Chinatown: The Clooper Experience
This weekend, our Cloop’d journeyed to the centre of London to take a walk down the famed Chinatown.
Chinatown is a stretch of street that is rich in Chinese culture, food, and history. The first thing you see are the lanterns. Swinging high above the crowd and shining as the sun sets, they are an unmistakable sign that you’ve reached your destination. However, how do you get to Chinatown, in the first place?
THE QUICK TRIP
First off: nice to meet you! I’m Teddy, one of the content writers here at Clooper, and I recently visited Chinatown with a friend to scope out some sights to share with you all. To start, getting there was much easier than I anticipated. It’s as simple as exiting the station, turning a corner, and walking straight down until you see the lanterns.
There were quite a lot of coffee shops and the like on the walk down to Chinatown, so you could even grab a cappuccino for the wander around. Handy for keeping alert as the days get shorter and colder, and we get tired! As for actually getting there, we came from Stratford station. From Stratford, you just jump on the Central Line train towards West Ruislip or White City. It’s about a 30-minute journey so make sure you bring water! The Central Line can get stuffy and uncomfortable no matter the weather outside, so it’s better to be safe and hydrated.
Upon arriving in Tottenham Court Road, it was moderately busy on a Saturday, even at around 3pm. I’d suggest that if you’re after more of a quiet experience: visit Chinatown on weekdays during school hours, so there are fewer people around.
FIRST STEPS INTO CHINATOWN
There are a few entrances into Chinatown. I opted for the one closest to the station we’d walked from. The lights drew my attention in first, then I noticed there was a Premier Inn, which I thought was cool. I remember thinking it would be neat to visit London and actually stay in Chinatown, which is one of Londons most popular attractions.
As well as the inn, I noted there was a wide array of things to do the second you walked in. There was a cinema, multiple restaurants, boba drink vendors, outdoor seating, indoor seating, a theatre! I had no idea the Prince Charles theatre was literally in Chinatown, and I’ve lived in London all my life. It just goes to show that it’s really worth it to get out and about yourself personally to find everything that London has to offer. One other thing I found endearing about Chinatown was its sense of community. Everyone was very friendly, smiling at one another, and there was even a gentleman wandering around in a mascot bear suit! It was a little uncanny valley for me, but a lot of other people loved it, especially the kids.
FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY
I was also pleasantly surprised that there seemed to be so many little ones running around and having a blast. I’d been under the impression that Chinatown was more for young adults, but it seems that kids have a lot of fun there, too. It makes sense with all of the restaurants, cute stores and street performers around.
Admittedly, my friend and I only saw a few buskers in Chinatown, but our founder Toks visited recently also and witnessed a whole crowd of people singing along to Angels by Robbie Williams with a busker on the street. A huge crowd gathered around him, clapped and sang along heartily. It really does feel like you’re all friends on a night out together. It’s very wholesome.
It’s also very informative. Children and families can learn about and try Chinese cuisine together, perhaps for the first time. A number of restaurants actually prepare food where you can see them, also, or have intriguing displays in their window. There was even a seafood shop that had a window where you could look in and see the sea creatures before they become seafood. There were crabs and the like scuttling around in there. I’m a soft touch, so I was a little squeamish of it, but it was very interesting to see regardless and sparked a good chat between my friend and I.
A BITE TO EAT
My friend and I visited Chinatown quite late, coming up to dinner time. I’m a hungry guy, I love food, so I beelined for the food vendors. We stood to the side and googled some recommended places to eat, as there were so many! You can’t walk a few feet without running into a restaurant.
Here are a few recommendations:
- Bun House, where I visited. As the name suggests, they specialise in steamed buns! The queue was long, around a ten to twenty minute wait, but it was worth it for the tasty fluffy buns that are very reasonably priced. It’s only ten pound for four decently sized buns! Mine were around palm-sized, a little bigger as my hands are quite small. I only got two and paid around five pound for the both. They were very tasty and warm, I got pork and lamb to try the two.
- Dumplings Legend was a runner up choice for our dinner. The dumplings are handmade and prepared in a minimalist setting, where you can see the chefs working behind glass.
- Old Town ‘97 is another good bet. This would be better if you’re planning to sit and stay for a while, as it offers more variety than the previous two. It’s also a bit pricier than the other two, so I’ll be going back soon for a proper sit down and a real treat!
We also learned a little about Chinese cuisine during our time in Chinatown. Did you know that there are many names for bao buns? One such alternate name is hum bow buns! Bao buns can also be sweet or savoury, with sweet buns normally containing custard and fruit and savoury containing meats, spices, seafood, vegetables, or a mixture of all four!
Being a budding home chef also, I was impressed at how inspired I was by all of the food on offer. It’s so fascinating to learn about other cultures and the cuisine they enjoy and specialize in. I really wanted to go home and try my hand at some bao buns, or some dumplings, myself. I think it’s important everywhere to learn about, and respectfully engage with, different cultures when you can. Visiting Chinatown is a good first step to take!
A FINAL WANDER
Before leaving Chinatown, my friend and I took a long walk around the main streets. We were under a time constraint, so couldn’t visit everywhere we wanted. I’d recommend you spend an entire afternoon in Chinatown to really get a feel of the place. I especially recommend going after dark for the lights!
We specifically planned our visit to see the lights and it was so worth it. I couldn’t capture with my camera just how warm and vibrant they are, you really have to see it yourself. It’s so soothing to walk through the streets with them hanging overhead. Even in the hustle and bustle!
There were shops selling souvenirs, small Chinese supermarkets, dried fish stores and herb vendors and even places nearby to sit and play Mahjong.
It’s great, too, because you could go there for lunch, pick up some ingredients, and then try your hand at your very own Cantonese meal when you’re home, perhaps. I know I’ll be going back soon to chat with the vendors and see what ingredients they recommend. As well as what meals I can make from them! Everyone was really, very friendly, all of the staff we spoke to especially. We were laughing and chatting with all of them. I even had a lovely conversation with a man who was just taking the bins out for the night. It’s very lively and sociable.
I was inspired to visit after writing about Chinatown for our Charing Cross area guide. Charing Cross is a stone’s throw from Chinatown, Covent Garden, and only a short while away from Piccadilly Circus. To learn more about what could await you in and around this vibrant area, check it out here.