on March 5, 2008
During our recent visit to London, we realised it had been a while since we had visited the largest British China Town in Soho. It didn’t take us long to decide to hunt down a good quality and reasonably priced restaurant in the area. I‘m guessing that the London China Town is pretty much like any other China Town in the world; busy streets, bright lights, Chinese signs, and lots of restaurants to choose from. We decided to stop at the Golden Dragon on Gerrard Street W10. As it’s near the front of the China Town entrance (just spot the pagoda), this is an area busy with tourists. Unfortunately, an abundance of tourists generally means lazy and poor dining, but we spotted the Golden Dragon with a number of happy and smiling Chinese families dining inside.The restaurant didn’t seem that large outside, so the long and large dining area came as a bit of a shock. A waiter quickly seated us at a table in the cavernous upstairs room. As we were dining very early evening, I was surprised to note there were only a few empty tables dotted around. The restaurant looked smart, if a little old fashioned with its pink tablecloths and brown carpet. It was the kind of place they could film an eighties drama. I was less impressed with the trip to the toilet. The loos and sinks were a little dirty, and I had to trip past table extenders and great laundry baskets of used pink tablecloths. I am but a rare Chinese food diner, so the long list of dishes on the menu mystified me somewhat. I fortunately persuaded my fellow diners that the set menu with Crispy Duck (£19.95 with the duck, £15.95 without) was the way forward. As is often the case, the set menu is fine, but unadventurous. A draft lager was £3.60 a pint, which I’m guessing isn’t too outrageous for London, and a 10% service charge was pre-added to our bill. I always worry about this, as it suggests that the service usually isn’t good enough to encourage diners to pay that service charge in any case. The waiter took our order quickly, and we were convinced that our meal would be served very quickly, so the restaurant could use our table for another set of diners (or two) before the end of the evening. As it turned out, while our dim sum starters rapidly arrived, we had to badger the wait staff for the other courses of our meal. Given the sheer number of covers in the restaurant, the badgering didn’t prove to be that easy, but I could see the regulars were more adapt at hassling for table service. While it was nice that we didn’t have to bolt our food down as I had feared, we had arranged to meet some friends on the other side of London later in the evening. Our Dim Sum was nicely varied, with ribs, battered prawns, spring rolls, seaweed, and some very prawn laden toast. While I enjoyed the starter, it was quite oily, but I usually find that of Chinese food (and it is precisely why I don’t eat it that often). I always enjoy the crispy duck pancake, and for once the distribution of raw vegetables, duck, sauce and pancakes were almost perfectly calculated. I was particularly impressed with the way they boned and chopped up our duck in front of us. I bet the wait staff are sick of doing it after a week or two!After a long wait, we had our glasses refilled, and our main course arrived. Between four, we had some excellent Singapore noodles, and some unexceptional meaty rice. The actual main dishes were a tasty but sweet string beef, chicken, a bland vegetable dish, an excellent prawn dish (with nice and meaty prawns), and one other. There was no shortage of food, and we all have a healthy appetite. Overall, we found the Golden Dragon a solid if not exceptional place to dine. I can imagine finding better on one of the backstreets close to Chinatown, but I can also imagine wandering into far worse in this tourist-laden part of town. One slightly distressing aspect of the meal was the raging thirst it induced. While it’s possible I’m starting with the early signs of diabetes, it is far more likely the restaurant were rather heavy handed with the doses of monosodium glutamate and garlic salt! The other little “trick” was that the bill came as a lump sum figure. Fortunately, we remembered that the 10% service charge as automatically included, but I’m sure they gain some extra tips from the practice. While I enjoyed the place as a one-off, and I particularly enjoyed some of the dishes, the uneven service, the uneven food, the unimpressive toilets and the raging thirst would mean that if I lived in London, unfortunately the Golden Dragon wouldn’t become a regular haunt.
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