Whenever I turn down Gerrard Place, left after the fire station on Shaftsbury Avenue, I brace myself. The smells of Chinatown hit you in a sickly, sweet wave – it is the aroma of sticky ribs, crispy-skinned duck and plum sauce. It is all at once too much and not enough, often overwhelming, especially on the tender stomach of a hangover which hasn’t yet been fed. The boy and I have two favourite places in Chinatown – Lido (one of my very first reviews) and Golden Dragon.
Lido evokes childhood memories for the boy, long distant weekend lunches with his father, but Golden Dragon is all our own. It’s huge, and all the waiters are in formal attire. The man at the front wears a hands free kit and conducts himself as if this were a couture fashion show – military precision and little mirth. We are seated without a smile and delivered our plates, saucers and green tea. Something about this kind of service makes me profusely polite and thankful for every little bit thrown my way – which eventually seems to rub off on the waiters, who thank you back as they clean plate after plate from our burgeoning table.
Usually, because good Dim Sum is a treat deigned only for those who get off their arses early afternoon and make the trip to Chinatown, we order about ten dishes (too many) and induce a Dim Sum coma that can only be relieved by sitting down with the top button of your jeans undone, and a promise not to overdo it so much next time – which we never keep.
This time however, we sort of did. Sort of. We opted for Beef Ho Fun (flat, thick noodles in a glossy, savoury sauce) and Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce (the only greenery in a sea of fried foods and sugary sauces). Which meant we were relatively restrained with the Dim Sum selection – only five in total. We’re growing up.
Our final selection was the A-Listers of Dim Sum delights, in our mind. Mysteriously, anything Char Sui related – a glossy, sticky, sweet barbequed pork – always comes first. We were delivered Char Sui Puffs – think of the most delicious Cornish Pasty you’ve ever had, but stuffed with oozing barbeque pork instead of potato and beef – and Char Sui Cheung Fun straight away. The former was a more savoury flavour than usual – no bad thing, as sometimes it can feel like eating dessert first. The pastry flaked from our fingertips and we picked up every last drop from the plate. Char Sui Cheung Fun – something that can only described as thick, wobbly cannelloni like noodles – came next, stuffed with Char Sui pork and drenched in seasoned soy sauce. There’s argument that Lido have this down better, something to do with the usually sweeter pork mix pairing better with the noodle, but either way it was delicious.
Next, the steamed dumplings – Har Kau, one of the most popular Dim Sum dishes, stuffed to bursting with fleshy white prawns and dribbled with the slightest of soy, had plenty of bite and yield. Xiao Long Bao – soup dumplings full of tangy, ginger pork mince – which I waxed lyrical about in my Lido review – was also perfection. It has that ceremony I crave in all things – the rolling of a cigarette, for example, or the snack crackle pop of tonic over gin and rocks. Here, it was the gentle bite at the top of the pinched dumpling skin to let out the steam, and stop the soup (which is actually meat jelly, melted) dribbling down your chin. Pour over the slightest of vinegar sauce and suck it all down in one mouthful – a symphony of taste.
Now, back to the Beef Ho Fun. This is one of our favourite dishes from our favourite Chinese takeaway – Xiong Mao on Essex Road (look it up, it really is very good and they have lots of different branches around London. I recommend the Crispy Shredded Beef or the Salt and Pepper King Prawns. And there’s only a minimum £10 order, bargain).
Now while Xiong Mao’s Beef Ho Fun is really very good, it does come with that inevitable takeaway sheen – a slick too much of oil. None of that was present here. The thick, wide noodles were shiny, the beef tender, the noodles laced with crunchy beansprouts and green spring onions. The choy sum had a pleasing bite, too – another thing takeaways never get right, always overcooking and overcharging for their portions of vegetables (£7.95 for Stir Fried Brocolli? Get a life).
We had so much of the noodles and veg left over we took a doggy bag home for dinner (and to the cinema, about seven high street stores and a fancy wine bar). We padded out the leftovers with another order from the aforementioned Xiong Mao – Salt and Pepper Prawns, egg fried rice and prawn crackers. It was a dinner, and an entire day, fit for Kings. Bravo Golden Dragon, bravo.
Golden Dragon – 28-29 Gerrard St, Chinatown
£54 for two with service and leftovers
Four out of five stars