London’s Chinatown can swiftly evoke images of questionable all you can eat buffets and unidentified meat hanging in windows. The allure of vibrant colours and eclectic crowds certainly mean it’s worth a visit, but avoiding the inevitable tourist traps is more of a refined skill. Having previously found success with the food at Haozhan, it had been a good few years since we had ventured for an evening in the area so when it was suggested as a location for a festive get together, I was of course more than ready to return and see what current offerings were gracing the streets of Soho.
We assembled at the Ham Yard Hotel which isn’t technically Chinatown but within close enough proximity to warrant an honourable mention here. A centrally located hotel bar brimming with beautiful people drinking carefully concocted drinks. Not the cheapest, but worth visiting for a beverage while admiring the decor. And beautiful people.
Our main stop of the night was to be Vietfood, a restaurant from ex Hakkasan chef Jeff Tan that aims to bring modern Vietnamese food to the streets of London. Situated on a bustling section of Wardour Street, the restaurant boasts a casual chic interior with an immediate relaxed and friendly ambience on entry. Two of our friends had visited a few weeks prior and had been the ones to suggest a return visit with the rest of us. Our group of six had booked ahead which is probably recommended here as seats are relatively limited and certainly in demand.
After swiftly ordering from the drinks menu it was on to peruse our edible options. Other than the fact my meat intake is minimal, everyone else in the group is an unfussy eater so we each ordered some dishes for the table. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sharing is caring. I cannot comprehend the hate some people have when it comes to sharing food and I’m glad my friends agree with me. Why eat one thing when you can eat, well, everything?
Our starters included coconut calamari with sweet chilli sauce and crispy seafood balls with parmesan mint sauce; both of which were standout, delicious choices. Main course highlights included several bun (vermicelli noodle) dishes as well as the seabass with banana leaf and pork rib in sauce. Everything was generously portioned and excellently prepared. The menu was varied without being overwhelming and I’d certainly like to try out their pho next time I go back; somehow that didn’t seem like a dish that was overly suitable to sharing on this occasion.
Leaving Vietfood satisfied but desperately seeking sugar we then went on to BobaJam– an Asian dessert and bubble tea cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue. Now according to their website they seem have closed soon after we visited but I assume they’ll reopen soon with a similar incarnation of typical Asian desserts. I am yet to travel to Asia (here’s hoping that will change soon) but I’m going to visit in the future safe in the knowledge that where their skills excel in savoury they lack in sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I can eat Matcha anything for days but black beans mixed with matcha ice-cream may have been one bizarre step too far for me. We all mocked our friend Laura for ordering a waffle but soon retracted our taunts and replaced them with lustful stares when various jelly and cereal creations appeared in front of us. Mixed dessert success aside, BobaJam is a really fun place to go and seemed to be popular with all kinds of diners. It’s kawaii and kitsch and a great addition to Chinatown; here’s hoping it reopens again soon in 2016.
An alternative festive evening spent with great friends in a part of London that’s alive and thriving with establishments new and old. Next time you’re in Chinatown bypass the buffets and seek salvation in some of the comforting, authentic eateries on offer…just maybe skip the black bean dessert.