Chinese Laundry food review: Hip Chinese dining that’s ripe for franchise

Dinner selection at Chinese Laundry

Dinner selection at Chinese Laundry - Credit: Archant

This Islington Chinese restaurant places equal emphasis on decor, food and cocktails.

Typically, if you want to eat Chinese food amongst hipsters, the more canteen-style and unflatteringly lit the venue, the better – it adds an authentic flavour to the food.

Not so at Upper Street’s Chinese Laundry, where the décor, modelled on a Chinese grandmother’s apartment and filled with carefully sourced 1980s knick knacks, has all the esoteric vintage charm a hipster could hope for.

As for the food, it’s billed as the type of traditional fare those same grandparents with the cosy, 80s tat-filled apartment would spend the whole day preparing.

Not so traditional, however, that it can’t be accompanied by a fabulous cocktail or two, many of which are based on baiju, the traditional Chinese grain spirit, we were recommended the cucumber-laced Drunken Concubine, a refreshing and thoroughly modern restaurant drink.

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In modern restaurant style, the food is mostly small plates, with the menu divided into cold and hot starters and main courses.

It all sounds delicious so we prune down to an order we think sounds reasonable, only to be told by the waiter that, if we’re hungry, we should probably order about half the dishes we were planning on. Made of sterner stuff we stick to our four starters two mains guns and tap our chopsticks on the table in anticipation until the smashed cucumber arrives. It’s a harbinger of things to come, one of the richest, most deeply flavoured smashed cucumbers, with the added savoury crunch afforded by the peanuts sprinkled across the top. Same goes for the basil popcorn chicken – an iteration of the fancy KFC currently taking over London, served piping hot and utterly delicious but a little generic.

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Half a grilled aubergine with more peanuts and a satay style sauce is an unexpectedly great combination that will probably make it into the home repertoire, while the crispy century egg, served quartered on gem lettuce and flavoured with chilli and Chinese five spice is an unintimidating Westernised version of an often off-putting classic.

The main courses we order offer slightly more off piste flavours served with a Mantou bun rather than rice. Manchurian Lamb ranges from crispy to fatty and is almost unbearably rich and greasy until tasted alongside the cuttingly sharp slivers of pickled radish served in a delicate pink frill around the edge of the plate.

The meatiness of the mains highlights what is so successful about the starters, the emphasis on vegetables, so unusual in the average MSG-laden provincial takeaway sets it firmly in the 2016 mid-range dining scene.

This is Chinese food given a London twist – tasty, mildly adventurous; it’s proved popular already and is bound for greater success.

Expect to see a lot more Chinese Laundrys springing up over the next few years: this concept is ripe for a franchise.

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