Dinner at Xu

Considering my obsession with all things food, you won’t be surprised to hear that recently, I fell down a bit of an Ugly Delicious rabbit hole.

Recently launched on Netflix, the series is all about the interactions between food and culture, and it truly is fascinating. Each episode is better than the next, and it’s probably the best programme about food I’ve watched since Masterchef Australia (back end of April, I’m so excited)!

One particularly interesting episode is the one where David Chang and friends look into the stereotypes around Asian cuisine, often considered unrefined and ‘cheap’ by Westerners.

And though some of the assumptions are offensive on both sides of the board, the premise still rings true, and that despite the fact that China, India and the like actually are masters at matching complex flavours and textures.

Proof (if there ever needed one) can be found at Xu, the latest venture from the incredible successful Bao London team.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + WhiskyDinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Set out in wood-panelled rooms inspired by 1930s Taipei tea rooms, Xu brings the refined flavours of Taiwan to the heart of London.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

The menu isn’t especially long but is of the intriguing variety through and through.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

From the Xiao Tsui section, we started with the Beef pancakes.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + WhiskyDinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Melt-in-the-mouth shortrib, bone marrow, pickles, spring onion and potato crumbs to be wrapped up in a pancake and devoured.

A DIY, deeply umami affair and a very good one at that.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Xian Bing – pipping hot pan-fried aged pork pancakes served with vinegar & chilli oil.

Very porky, with a touch of ginger, the filling reminded me of my favourite pork dumpling recipe, but wrapped up in the crispest, most delicately folded pastry.

A little dangerous to eat but well worth taking the risk!

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

But the incontested winner of the small plates section were those little Sweet potato & miso taro dumpling beauties.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Served in the most vibrant kow choi chilli dressing, there are a masterpiece of balance and depth of flavour.

So sort of dish you want to order doubles of so you don’t have to share!

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

The other highlight of our dinner at Xu was the signature Shou Pa chicken dish.

A beautiful plate of marinated chicken with drippings, ginger and spring onion with white pepper and chicken skin topping, it’s the epitome of roast chicken dishes.

The perfectly cooked meat and the sticky jus took me back to Sunday lunch with my parents, but with added layers of flavours thanks to the Asian aromatics.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Delicious in its own right, but even better atop some lardo fried rice.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

The Mapo tofu was nice and spicy, but paled in comparison.

(It might also have been a classic case of over-ordering, as we enjoyed it much more re-heated the next day…)

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

We finished things off with almond ice cream and black sesame sauce – a combination both delicate and funky!

And the ultimate proof that Far East cuisine is far more complex and elegant that it’s usually given credit for.

It might not be the ultimate ‘grammable restaurant, but it’s a good one when it comes to substance over style. There are no flower walls, but some truly spectacular dishes to be found and I urge try their chicken ASAP. It’s a game changer.

Ugly? Possibly. Delicious? Absolutely!

Xu, 30 Rupert St, London W1D 6DL

(Xu accepts bookings (miracle!) and when we visited (post-theatre on a weekday) there were plenty of tables available for walk-ins)

Other great restaurants near Xu:

The Palomar

Hot Pot Chinatown

Jen Café

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Dinner at Xu

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown

I had one of the most exciting meal of the year at Hot Pot in Chinatown last week.

It wasn’t at a fancy, expensive restaurant.

But it was something totally new and that I had never done before – and when you eat out as much as I do, that’s something to celebrate!

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

The first outpost of a 150-something-strong Thai-based franchise, Hot Pot specialises in… well… hot pots.

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

The ultimate social eating dining concept, hot pot brings family and friends together around a broth-filled pot and a variety of toppings to cook in them.

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

Once you’ve chosen your broth from the 5 daily-made varieties and a few too many toppings from a 60-something strong list, all you have to do is sit back and relax.

All whilst nibbling on some fantastic Thai-style chicken wings and prawn toast (not pictured but absolutely delicious).

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + WhiskyHot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + WhiskyHot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

When you’re doing that, the kitchen will get everything ready, pouring, crushing, peeling, chopping and mixing the many many ingredients necessary to craft Hot Pot’s signature broths.

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

Before you know it, a big steel pot of fragrant broth will appear in the centre of your table, alongside the freshest selection of toppings.

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + WhiskyHot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

Pork, beef, fish, vegetables…

Moderation was never my strong suit, so we went for quite literally all of them, and I strongly recommend you do the same!

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

Then it’s time for you to get cooking by adding whatever toppings you fancy into the broth.

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

Add things one at a time or really go to town and put a little bit of everything inthere at once, there’s really no wrong way to do hot pot.

Plus, the more things you cook in the broth, the more layers of flavour you add to your initial broth, which means the more you eat, the better it gets!

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown ● London restaurant review ● Cake + Whisky

A meal that’s meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace, hot pot is all about gathering your favourite people around a table create delicious food memories.

Definitely the hot (pot) place to be this winter!

Hot Pot, 17 Wardour St, London W1D 6PJ

Hot Pot restaurant, Chinatown

Jen Café, Chinatown

If you make abstraction of the tourists flocking to the area every day to take pictures in front of the majestic gates, Chinatown is one of London’s most intriguing area.

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

Home to a very close-circled community of Chinese immigrants, it’s a place like no other.

And an excellent spot for some of the city’s cheapest and most satisfying food.

Of course, not every place is good. Most of the restaurants in the area are really just tourist traps to be honest, but there are some real gems to be found if you know where to look.

You know how it goes… You dim sum, you loose some!

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

Ignore the ‘all you can eat’ buffets lining up Gerrard Street and head straight for Jen Café instead.

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + WhiskyJen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

If you come early enough, you’ll be able to catch the house speciality, Beijing dumplings, being hand-folded in the restaurant’s window.

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

And while I could have stood there all day, looking at the dough being cut, rolled, stuffed and folded into rows and rows of delicious little bundles of joy, I truly recommend you only do that for a while before getting a seat.

With only a handful of table & a strong popularity with those in the know, Jen Café fills up quickly!

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

Don’t spend too much time pondering the (many) options on the menu either.

The Beijing dumplings is what Jen Café’s known for, and they’re definitely what you should get!

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

Juicy, fragrant little parcels of pork mince with lemongrass & ginger wrapped in the thinest sheet of soft dough, they’re comfort food at its very best (especially when topped with a generous spoonful of chilli oil!).

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

And at £5 a plate (which will leave you pretty full if, like me, you’re a rather petite eater), it truly is one of the best value meals to be found in London.

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

But then, that’d mean you’d miss out on the pan-fried dumplings, and that would be a bit of a shame…

So better make sure you take a dumpling partner-in-crime with you!

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

Plus good company will only improve the warm feeling you’ll get from munching on dumplings, sipping on bubble tea & watching in awe as skilled cooks folded dozen after dozen of dumplings.

So if you’re ever looking for the spot in Chinatown to satisfy your dumplings cravings, Jen Café is the place.

Handmade, traditional, fresh and such good value, it’s all that and dim sum!

Jen Café4-8 Newport Pl, London WC2H 7JP

PIN FOR LATER:

Jen Café, Chinatown, London | Cake + Whisky

Jen Café, Chinatown