Tuesday, 25 October 2011

China Town: back on the map

Kicking off London's cocktail week, Millie and I visited China Town’s new Experimental Cocktail Company (ECC) on Friday night a few weeks ago. If you like cocktails, there's now finally a reason to venture into the touristy middle of China Town.

I appreciate that's quite polarising - for sure it's an interesting place - but I've never found a great restaurant in China Town (other than Leong's which I'll get to shortly). I am more than open to recommendations though. Hit me up.

Walking through the bright lights at the heart of China Town, the air thick with the smell of fried duck, your senses may well be too overloaded to spot the discreet, unmarked door tucked away on 13A Gerrard Street behind which steps lead up to the two floor bar that is the ECC (map, 13A Gerrard Street).

The friendly, thick set doorman ushered us inside. Coats checked, we were whisked back in time by the plush, seedy, opulence of the room. Gold-coated tiles on the ceilings. Moody lighting and sleek, interesting bottles behind the cocktail bars. Waiters wearing suspenders and bowties. Certainly there's a nod to speakeasies of bygone times.

One part China Town opium den,  one part slick bond street cocktail bar. It's a mix that works.

Perched at two tall stools by the bar, our lively Melburnian barman informed us that the venue used to be a rough old dive bar that partied till dawn. The vibe was great in the new place: everyone having fun, well oiled by the exotic and supremely imaginative cocktails.  I love sitting at the bar where you can make the most of the barman's knowledge. And, with a cocktail menu this interesting, I recommend it here. These were our eventual choices:

The highlight was definitely the 'No Name Dropping' (above). It taste just like Christmas cake. It has an instant sweet taste from the cane sugar and lemon but then the salty sherry kicks in and the Falernum - made with cloves, ginger and almond - gives the marzipan icing finish!

It would be remiss of me to not stay true to my blog title at this point and say that Falernum gets its name from the renowned ancient Roman wine 'falernian', known as falernum in Latin.

I loved the fact there was even a cocktail on the menu called La Medicacion:

My mum's local Breton friend, Monsieur Le Gallo, calls the red wine he drinks to cure all known illness his 'Petite Medicacion'. Monsieur Le Gallo is an old man but is full of character, spends his days out in the air working and always has a mischievous twinkle in his eye! Yes, the French know how to live. The Experimental Cocktail Club first started in Paris so I can assume there's some strong influence driving this place too but it is a perfect addition to China Town.

After the Christmas cake cocktail we were ravenous. So we headed to my go-to China Town restaurant,  Leong's Legends (map4 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AX).

First recommended by my friend Sophie, it is the only China Town restaurant I seem to eat at. I love the black wood seating booths and ornamental wooden weapons lining the walls. The menu is wondrously exotic specialising in offal, dumpling and all other kinds of Chinese delight. The dumplings and the stewed pork belly are amazing and keep me coming back.

The key to eating the steamed dumplings, I'm told, is to bite the wrapper and suck out the juice. Then dunk the dumpling in the soy sauce, capturing some in the dumpling through the bite tear you made.  Then eat the dumpling. It's a noisy, pleasurable, and at times messy experience and I love it.

It was so popular that Friday night that we had to knock on the thick wood door before being mercifully allowed in out of the dark and fast descending cold snap. Entering I felt like a refugee from a Himalayan Winter as we sheltered from the wind in the dimly lit restaurant.

The stewed pork belly in a rich sauce was insanely melt in the mouth. You could cut it with a spoon. We left well sated on delicious food and the bill was not expensive for the amount we managed to eat washed down with a few Tsing Tao.

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