I’ve been walking by the Lanzhou Noodle Bar (on Cranbourn Street, just around the corner from the entrance to Leicester Square station) without ever paying it much attention. In the window are steam trays filled with the kind of buffet Chinese food that you expect an unsuspecting tourist to order, thinking that this is what real Chinese food is like in London’s Chinatown. Well, who’s the noob now?! It turns out that behind that false front is noodle heaven. (With thanks to Lizzie as I read about the place on her blog first – and yet still couldn’t find it, sigh)

They’ve got an a la carte menu filled with various dishes – I turned immediately to the noodle chart where there’s a choice of either handpulled noodles (la mian – famous in the city of Lanzhou) or hand cut noodles (dao xiao mian), either in a soup or stir-fried. Various meaty additions are available.

On my visit there, I was placed on some strange bar-like seating which I had to share with two guys trying to keep their elbows to themselves. I ordered some tea and a bowl of hot and sour sliced beef handpulled noodle soup and waited while noodles were pulled and thumped behind me. My tea came in a styrofoam cup, which was a bit unwieldy but did its job.

Dotted on the tables were jars of ‘Shanghai red beancurd’ that turned out to be filled instead with what appeared to be homemade chilli oil. Help yourself!

Chilli Oil

After a little wait, a massive bowl of noodle soup was plonked down in front of me. There was a good spicy and gently sour broth, beautifully thin noodles (I asked for thin, I’ll probably go with regular next time), and lots of sliced beef and some token bok choy too.

Hot and Sour Sliced Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup

Just having it steam up my face was extremely comforting and yes, it was delicious. The noodles were slippery smooth and somehow I managed to put away the entire bowl. Don’t worry about heat levels – the hot and sour were quite gentle. For real heat, you’ve got to add that chili oil on the table.

And Lanzhou Noodle Bar is definitely not a place to linger – order, eat and go. I’m a-ok with that when the bill is about £8.

Lanzhou Noodle Bar
33 Cranbourn Street
London WC2H 7AD

Lanzhou on Urbanspoon

This past scorching summer in London had us dining on bits and bobs from the fridge, plenty of salads and pretty much anything else that didn’t actually require cooking. The thought of cold noodles then came to me and I wanted something cold yet rich and filling. Sesame noodles! The sauce is rich and savoury but the vegetables help keep it fresh.

They’re very easy to throw together and if Chinese cuisine is normally your thing, the majority of the ingredients will be in your fridge. It keeps very well in the fridge too and makes for a great snack or packed lunch.

And sure, it’s no longer summer in London but it’s still a good recipe!

Cold Sesame Noodles

Cold Sesame Noodles
serves 2-3.

300g dried wheat noodles

a little sesame oil
1 large carrot
1/2 an English cucumber

for the dressing:
2 heaped tbsps Chinese sesame paste
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil
2 tbsps light soy sauce
2 tbsps rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 large spring onions, finely sliced

This recipe couldn’t be easier. Mix together all the dressing ingredients together. Shred the carrot and cucumber (leave out the seeds) and set aside.

Boil the noodles until al dente (or to your liking). Drain and cool with cold water and toss with the carrot, cucumber and all the dressing. Serve.

One of my closest friends has been in London this past year and she very kindly took me for lunch at Min Jiang on my birthday a couple weeks back. With its location on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel (a hotel whose interior is certainly much nicer than its blocky grey exterior), its views over Kensington Gardens were brilliant; if only the weather that day matched it.

The View

I’d never felt so much like a tai tai (think lady who lunches) that afternoon (leaving work for a long lunch at a swanky restaurant will do that). And as you’d expect in a restaurant like Min Jiang, service was impeccable throughout our lunch.

For our meal, we chose a selection of dim sum and some noodles for the whole birthday thing (their length represents longevity) – their famous Beijing duck would have to wait for another visit. Our first dish, their signature xiao long bao, was excellent. Thin skins gave way to lots of meaty broth and a lovely pork filling; we think they’d coated the base of the steamer with something so that the dumplings wouldn’t stick. With a dab or two of vinegar and ginger, these went down quickly.

Xiao Long Bao

The deep-fried yam croquette with seafood was their delicate version of wu kok. These very dainty bites were delicious but I still think I prefer the more usual robust flavours of a meat filling.

Deep-fried Yam Croquette with Seafood

Har kow had a good prawn filling but the skins were ever so slightly mushy. Roxanne taught me to look out for a good springiness to the har kow wrappers.

Har Kow

The stir-fried turnip cake with XO sauce had a surprising amount of heat and was utterly delicious. Soft chunks of steamed daikon cake had been fried together with the XO sauce and the addition of beansprouts added a great crunchy contrast.

Stir-fried Turnip Cake with XO Sauce

While we were eating, a waiter snuck up behind us, announced the Sichuan dan dan noodles with minced pork and then deposited this on our table.

Uh... Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles with Minced Pork

You could have heard a pin drop.

He then proceeded to giggle at our disbelief and announced that he’d already plated up our noodles and then placed these in front of us. Oh, ha!

A Portion of Dan Dan Noodles

They were very good – more of a light, nutty, sesame laced dan dan noodle dish than the original spicy, oily Sichuan version. They went down easily and were the perfect birthday noodles.

Of course we saved room for dessert. A proper lady who lunches would probably be watching her figure but well, we were just play-acting that day. My fresh mango cream with sago pearls and pomelo was just sweet enough and certainly more mangoey than any mango/pomelo dessert I’ve had in the past. My only quibble would be that more pomelo was needed.

Fresh Mango Cream with Sago Pearls and Pomelo

Roxanne’s fried and steamed black sesame paste dumplings with black sesame ice cream came looking incredibly delicate. Everything was incredibly full of black sesame flavour. Of the two dumplings, the classic steamed dumpling was much better than fried. I loved the steamed dumpling’s soft mochi like texture and its lava-hot black sesame filling.

Fried and Steamed Black Sesame Paste Dumplings with Black Sesame Ice Cream

Was it the best dim sum in London? No, I don’t think so though it was very good and very refined but, gosh, that refinement came with a hefty price. One observation: the strength of the more northern dishes (xiao long bao, dan dan noodles) did lead us to suspect a more northern hand in the kitchen rather than a pure Cantonese one – nothing wrong with that. Overall, our meal there was great – hooray for lovely company and fantastic service and feeling like a tai tai for one afternoon. Thanks very much, Roxanne!

Min Jiang
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street
London W8 4PT

Min Jiang on Urbanspoon

By some sheer coincidence, I reckon, two of Hong Kong’s best known wonton noodle shops are located across from each other on Wellington Street in Central. On one side, Mak’s Noodles; on the other, Tsim Chai Kee. It was late breakfast time one weekday, perhaps almost brunch, when we decided to try both of them. I hear both places fill up at lunchtime with all the financial workers in the area so it’s probably best to go either early or late.

We started at Mak’s. Two bowls of wonton noodle soup were ordered (about 25HKD each) – regular egg noodles for me and flat rice noodles for M. Lots has been said already about the size of the portions at Mak’s but even after reading about it all, it was still a bit gobsmacking to have a tiny bowl served to you. You know those Chinese soup bowls that are usually set at each place at a Chinese restaurant? Yeah, that size.

Wonton Mee

Wonton Hor Fun

Four little wontons sat at the bottom of the bowl, under the little pile of noodles. The standard size for a wonton in Hong Kong seems to be of ping pong size but these were significantly smaller. Still, they were tasty with their prawn filling. The noodles were excellent with a great bouncy texture and the soup was very flavourful.

At Mak's Noodle

It was a great bowl but the size of the portion and the price of that portion is a bit hard to stomach. I reckon I could put away at least 3-4 bowls comfortably which definitely doesn’t make this a budget noodle shop. Of course, if this was in London, it would almost be a bargain for the quality evident in the bowl. They’re also famous for their dry noodles topped with shrimp roe but we didn’t have another chance to try those.

Mak’s Noodle
G/F, 77 Wellington Street
Hong Kong

With lots of space still in our tummies, we crossed the road and entered straight into Tsim Chai Kee. The inside was surprisingly modern and all dark wood and a great contrast to the old-fashioned look of Mak’s. The menu is shorter than that of Mak’s with only 3 kinds of toppings available: wontons, sliced beef and fishballs. Prices were lower (about 20HKD for one topping and 23HKD for two toppings) and portions were bigger.

M chose the wonton noodle soup this time and yes, it was a generous portion. Again, excellent noodles but I thought there was more of a lye flavour in the soup which must have leached out from the noodles. Still, I would happily down a whole bowl of these noodles with their ping pong sized wontons.

Wonton Mee

I went for two toppings: wontons and fishballs. The bigger wontons made for a meatier mouthful though in hindsight, I quite like the daintiness of Mak’s wontons. The huge, bouncy, homemade fishballs were excellent – they were made of dace and studded with dried orange peel, not something I’d had in a fishball before. The noodles were just as good as in Mak’s.

Fishballs and Wonton Mee

Oh, I can’t pick a straight out winner. Both were great but for value for your buck (and it’s all about good value here), Tsim Chai Kee is better. When I go back one day, it’ll be all three toppings in a bowl for me (yeah, then I’ll cross the road and have a plateful of dry noodles with shrimp roe)!

Tsim Chai Kee Noodle
Shop B, G/F Jade Centre
98 Wellington Street
Hong Kong

Beef noodle soup. When more than one person recommended the ones at Kau Kee to me, it became a priority visit while in Hong Kong. As befits a 90+ year old restaurant with a speciality, their menu is short – beef brisket or beef slices or curry beef tendon on your choice of noodle soup. There may have been a vegetable too.

At about 8pm on a weekday, three of us found a table with relative ease though the small restaurant was constantly packed while we were there. A bowl of Kau Kee’s special beef brisket in traditional broth (88 HKD, all beef and no noodles), another of beef brisket with e-fu noodles in broth (32 HKD), and two curry beef tendon with rice vermicelli (30 HKD each) had us bursting at the seams.

The bowls weren’t large but they were filled to the brim – lots of noodles and beef and topped up with broth. The beef brisket was just tender and very flavourful and well, beefy, as was the broth. I enjoyed the e-fu noodles though perhaps their strong flavour would pair better with the curry.

Special Beef Brisket in Traditional Broth

Beef Brisket with E-Fu Noodle in Broth

The curry beef tendon was gorgeous. This beautiful bowl opened my eyes to excellent Chinese curries – I had only had terrible yellow curry powder and cornstarch monstrosities prior to this. This was delicious and rich and complex and full of both tendon and beef brisket. I’d never had such soft beef tendon as this before; they must have simmered the mixture for ages.

Beef Tendon in Curry Sauce with Vermicelli


We did over order by that bowl of extra beef; a single bowl of beef and noodles each would have been enough and been even more of a budget dinner. Oh, what I’d give for a bowl of the curry right now!

Kau Kee
G/F, 21 Gough Street
Hong Kong