Gerrard Street is the main thoroughfare of London’s Chinatown. Around 80 Chinese restaurants line this street and the surrounding neighbourhood. There are plenty Chinese tea houses too, as well as densely stocked Oriental supermarkets and traditional Chinese medical practices.
The area ranks as Europe’s largest Chinatown, but it only emerged quite recently; up until the 1970s, London’s Chinatown was located further east in the Docklands area known as Limehouse. It catered mainly to Chinese sailors who docked in London. Much of the old Chinatown area was destroyed during the Second World War blitz. Due to the rise in popularity of Chinese food with the mainstream London population, Chinese restaurants opened up in large numbers a few miles towards the centre of town, which led to the birth of Gerrard Street in its current format.
In years long before Chinatown emerged, others already associated Gerrard Street with culinary pleasures; in 1764 Samuel Johnson (who is credited with compiling the very first dictionary of the English language) and his friend (the painter) Joshua Reynolds founded The Club at the Turk’s Head Tavern. The street also features in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations where the home of the lawyer Mr Jaggers was located on the south side of the street.
More recent Gerrard Street fame is represented by Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, which also started in this street, notably in the basement of number 39. And word has it that Led Zeppelin’s very first rehearsal took place in a basement on this street too in August 1968. Apparently the band played ‘Train kept a-rollin’. The actual basement is no longer in existence, as the premises were refurbished.
Things to see and do at/near Gerrard Street
Despite all the trials and tribulations of the recent past, the Chinese restaurant owners managed to hold on to their authentic recipes, and London’s modern day Chinatown enjoys a reputation for serving up some of the finest Asian dishes. Your dining experience in Chinatown can be tremendous, provided you manage to remain unfazed by the wide variety of choice on offer. Even though it might seem that every restaurant invents the same wheel over and over every day, it simply is not the case. Gerrard Street represents both culinary highs and lows; it is just a matter of taking to heart some advice before you settle down at a table.
Checking out the very latest restaurant reviews online is your safest bet, but Hong Kong style Chinese food lovers cannot go wrong with New Loon Fung Restaurant, which is located on 42 Gerrard Street. This establishment serves spectacular dim sum. Its other dishes are also top of the range without exception.
To the superficial onlooker the London New China Restaurant at number 48 is a family style restaurant, but it has two menus and discerning guests will need to be strategic to obtain an unforgettable meal. The black menu caters to newbies and red menus are handed out to people who seem to know their Oriental food. Also be aware that Chinese locals eat in the basement and that tourists eat at the ground floor level. Even though you might not be seated in the basement, asking for a table down under won’t hurt, and obviously insist on the red menu come what may. The place’s specialty is Sichuan hot pot (chili aficionados will love it).
Budget tourists bypass the London New China Restaurant and head on straight to the neighbouring Friendly Inn, at 47 Gerrard Street. The food is very good for the price and the long time lady owner apparently is an entertaining personage with a special sense of humor, which might add some memories to your experience. Well worth it if you still want to have money left after you’ve eaten.
Parking in/nearby Gerrard Street
- 20 Newport Place – 350 ft
- Leicester Square Car Park – 0.2 mil
- Q park Poland Street – 0.4 mile
Tube stations near Gerrard Street
The nearest London Underground station to Gerrard Street is Leicester Square Tube Station (Piccadilly and Northern Line). Alternatively, you can take the London Underground to Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly and Bakerloo Line), or to Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo Line). All stations are located two to three minutes on foot from Gerrard Street.
Shopping near Gerrard Street
Charing Cross Road
Book lovers head toward the east side of Chinatown, to Charing Cross Road which is famous for its many new and secondhand book stalls and shops. Even though the market’s heydays seem to have passed, real bookish types will have a great time here. Be sure to check out the cover of the fabled novel ‘84 Charing Cross Road’, which immortalised the road and will still be on display everywhere. The story is about a real book shop frequented by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and George Bernard Shaw. It has also been made into a play that is performed every so often. Among the book shops in this street, Foyles is one of the best stocked. You can easily spend an afternoon at Charing Cross Road.
Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese supermarket
New Loon Moon stocks Chinese products but specialises in Thai and Vietnamese food items, notably herbs and vegetables like lemongrass, Thai basil, galangal, green peppercorns, krachai, Vietnamese hot mint, coriander and petai beans. Some Japanese food at the upper floor level.
Dansey Place is a small and somewhat eery alleyway that runs parallel to Gerrard Street. Luck would have it that this is home to Lo’s Noodle Factory, which sells some of the best fresh noodles in the world! Many have endured the trial of venturing into the alleyway and actually shopping at the place, which consists of cardboard boxes stacked sky high in what looks like a machinery workshop, to come away winners. Make sure you carry cash and ask for (or point) to the noodles known as ‘ho fun’. These are the silkiest smooth fresh flat rice noodles, often still warm at the point of purchase. The rice noodle rolls (chee cheung fun) also are a must.