Defying all rules of travel, I barely ate any British food whilst in London.
Instead? Chinese food. Korean food. Japanese food.
We were incredibly fortunate that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was smack in the Chinatown district, and we made excellent use of our time there by eating everything delicious that we possibly could. Canterbury and Hastings, where I’d be staying for the rest of the trip, lacked a comparable variety of international cuisine, so we stocked up on that which we could while there.
Here were some of our top favourites.
If there’s one thing Ricky and I took away from Korea, it’s a love of their food. We often crave it, and spend far too much time and money recreating dishes for ourselves at home.
It was a bit of a struggle to find a Korean restaurant in our budget in Chinatown, as dishes we were used to paying ₩5,000 ($6 CAD) for like jjajangmyeon for were often priced up at £14 ($25 CAD).
Then we found Assa with not only a more friendly price tag on its menus, but with a far more authentic vibe than most of the other places we’d looked. For one, the clientele was almost ubiquitously Korean. Then there were the side dishes, the communal soup pots, and the portable gas stoves brought over so you could cook the food on the table.
I ordered kimchi ramyeon with tteokbokki which was still bubbling when they brought it out to me, and Ricky got a fine looking bulgogi bibimbap.
We were tempted to get some makkeoli, but that, alas, was up there in the £16 range.
Most other groups were getting Korean Army Stew and spooning it out between themselves. I loved my ramyeon (and Ricky his bibimbap), but part of me regrets not getting that instead as it’s so hard to find outside of Korea. We made our own some weeks later to compensate, but had we gone back, that’s hands down what we would have ordered.
Rated at $ because most dishes were under £10.
Overseas Chinese Restaurant
(Chinese, dim sum)
The actual name of this restaurant I’m only 99% sure about – there are dozens of dim sum places all up Gerrard street, all of which Ricky and I investigated, so not even the store front let alone name lodged itself in my memory. My determination is second to none, however. I searched Google Maps for the restaurants that open before noon (very few), and then did some serious Sherlocking as I cross referenced the type of chopsticks, colour of the tablecloth, floor tiles, and shape of the chairs in the only photo I took there against the ones uploaded on the internet by other visitors.
Let me just high five myself while you worry about my OCD.
The reason I went through so much trouble to figure out the exact name is because this restaurant had the best chicken feet I’ve ever eaten. Ricky couldn’t stop talking about them for the whole time I stayed in the UK. They were perfectly sweet and salty, floating in a sticky sauce with hot chillies. My mouth waters just remembering.
The other dishes were also excellent, though I’m way too white to recall any of the Chinese names for them despite being an honorary member at Andrea’s family dinners.
All I know is that nothing we ordered ended up being disappointing. We got 5-6 smaller dishes and one larger rice bowl that came with bbq pork, mushrooms, and Chinese broccoli (my favourite). These were decently priced between £2-6 each, and though we’d arrived starving, we felt very comfortable by the end.
As a side note, one thing I was very surprised about was how late dim sum begins in London. It’s supposed to be a breakfast, but most places opened only for lunch and only closed around midnight. I’d convinced poor Ricky not to eat anything before we left the hostel so we wouldn’t spoil our appetites, but then we were met with “CLOSED” signs all up and down Chinatown. Thus we more or less picked Overseas by default of it being the only “early” bird establishment. Though it wasn’t fancy and wouldn’t have been the one we’d gone to had we had the pick of the bunch, it was a thoroughly lovely surprise.
Rated at $$ because though each dish is well priced, it adds up quickly – especially if you’re hungry.
Ricky and I had already been to this one, but it was so good from last time that we stuck it firmly on our list of things to revisit. We had a near heart attack when we walked over to find the restaurant had transformed into a wholly un-Japanese business.
Our tickers wound down after we saw it had merely moved to a different location not too far away. The food was just as delicious as last time, and we devoured bowls of ramen with succulent cuts of pork that melted in your mouth.
The new building was much smaller and had a cute interior with high ceilings. We got there for an early dinner, and by the time it got to 6ish, the place was hopping. It’s a good idea to book in advance or anticipate a wait if you’re there for the main eating hours.
Rated at $-$$ depending what you order (and especially if you have certain entrées or specialty drinks).
(Chinese, hot pot)
Our last night in London, Ricky and I ventured outside of Chinatown to the British Museum and were ready to eat something more Western…only to meet each other’s eyes and agree that we really just preferred some Chinese food.
It was a tough call between an all-you-could-eat buffet, a fancy Beijing duck place (I was really craving this), and one of the many hot pot places.
Ricky was really digging the idea of hot pot, and though my stomach had the rumbles thinking about ripping into some crispy duck flesh (this is why I could never be vegetarian), I consented.
After playing a Goldilocks scavenger hunt (the first place we tried was closed, the second place we tried was too expensive, but the third place was juuust right), we found an awesome looking restaurant called Shuang Shuang. The price was right on the menus outside, and peeking in we saw that the raw dishes was all going around on conveyer belts. All thoughts of Beijing duck flapped from my mind with relieved quacks as we tucked inside.
Once again we were really lucky about the timing: we scored two seats immediately, but when we left there was a line of about 15 people waiting. We settled ourselves in, asked for drinks, picked a dipping sauce, and grabbed some passing cucumber side dishes to munch on while we waited for our broths to arrive (these were addictive and we spent two more dishes worth of precious stomach space on them throughout the night).
Ricky got the super spicy broth, but in one of my rare moments of branching outside my usual culinary preferences, I ordered a sweet and very mild black broth. It was for the best, as Ricky was sweating chillies so hard by the end, he was turning their shade of red. For my part, it was nice to have the spicy kick once in a while as I popped beef balls and napa cabbage into his bowl, but the flavour of the black broth was very addictive.
It was, however, in my humblest of opinions, the raw dishes inching along on conveyor belts that elevated the experience from “Mmm that’s some good broth” to “I feel like a kid in Willy Wonka’s factory where everything my hands touch is edible!!”
There was buttery bok choy, succulent garlic beef, crunchy lotus root, mouthwatering lamb slices, sweet orange pumpkin, hot marinated chicken, bunches of enoki mushrooms, soft white cubes of fresh tofu, delectably fried tofu skin…it was so hard not to make a grab for everything our eyes could see. As it was we ended up with a huge stack.
We left over an hour later stinking of cooking steam and wholly satisfied.
Rated at $$$ because while each dish is seemingly quite cheap, Ricky and I easily put away 10 plates each. It was by far our most expensive meal – and that was with a special combo discount deal and nearly half of the plates priced at only £1 each.
Honorary Mention: Wasabi
We didn’t actually go to Wasabi in Chinatown, but this quickly won its place at the top of my favourite fast foods.
For one, it didn’t taste like fast food. You could get sushi of better quality than Sushi Shop here in Montreal – and for cheaper. Maki rolls, hand rolls, and single nigiri ready for you to mix and match – with stuff like wasabi peas and strawberry Pocky to pair it with.
It was the hot dishes though that really got my heart. Chicken katsu curry is currently up there with saveloy and chips as things that I will now pilgrimage to the UK to eat.
Probably every Brit is laughing at me for praising fast food on this blog entry alongside actual restaurants. Ah well. Chicken katsu curry, guys!!
Rated at $ because it’s dirt cheap fast food.