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Visit Chinatown’s Chinese restaurants & Oriental shops – Decorated with dragons, lanterns and pagodas

Where? Chinatown, Gerrard Street and Lisle Street, Soho Time required? A typical visit is 15 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 14, 15, 19, 22, 24, 29, 38, 94, 176 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Leicester Square Northern Piccadilly Other nearby stations: Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Tottenham Court Road Train fares

Craig’s review… Special fried rice with stir-fry chicken pork balls, crispy duck and prawn crackers too, please, and some chop suey chow mien with oriental rice noodles plus two pieces of sesame prawn toast on a bun. And some tomato ketchup.

The Lotus Garden Chinese restaurantPhoto: Craig Cross
The Lotus Garden Chinese restaurant

That is an example of what I might say when I have a Chinese takeaway (damn… I forgot the spring rolls!) but have you ever eaten a real Chinese meal? I mean one that’s cooked in Chinatown? The Chinese empire only stretches to two streets in London and they’re themed like an oriental Disneyland: big terracotta pots with bonsai trees in them, stone pots with fir trees, carved wooden gateways and red paper lanterns strung across the street.

The thing that I like most about this place is that it always seems to be just on the cusp of opening. No matter what time of day you arrive, whether it’s eight o’clock in the morning or nine o’clock at night, everybody is still rushing around as if they’re trying to get ready. Metal shutters are always going up with a clack and a bang. Lorries are always reversing down the road whilst aproned waiters crowd around the back to offload the pallets of cabbages and tomatoes and heave big sacks of onions up onto their shoulders.

Chinese gate in Gerrard StreetPhoto: Craig Cross
Chinese gate in Gerrard Street

If you dawdle for five minutes then you’ll get bricked in by giant flat bags of rice, cardboard boxes of bean sprouts and a pyramid pile of bin bags stacked up against the lamppost.

Chinese restaurants, takeaways and cocktail bars

A typical English cafe has a half-jar of mustard on a crumbling cork mat, whereas Chinese ones have fairy lights and a tropical fish tank by the door. I have a read of the menu in the misty window to see what they’re eating and there’s dim sum, roast duck and dumplings, huge hotpots on the table (big bowls of boiling water with a few skewers for the meat). There are a couple of fast-food joints as well but they’re not like our western ones. The Chinese version of Kentucky Fried Chicken has a string of dead chickens trussed up in the window.

Chinese gate in Wardour StreetPhoto: Craig Cross
Chinese gate in Wardour Street

If you want a drink then look for a bouncer lounging around an empty door because that’s probably a speakeasy-style bar. He’ll look you up and down a few times, maybe give you a smile (probably not), and crack open the door about five inches so you can squeeze in sideways.

When you climb the stairs you’ll find yourself in a dimly-lit cocktail bar… the kind of bar where all the shelves are lit with mirrors and the only glasses they’ve got are tall triangle ones on long thin stems. There’s supposed to be a good one down Gerrard Street called Opium, and The Mulwray above the Blue Posts in Rupert Court.

Chinese sweets in an Oriental supermarketPhoto: Craig Cross
Chinese sweets in an Oriental supermarket

Oriental supermarkets and Asian food shops

I’m not sure how their supermarkets work because they don’t have any shelving inside, just a load of wooden pallets spread across the floor with rice sacks as big as dry concrete bags and huge army-sized drums of cooking oil.

I’m doing a quick count up of the shops and it seems to be 80% restaurants, 10% herbal quack doctors and 10% massage parlours all offering to loosen up your muscles for fifteen quid a pop. But I’m guessing they’re the kind of massages that hurt, with lots of karate chops and pummelling of fists involved.

Worth a visit? Value for money? n/aGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Leicester Square (you can walk it in less than 2 mins) and Piccadilly Circus (you can walk it in 4 mins). You might like to come back in January or February when all the paper lanterns are up to celebrate Chinese New Year

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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Chinese New Year celebration in Trafalgar Square

Chinese New Year celebration in Trafalgar Square

Your comments and questions

dove How far to walk from Leicester Square station to Chinatown?

Craig Hi Dove. It's just 1 or 2 minutes depending on which exit you come out of. Just head down Lisle Street and turn into Gerrard Street

David They've got some fantastic restaurants in Chinatown. My favourite is the Lotus Garden. It's not too expensive for the middle of London and the menu is huge. They've got just about every chinese meal possible and I must have tried at least half of them by now.

Rinour What is the station for Chinatown

Craig Hi Rinour. Leicester Square is the closest, but if you want to make your walk a bit more interesting you could get off at Piccadilly Circus and walk through Leicester Square

MWalker Hi Craig, is Chinatown worth a detour for us? What I really mean is, is it authentic or is it made just for the tourists?

Craig Hi MWalker. I've never been to China myself so I can't really say if it's authentic, but certainly a lot of the decorations are exactly what a tourist would expect to find... a wooden pagoda, stone dragons, bonsai trees, paper lanterns... but I still quite like them anyway. A lot of the shop workers and people milling around seem to be genuinely Chinese rather than English speaking locals, and everything is written in unfathomable mandarin, like the shop fronts, adverts and menus. You're probably going to be in the area of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square at some point during your holiday, so I think it's definitely worth a quick look

The Lantern Carrier How do I get there from tottenham court road?

Craig Hi. Just walk down Charing Cross Road, turn right into Shaftesbury Avenue, and then left when you get to Gerrard Place. It's not very far

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