Tuesday, July 6, 2010

5 best cheap eats in London Chinatown (Leicester Square) - where to grab a quick bite before a play

All theatre goers can be placed into two main categories - one who would go for a proper three-course pre-theatre dinner (tables to be cleared by 7.30pm) and another who prefers to go for something cheap and cheery. Regardless of which group you fall into, you'll be spoilt for choice in London's West End for the area is literally littered with eateries and restaurants.

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Now, I'm definitely not the type who will go through a starter, main and dessert just before a play. The last time I tried that, I was glancing at my watch all the time in case I turned up late for the play, and then dozed off during the play itself when the full meal finally settled in my stomach. Not something that I want to repeat.

For those of us who prefer a quick bite, Chinatown itself offers a wide selection. Please, for gawd sake, give those five quid Mr Wu's buffets a skip. They are seriously not worth the effort unless you relish the notion of being fed like battery chicken. I foolishly walked into a £4.95 all-you-can-eat buffet during my first few weeks in London and the experience was just horrible - pineapple rice, which was essentially white rice and some yellow dye, fried chicken wings with tiny broken bones, sweet and sour pork that almost broke my tooth, and the list just go on.

Anyway, after mauling through a couple of choices, I came up with a list of five best cheap eats in London's Chinatown.

1. Jen's Cafe

Freshly made Chinese dumpling is always a crowd-pleaser. A portion of that with a cup of bubble tea (pao pao cha) makes an apt light meal just before a play. My favorite? Roast pork noodle for just over a fiver.

2. Special Zone 1997

A full meal for just £3.80 in the heart of London? Oh yes, you read that right. Special Zone 1997 offers a special lunch menu before 5pm. The offer is advertised on the menu pasted on its window. If you aren't offered the menu, just ask for it. Go for the beef tendon hor fan (flat rice noodles). On a good day, it's the best I've ever tasted.

3. Lan Zhou La Mian (Noodle Bar)

Granted that this is technically outside Chinatown but hey, it's literally a couple of meters away from Leicester Square Tube station, the station that serves Chinatown so there you go. Watching the chef transform a simple piece of dough into strands of noodles is an absolute joy. Serve it with beef stock and chunks of tender beef, and you'll be good to go.

4. Joy King Lau

Joy King Lau isn't the most fantastic dim sum around but at just £2.10 per portion, its prices are hard to beat. This is the place to go if you are in a hurry and would prefer not to pay Yauatcha's prices.

5. Sun Luen Snack Bar

When all else fails, there's always Sun Luen to fall back on. This simple Hong Kong style bakery offers the usual suspects - char siew buns, ham and egg buns, custard egg tarts, fried dough stripes (you tiao), beancurd (tofu hua) among others. I normally ended up eating more than a couple of buns whenever I'm there.

Here you go, the five cheap eats that, in my opinion, offer the best bang for your buck. Have you got any others to recommend in the area?

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