Thursday 1 October 2009

Review: HK Diner (Cantonese), London

Salty Fishballs

The little stretch of Wardour St south of Shaftesbury Avenue is full of cheap places to get a bowl of soup noodles. There's the infamous Wong Kei, the resolutely old school Hung’s and a couple of trendier places like HK Diner and Café TPT amongst others. I decided to try HK Diner having had my ear bent over dinner at Hunan on how it's the best 'cheap & cheerful' place in Chinatown. I had my doubts and these weren't assuaged by my bowl of fish ball soup noodles (yu dan tang mein). From the photo, you can't discern anything is wrong and as the fish balls, fish cake and noodles (san mein) are all bought in, there's only one thing they need to get right, the soup.

Soup noodles stand and fall on the quality of the soup and it was obvious that the HK Diner artificially enhanced their master stock with MSG. I don't want to get into a debate over the use of MSG but the soup was far too salty and over seasoned. For hours after, I was thirsty with a lingering aftertaste of the soup in my mouth - all this from a few spoonfuls.

It's funny how the quality of the food impacts on the overall dining experience. Things that in another time and place might not have bothered me really pissed me off. The English language only menu I was handed consisted of 'Chinese Food for Dummies' and whilst there was a double sided specials menu card, this had English translations on one side only. Now I can't read Chinese properly but I can read numbers. Perhaps I'm being cynical but the bilingual side of the menu seemed to have big ticket items on it whilst the Chinese side of the menu had cheap stuff like soup noodles on it.

Was this a purposeful ploy to steer non-Chinese readers to order more expensive dishes by not translating the cheap one-dish meals into English ? I guess it makes a change from the usual menu divide which segregates more esoteric dishes for Chinese diners from the anglicised dishes on the English menu. It's this kind of practice that gives Chinese restaurants a bad name.

Whilst expectations of service aren't high in Chinatown, I also didn't appreciate the bill being thrust my way whilst I was drinking tea and reading the paper. It wasn't as if there were people waiting for my table and I really needed to drink more tea. It was their loss actually as I was going to order some Cantonese BBQ to take home. Instead I crossed the road and went into Hung’s for a take-away portion of cha siu.

Verdict: On reflection, I shouldn't get so worked up about a bowl of noodles and a pot of tea that cost £6.60 but I don't think I'll be switching my allegiances to HK Diner anytime soon.

Other Stuff: I was intrigued by their claypot rice before I got a strop on. They also serve bubble tea if you like that kind of thing.

Hk Diner on Urbanspoon


  1. I think HK Diner is fine, but then it does depend on what you order. I like the roast duck ho fun. My mum isn't a fan of the place though! And I also can't read that Chinese menu...

  2. Ah, what a shame! Their fried noodles are awfully nice though... I agree about the whole Chinese menu thing though. I can't speak or read Chinese - such a useless Chinese person I am! :D

  3. I know this is hard to believe cos i live like 2 mins away, but I havent' been to HK Diner! *gasp* I hear wonderful things though and will definitely get there... Foodie Guide Helen and I might camp out there to catch a glimpe of Jun Tunaka, apparently its his favourite after work haunt ;)

  4. Helen - as with most Chinese places, I agree it does depend on what you order but it isn't a big ask for a Hong Kong style caff to get soup noodles right. I'm with your Mum on this one !

    Su-lin - the Chinese menu thing really bugs me and is a subject worthy of a post of its own.

    Catty - Try Hung's before HK Diner.

  5. The only place to get real HK Bubble Tea , Roast Duck, Crispy Pork , BBQ pork & Bake Pork Chop Rice. These are all my favorite food, won't go any where else, try them all, this is the best, and as for the menu being only in chinese, we never have any problem asking the waiter to translate to our BBC & English mate, as in your post you cant read chinese i presume you have never live in Hong Kong and try the real deal.

    I have try Hung, TPT and 1997, but they do not have the classic Hong Kong feel, and quality of food and drinks, but they are a little bit cheaper.

    And now that Four Season Restaurant have open opposite, I Have try there Roast Duck and BBQ when they first open, but the food is too full of MSG and the service is so slow, and there pricing is so high,

    They are still the best and remind me of home in Kowloon Hong Kong.
    Bobby and Mandy Ho, and Mate

  6. Bobby & Mandy - I'm all for a bit of debate and I have no problem in you advocating the case for HK Diner. However I I do take exception to some of your comments:

    1) I have visited HK and Guangzhou frequently over the years and I am well aware what the real deal is. Moreover, I've eaten real Cantonese food all my life, as my parents were born in China. You really shouldn't draw inferences about people based on their language abilities.

    2) I haven't been to Four Seasons but if they do use MSG, what do you think about my comments regarding HK Diner's excessive use of MSG in their fishball noodles?

    Oh and by the way, bubble tea originated in Taiwan not Hong Kong.

  7. Now I've started to eat my share of fish balls I can happily opine that they look like an absolute unrefined mess of a dish (even compared to ones I have had in Kowloon : )

  8. HK Diner is an excellent place for a quick bite to eat after being out drinking. Great tasting food (actually one of my favourite Chinese places in the Capital food wise), not too expensively priced and i found they do not use too much MSG, but beware of the soy sauce / BBQ sauce, which has msg, and i alway have my BBQ meat's with the sauce on a side dish, just ask the waiter.

  9. Sam & Bobo - I'm glad you like HK Diner but for me, there's plenty of other places where I'd rather go for a fix of Cantonese food. Once bitten, twice shy.

  10. HK Diner 22 Wardour Street W1D 6QQ This is the worst ever restaurant you can ever dine at!!! The waiters are abusive and did not provide any service!!! We were even abused by a female waitress behind the bar who used foul language!!!

    I cannot believe what we had gone through, this was the only dining place that we have ever stepped foot into and received abuse by the staff, I can only reiterate to diners not to attend this restaurant!!!

    Even though it states in their menu that the service charge is discretionary the staff and management didn’t even know the meaning of ‘discretionary’ when I refused to pay the service charge.

    Also the female owner was ignorant to blame us and customers who do not pay the service charge for causing loss of business and because of these incidents she cannot pay her staff wages, business rates, business rent etc… She didn’t even think twice that the attitude that herself and her staff had provided reflects the running of the business and should not to blame customers for their incompetence!