“ CHINESE. 28-29 Gerrard St, W1V 7LP. Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 1152. „
Having arranged to have a family meal in Chinatown for Sunday lunch, I had to find somewhere where I could rely on the quality of dim sum. This restaurant was recommended to me by a Chinese colleague who now lives in the UK, which is a good a recommendation as you can get, and having tried this place several times I thought it was time to review it, seeing as I haven't concentrated so much on reviewing restaurants in this country.
The concept of dim sum is a range of light dishes, served at about lunch time in UK Chinese restaurants. In Hong Kong and Guangdong province (South China) it can start at 5am. This can be meat, seafood, vegetables desserts and fruit. Typical dishes are meat or fish wrapped in small pastry wrappers or large thin Ho Fun noodles. Dishes are usually served in a bamboo steamer basket or small plate. Dim sum is a Cantonese phrase and means "touch the heart" or "order to your heart's content". Historically, travellers on the ancient Silk Road needed somewhere to sleep, and rural farmers somewhere to have tea, so teahouses were established on roadsides. At first tea and food wasn't combined as it was though to lead to weight gain, but once the digestive benefits of tea were discovered, snacks were added and dim sum evolved over time. As many Chinese restaurants in this country are actually run by people or Hong Kong origin, you will see many aspects of their particular take on it, as you will see if you read on.
The Golden Dragon is located on the pedestrianised heart of Chinatown, Gerrard Street, toward the end near to one of the pagodas, towards Wardour Street. It's quite sizeable, with the dining area spread across 2 floors. As you enter, the stairs are to the immediate right, leading to the upper dining floor. For dim sum it doesn't matter too much which floor you're on as this isn't a place which offers trolley service. The small bar is to the left with a cloakroom and LCD TV. Another LCD TV is towards the back of the restaurant. To the right is an impressive display of various hues of marinated ducks and a couple of marinated pork joints book casing them on each side. At the left side of this was the serving hatch, which had a list of dishes in Chinese written. Notably, some of the menu was also in Chinese, which is a nice touch for the native patrons. To the back of the large ground floor dining area with a relatively low ceiling is a big red Chinese mural, which looks like a scene with an emperor. At the back is a big sign in Chinese.
There were a lot of sized of round and square wooden tables, seating anything between 2-10 people, so there was a lot of diverse kinds of groups dining in the bustling, lively atmosphere. These were covered by disposable white paper tablecloths over some real white tablecloths - probably thinking of messy diners such as myself. The chairs were also wooden with a red leather seat and back rest. The floor consisted of a quite worn dark brown patterned carpet, which I liked as it indicated that the restaurant hadn't been modernized to within an inch of its life, as has been the recent trend on Gerrard Street. It's always a fine line between progress and tradition, and the refurbishment of many of the restaurants is probably long overdue, but I can't help but opine that something about the feel of Chinatown has been lost in the process. I am quite unequivocal though that the addition of a trendy bar in the middle of the street is a disaster.
I am always encouraged by natives of the cuisine in any given restaurant, so it was pleasing to see many diner of Chinese extraction tucking in contentedly to the dim sum.
On Sundays this is a very popular spot for dim sum, and consequently to avoid queuing it's best to arrive not much later than midday. On this occasion we had to wait for about 10 minutes for a table, which is pretty good for this establishment. There were some seats near to the entrance to facilitate comfortable waiting for the lucky few not standing huddled in the entrance.
The waiting staff were very smartly dressed. I found them very helpful, particularly to identify vegetarian dishes, or ones without pork in, and they seemed to be very knowledgeable about the dim sum menu. As we had vegetarians and non pork eaters in our party this was invaluable.
DIM SUM DISHES
To start with we ordered Chinese tea all round to drink. This resulted in us getting 2 large pots of the stuff and a lot of little cups. The pots were refilled once we gave the secret sign, i.e. leave the lid slightly off, or alternatively wave at a waiter and frantically point at the pot. We also ordered a couple of bottles of the house white wine, although I can't really comment on it as I didn't drink it, but I gather it was nice. It wasn't cooled though, so we asked for a cooler which we got. I was impressed by the bottle label, which had the name of the restaurant and image of a ancient Chinese man, a nice touch I thought.
And so on to the individual dishes:
Seafood noodles - this consisted of thick udon noodles mixed with prawns, scallops, squid and some seafood sauce and peppers. This was lovely! The melt in the mouth udon noodles with crunchy flavoursome seafood and vegetables is always a winning combination for me.
Monks vegetables - big chunks of tofu, carrot, sweetcorn and pak choi were mixed together in a mild sauce. Usually this is served in a big earthen pot but this was on a plate. Pretty good, too.
Vegetable noodles - this really was a tasty treat with Chinese mushrooms, broccoli and pak choi almost totally obscuring the thin fried eggs noodles nestling underneath. The vegetables were very tasty and the noodles pleasingly crunchy.
Chicken buns - this is amongst my favourite dim sum items. A big thick rough ball of thick, sweet glutinous pastry has deep within a scrumptious chicken and mushroom filling with a tang of ginger. There are also mini chicken pies in some places but as they're not so different in many ways to a normal pie, this sweet Chinese twist is a particular treat.
Curried baby squid - another of my favourite dishes, though perhaps not for the squeamish. Served on a plate enclosed in a little wooden steamer, 10 or so whole little baby squid are served in a sweet, slightly spicy curry sauce. The squid was tender and very tasty mingled with the curry sauce.
Vegetarian spring rolls - deep fried pastry parcels filled with several vegetables, in this case mushroom, onion and carrot. I only had half of one but I found it to be tasty, with a crispy pastry case and nicely done vegetables.
Prawn dumplings - prawns enclosed in dim sum wrappers steamed and served in a bamboo basket. Simple as not much is added but tasty if the prawns are of decent quality, which they were, still crunchy after the steaming process.
Vegetarian chung fun - this was a huge piece of noodle in the shape of a sheet which were used to wrap mixed vegetables. It's like have a huge piece of stuffed noodle, which I suppose is exactly what it is, the doughy texture making way for the filling as you bite into it. Personally I prefer the versions with a prawn filling.
Squid cake - yet another favoured dish. These are deep fried cakes of minced squid (or possibly cuttlefish) mixed in with some green and red chillis, served with a sweet chilli sauce to give that extra kick. I love the texture of these, the crunchy surface and slightly chewy consistency of the spicy squid. They were surprisingly tender though, not melt in the mouth but the slight chewiness added to the dish. Some people find squid very plain but I see it as a canvas you can paint your own flavours onto.
Deep fried battered squid - not rings but flat potions of quid, deep fried in batter not unlike that used for fish and chips. Not bad at all and slightly chewy, although I would have preferred more spice in the batter.
Chicken spring rolls - as a nod towards the British influence from this native Hong Kong dish, the rolls of chicken are served with Worcestershire sauce, which acts a as pleasantly tangy condiment to the rolls.
Paper wrapped prawns - a thin layer of paper like pastry encloses a mix of prawns, the layer so thin it's almost transparent. This forms a protective coating to the prawns and holds in the succulent flavour. Pretty decent then.
As usual, this turned out to be an excellent dim sum outing; lots of different kinds of dishes to keep everyone happy, all with a unique, satisfying taste. Dim sum can sometimes be lacking in choices for vegetarians but there were no such problems here.
I think it worked out at about £15 a head although I honestly can't remember. I think the fact that I didn't make a mental note of it would suggest it was good value as I'm sure if it wasn't I would have remembered.
28-29 Gerrard Street,