Tom's comments made me wonder what other Chinese restaurant chains would excel in London. I soon came up with a Top 5 wish list; these aren't necessarily my favourites but rather those restaurants that I believe would 'work' in the capital. They're a varied bunch and hail from all across the Chinese-speaking world and it'd be amazing if just one of them came to these shores. I'm not getting my hopes up but you never know who might be reading.
|Sautéed fresh river shrimp @ Xiao Nan Guo|
Style: High-end Shanghai
Other Locations: Beijing, Dalian, Hong Kong, Nanjing, Suzhou, Tokyo
Review: Beijing Oriental Plaza (Sept 09) and Beijing Financial St (Sept 10)
The stylish and sophisticated Xiao Nan Guo would be my top choice to open in London as the capital is desperately short of restaurants that serve Shanghai cuisine. I'm pretty sure that their refined take on this cuisine, which can sometimes be too rich, would go down a storm. And whilst Xiao Nan Guo's dim sum isn't quite as good as 2nd placed Din Tai Fung, their exquisite main courses win the day. Moreover, their website mentions global expansion plans that includes Europe – please make it happen.
2. Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐
Style: Xiao long bao and other Shanghainese dim sum
Other Locations: Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and other cities in China, Japan and Taiwan
Review: Shanghai (Aug 09)
In foodie circles, Din Tai Fung has legendary status and on another day I would've chosen this Shanghainese dim sum restaurant ahead of Xiao Nan Guo. There really ought to be a warning before you eat here because once you've sampled their xiao long bao, most other efforts at these soup-filled dumplings will seem second rate. From humble beginnings in Taiwan, this chain has spread far and wide. With branches in Los Angeles and Sydney, there is a chance that they might one day open in London.
|Dragon beans with garlic @ Bellagio|
Style: Casual Taiwanese and desserts
Other Locations: Beijing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Jinan, Nanjing
Review: Beijing (Sept 10)
I can see Bellagio being hugely popular anywhere due to its universal appeal. It's more casual than the other places on my list and the kids would just love its trendy drinks and desserts. At the same time, there is a wide choice of Taiwanese classics to satisfy old gits like me. It's this beguiling mix that has seen more than one London blogger proclaim this café to be a Beijing must-visit. Sadly, I don't think there's much chance of Bellagio opening in London, as so far expansion has been limited to China.
4. Crystal Jade 翡翠
Style: Varies depending on branch; usually either Cantonese/dim sum or Lanzhou la-mian/xiao long bao
Other Locations: Bangkok, Beijing, Hangzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo
Review: None to date (Last visit was as a civilian in 2008)
From a single restaurant in Singapore, Crystal Jade has expanded across East Asia with a mix of different cuisines and concepts. Originally renowned for its Cantonese dim sum, nowadays Crystal Jade is arguably better known for its 'La Mian Xiao Long Bao' concept. This combines Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles with Shanghai xiao long bao and London really could do with more of both. Here's hoping that the UK will be the first country in which this chain will operate in outside Asia.
|Har gau @ Lei Garden|
Style: Michelin star Cantonese including dim sum
Based: Hong Kong
Other Locations: Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Macau, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore
Review: Singapore (Aug 10)
No less than six branches of Lei Garden have a Michelin star – there can't be too many restaurant chains that can boast that achievement. I've not eaten at any of their Michelin-starred outlets in Hong Kong or Macau but the dim sum feast I had at their Singapore restaurant was different class. That said TomEats was less than impressed by the IFC branch in Hong Kong. It's all academic anyway, as I think Lei Garden's expansion plans will focus on China for the time being.
There are some restaurants that I've omitted from my wish list not because they aren't good enough but because they're too good. For example, Beijing's Ya Wang breeds its own ducks and puts them on a special diet before roasting them in an oven that uses a particular kind of wood. I'm not sure you can replicate those conditions easily outside of Beijing. Then there's the amazing contemporary Chinese cuisine of Dadong. The quality of this Beijing mini-chain is inextricably linked to Chef Dong and I can't see how standards can be maintained if he also opens a restaurant in London.
As I mused at the beginning of this post, it's highly unlikely that any of these chains will actually open in London. So for now, I'll have to make do with my fantasy that Xiao Nan Guo is my local Chinese restaurant and that Din Tai Fung have taken over each and every branch of the execrable dim sum chain, Ping Pong.
Lastly, what restaurants from faraway places would you like to see open in London?