugar levels, and experience increased energy” – I agree with that, but it still doesn’t give us much information. They suggest that you go talk to one of the employees in-store about it. And that’s what I’ll do next time!

Viet Food, Chinatown

A chilly  day in London and the favourite Vietnamese is closed for renovations… what are we to do! We head into Chinatown in hopes of finding another place with pho. Viet Food looks good and quite modern from the outside (and inside!) and also has a prix fixe lunch.

So we order like always, I get the chicken pho as my main and the salt and pepper chili tofu as my starter. The main came first… my pho, which had a very perfumed and delicately spiced, with poached chicken and lots of herbs… a real hit!

The, later, my appetiser, the tofu, which was served with lots of chilis, onions, lemongrass and spring onions… the veggies were better than the tofu itself, which had quite a thick layer of fried… well, it really tasted like cornstarch. So not great. Next time, I’d maybe try a fried squid or something else.

But overall? Quite good. I would be back… but I already like the place next to our offices, the local. So until they change… I probably won’t make it back here.