(CNN) — The lanes around Gerrard Street in London’s Soho are crammed as tightly with Asian restaurants as fillings in a Chinese dumpling, with the results just as delicious.
Cantonese cuisine, from Guangdong Province, is the Chinese style most familiar to Western palates, thanks to the region’s many emigrants who set up restaurants around the globe.
The interior here, like many joints in this part of town, is a little shabby and a little kitschy. Many seem to have changed little since the ’70s or ’80s — which is part of the appeal.
Prices are pretty reasonable but some of the showier items — such as the pan-grilled black cod with Champagne and honey (around $42) — may leave your stomach as empty as your wallet.
Shu Xiangge serves up traditional Sichuan hot pot on Gerrard Street.
Courtesy Chinatown London
The upstairs has an ’80s nightclub feel and, in a laminated menu liberally scattered with red-pepper heat warnings, the signature dish is grilled fish in chilli oil. When things really get sizzing, there’s KTV karaoke, a Chinese institution.
There are plenty of places in Chinatown to indulge a passion for steaming hot baskets packed with bite-sized dumplings, buns and rolls.
Xiaolongbao, Shanghai-style soup dumplings, are the signature dim sum at Dumplings’ Legend (an offshoot of Taiwanese dim sum stalwart Leong’s Legend).
Dumplings Legend serves nine varieties of these delicately twisted dough purses filled with flavorsome broth and fillings ranging from crabmeat to black truffle and pork. A glass room near the entrance lets you see the dumpling-makers at work.
Leong’s Legend, 39 Gerrard St, W1D 5QD; 020 7434 0899
It’s the Escape Room of dining experiences, with egg timers, tools and diagrams to negotiate while you and your friends turn color-coded plates of ingredients and broth into your evening meal. It’s fun, it’s sociable, but if you like your food fast and fuss-free, it may just drive you nuts.
Whether you’ve a hankering for sushi, Japanese curry, freshly baked cakes or ice-cream, Shibuya Soho has it all (110 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EJ; 020 7439 8393). It’s also where you can try bingsu, a Korean shaved ice dessert with a range of toppings, from mango to espresso.
Like its technicolor interior, Ichibuns’ bursting burgers border on sensual overload.
Courtesy Chinatown Town/Ichibuns
Yes, you can try out a proper high-tech Japanese toilet right here in Chinatown.
Family and friends gather to enjoy the huge mix of ingredients — carrots, ginger, jellyfish, wontons and more — all of which signify luck, wealth or health. In the ritual of lo hei (“toss high”), guests toss the ingredients in the air with chopsticks while shouting out good wishes for the year ahead.
Lahpet is Burmese tea leaf salad.
Courtesy Chinatown London/The Shan State
For an authentic taste of Myanmar, try lahpet, fermented tea leaf salad served with peanuts, dried prawn, garlic and tomato.
The feasting menu includes glamorous delights such as lotus crisps and char siu Iberico pork collar.
Served in a cute ceramic puppy, the Dog cocktail is made of raisin-infused Chivas Regal whisky, noisette, biscuit syrup, chocolate bitters and mead. It’s so sweet it might make you howl, but it’s worth it for the novelty factor alone.
For delicious street snacks costing less than $5, head to Little Newport Street, near Leicester Square station.
At Chinese Tapas House (15 Little Newport St, WC2H 7JJ), a rough-and-ready hole-in-the-wall joint, jianbing, traditional breakfast crepes from Shandong Province, are cooked fresh in front of you.
After the dough’s spread thin on the hotplate, an egg is cracked on top, fresh coriander and scallions scattered across, hoison, chili sauce and crunchy wontons are added, and your choice of fillings — Chinese sausage, belly pork, crispy pigskin or pickles.
Good Friend Chicken: You’ll struggle to find a cheaper hot meal in central London.
Courtesy Chinatown London/Good Friend Chicken
Next door at Good Friend Chicken (14 Little Newport St), for just £3.50 you can get a large paper bag of tender, tasty Taiwanese popcorn chicken, sprinkled with your choice of seven different spices, from plum to seaweed.
Just around the corner at 7 Newport Place (WC2H 7JR), Chinatown Bakery does a roaring trade day and night selling everything from Taro buns to green-tinted Pandan Swiss rolls.
Plenty gather just to watch the taiyaki machine in the window spill out freshly filled fish-shaped waffles, oozing with custardy goodness.
Taiyaki waffles are shaped like tai: Japanese red seabream.
Courtesy Chinatown London/Chinatown Bakery
Bake’s most Instagrammable is their soft-serve matcha tea ice-cream served in a fish-shaped taiyaki waffle cone with a jaunty wafer.
Bubble Wrap specializes in Hong Kong-style egg waffles, served with ice cream and topped with everything from Oreos to red bean sauce. They look fabulous but you’d better be hungry and love sugar — the peanut butter option is Hong Kong levels of sweet.
And if you want to compare Hong Kong custard tarts to the Portuguese originals, Wonderful Patisserie (45 Gerrard St, W1D 5QQ; 020 7734 7629) serves both.
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