#11 – Go for Chinese in Soho
Part of The List is about being a tourist in my own backyard. My desire to do this stems from the first time I visited New Zealand. Shortly after arrival, a tour guide greeted us with the words “Welcome to New Zealand. For those of you from the UK, little bit bigger than you, 55 million less people.” Right then, I thought to myself that since I’d given 8 weeks of my life to look round New Zealand, maybe I should spend some time looking round my own country! So since my return, I’m learning to be a tourist in my own town and am really enjoying the experience.
Seeing the best Britain has to offer features quite heavily in The List – like the UNESCO World Heritage challenge, watching the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, taking tea at The Ritz, attending the Hay Festival of Literature and touring Winchester College, eating Chinese in Soho is probably something done more by tourists than Brits. So, when I knew I was to due to be in London to catch up with some travelling friends it seemed and ideal opportunity to persuade them to join me for the evening so I could complete Challenge No 11.
On arrival at Leicester Square, I noted indications of Asian culture all around me straightaway. Even inside the underground station there were lots of Asian faces, signs and posters in Chinese characters and advertisements for Chinese restaurants and shops. Just a few minutes’ walk around the corner I was surprised to find Gerrard Street, the main street in the Chinatown area, easily identifiable by its Chinese style bright red gates. (I’m always surprised by how close things are to each other in London and how you can be really close to something and have no idea.)
Called Paifang, such decorated gates with their red painted pillars, tiled roofs, and arches decorated with intricate designs and Chinese calligraphy were originally used to mark the entrance of a building or complex but are now used simply as decorative structures. The effect was instant, immediately giving the feeling of stepping into a part of London that was not the same as the rest.
We had a reservation at the Feng Shuii Inn, recommended by a friend, which was lucky because there were so many restaurants in the street I’d have been hours trying to choose one! I was pleased to see they had Tsingtao beer which I very much enjoyed drinking when I was in China. Sadly however, it wasn’t like when I traveled in China when it was just 5 yuan (50p) extra if you had beer (no matter how much)!
We enjoyed a selection of starters; crispy seaweed, prawn toast, won tons, then crispy duck with pancakes and a variety of main dishes. I chose lamb with honey as it was something I hadn’t had before. And very tasty it was too.
Overall, the food was good but was very much English Chinese rather than Chinese Chinese, if that makes sense. I wonder if the experience would have been different if I had been in the company of Chinese diners? Still, a lovely evening catching up with friends, another part of this island seen and number 11 on The List complete. After all, I’ve eaten Chinese in China. I wasn’t in London for the authenticity of the food but for the experience.