Not just Dim Sum: why London’s Chinese restaurant options reign supreme

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Being the multicultural metropolis it is, London’s brimming with restaurants offering eating options drawn from every corner of the world. But in today’s London there’s a good argument that, should you try out only one cuisine, it ought to be Chinese. Why? Well, while Chinese restaurants have long been among the most popular in the UK capital, they’re going through a fascinating evolution right now – which means the food’s getting more interesting, richer and the overall taste and eating-out experience even better for the visitor.

In times past, it’s fair to say Chinese food and its restaurants were looked on in a stereotypical way. Indeed, it first properly came to the UK in the early 1800s and eventually became recognised and widespread thanks to Chinese ex-seamen opening eateries, the first of which (Piccadilly Circus’s ‘The Chinese Restaurant’) is believed to have first served up dishes over a century ago in 1908.

Decades later, the number of Chinese people in the UK multiplied as migrants from Hong Kong arrived in the 1960s, leading to the true rise of the Chinese restaurant in the ’70s and, with it, the emergence and development of Chinatown – the ethnically distinctive and colourful area jam-packed with restaurants and eateries in the Soho district of London’s West End; one or more of which you should definitely try out if you’re planning on staying at The Montcalm Royal London House.

The cuisine this gave rise to, though, wasn’t as imaginative or even as authentic as it may have been. That’s because most outlets offered ‘chop suey’; using limited ingredients, Chinese food was adapted – or rather mollified – to supposedly better suit Western palates. At its basic level, this meant pork and chicken were blended with beansprouts, mushrooms, onions and tomato sauce to make simple sweet and sour dishes.

Now, however, should you be taking advantage of London hotels special offers and coming to the capital for a short-break, a visit to a Chinese restaurant will afford you far more choice. For instance, a particular dish that’s become popular in recent years is Cantonese Dim Sum (made up of food parcels delivered to the table in steamer baskets, which owes its origins to southern China), yet Dim Sum is now experiencing a dip in popularity owing to the greater availability of cuisine from elsewhere in the vast nation that’s China.

Indeed, today’s restaurants are offering up dishes generated from all eight of China’s regional cuisines. Hunan food, for instance, is especially associated with crispy duck and chilli and garlic flavours, while dishes of Fujian cuisine often contain seafood and the umami (savoury) taste.

To that end then, Chinese restaurateurs really are spoilt for ingredients and options, ensuring they’re able to create dishes as close to the originals as possible. In the end, though, it’s the desire for variety among diners that’s changing things – for the better. So much so, the latest thing is for ‘fusion Chinese’, which combines spicy, savoury, tingling flavours from across all the cuisines. Try it out and see for yourself!

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