Chinatown in Soho London throngs with tourists and locals every day of the week. This isn’t, however, the first Chinatown in London. The original Chinese area was in the East end of the capital in Limehouse. That run-down neighbourhood suffered severe bombing during the Second World War, forcing many Chinese to find another home.
The Chinatown we see today began to thrive in the 1970s. It is now a magnet for those looking for good Chinese food, although other cuisines are becoming evident. One can enjoy a high-end dinner, some addictive bakery fare … and then there is Dim Sum!
There are a few restaurants offering Dim Sum in Chinatown. Many of them create good dishes and some of them are actually pleasant places to visit. Orient on Wardour Street offers great food, attractive surroundings, and friendly staff as a bonus. Orient is my new Soho favourite.
But what is Dim Sum? Perhaps one could describe it as Chinese tapas – or is tapas Spanish Dim Sum? It is traditionally served as brunch although these days these bite-sized portions of food can be found till late afternoon to cater for demand. There are baked, steamed and fried Dim Sum, and a few dishes along with the ubiquitous tea will constitute a satisfying meal.
We glowed with culinary anticipation
We arrived at Orient just a few minutes after the mid-week opening time of 12 noon. It was already half full of customers and the majority of those were Chinese. That is always a good sign. The walls glowed with gold-coloured wallpaper and we glowed with culinary anticipation, having glanced at other tables’ platters.
A pot of Chinese tea arrived and that was replenished several times during our meal. Don’t miss out on this step, which is an indispensable element of a successful Dim Sum adventure – and this was going to be a delicious one.
The menu offers à la carte as well as the Dim Sum that was our preference. Don’t be intimidated by the associated Dim Sum checklist. Yes, it’s all in Chinese but each item has a number which corresponds with the comprehensive bilingual menu. Pick your selection of Dim Sum from the menu and tick the appropriate box on the form. The waiter will shortly arrive and so will the food.
This is a convivial way of eating. Consider three dishes each, and mix and match with your companion’s choices. The table will soon be filled with bamboo steamers and china plates.
We ordered six dishes between us. That was really enough, although the food was such a delight it would have been easy to linger for a few additional dishes. Another visit is already being arranged to sample more. It will take several lunches to taste every Dim Sum here…
Baked mini roast pork buns were light and well-stuffed with aromatic pork in a rich gravy. Pork and prawn dumplings topped with crab roe (siu mai) were as pretty as a picture and succulent. Pan-fried spring onion pancake with shrimp were thin and crunchy. Pan-fried turnip cake is a classic and works well with dishes with a little sauce.
Chicken claws in black bean sauce was my dish of the day and I ate every bite. My co-eater isn’t a chicken feet man, and it seems not many Westerners are. Granted, there isn’t a lot of meat on those toes; it’s about the gelatinous texture and the quality of the sauce. What’s not to like? And it seems that Orient has a reputation for chicken claws.
Mini egg tarts finished the meal in sweet fashion. They were sunny and moreish and a portion is actually 3 tarts. I would advise taking two friends to Orient and ordering two portions. Thus, two tarts each and no unseemly fights.
Orient is a polished gem in London’s Chinatown. It has many loyal clients and has just added a couple more.
Monday – Thursday: 12 noon – 12 midnight
Friday – Saturday: 12 noon – 12.30am
Sunday: 11.30am – 11pm
Phone: 020 7989 8880
15 Wardour Street