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Take a time machine to 1980’s Northern China

Chinese food, but not as you know it...

They do squeeze eateries into every nook and cranny nowadays. I am constantly fascinated by the ways they cram restaurant into more and more impossibly small spaces. There needs to be a dedicated Grand Designs spin-off, I would watch that. However, in this new Upper Street opening, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The crooked small, winding aesthetic perfectly replicates a granny flat in a Beijing backstreet, as does the Asian £1 supermarket crockery. Is the electric heater by our feet part of the aesthetic? Probably not, but we didn’t mind, it felt like a genuine time portal to 1980’s Northern China.

The Cuisine

Take a time machine to 1980’s Northern China
Soft Shell Crab

The menu is equally nostalgic of the owners’ Chinese heritage and split into a somewhat-small plate structure.  It can be tough to find a middle ground between your steamy local takeaway and the high end morsels of Hakkasan and the like. However, expect traditional Chinese cooking techniques, fermenting, double and even triple cooking.

The Food

Take a time machine to 1980’s Northern China
Clams at Chinese Laundry
Take a time machine to 1980’s Northern China
Cheese Cake

A lot of places have taken to serving “chicken karaage”, the oriental version of fried chicken; much of it limp and tasteless plates of oily disappointment. Here it is moist, salty and wonderful with a crisp, satisfying crunch. Certainly up there as some of the best fried chicken we’ve had in London. In any other situation, serving someone a fried chicken carcass would be swiftly followed by a slap in the face. But get your hands dirty, gnaw on this (very!) spicy delight and you’ll see it makes total sense.

Pro tip: Order the Manchurian lamb belly, cut your mantou bun in half and make a lamb belly bun sarnie that gives Bao a run for its money, with no 2 hour queue! The smashed Cucumber is an essential side, cutting through the fatty dishes with a sharp soy vinegarette and chilli heat.

The Drinks

In a move that may make the yummy mummies of Islington recoil, Chinese Laundry have swerved the gin in favour of a huge cocktail selection based on China’s homegrown spirit of choice, baijiu. Make sure you shake off any presumptions of warm, shudder-inducing liquor, many critics consider baijiu one of the most complex white spirits on earth. Go for the tamarind sour, the tart sweetness of the tamarind balance the thick and heady spirit much like your treasured Old Fashioned.

The Damage

Take a time machine to 1980’s Northern China
Chinese Laundry

Hot and cold starters range around £3-9, mains £12-19. It’s a very reasonable addition to the, at times pricey, Upper Street dining scene.

Conclusion

By opening our eyes to a lesser-known world of Chinese cuisine, in a vintage-hyper-kitsch setting, Chinese Laundry has really brought one of the most unique and fun eating experiences to Islington. Like the bright pink sign above their door, the team are set on not being like anything else around. We will keep coming back for that fried chicken alone.

Best For

Date number 5/6/7 (it’s very handsy food), a boys reunion or Wednesday pick-me-up. Also trust us when we recommend their brunch…

Visit Chinese Laundry here. 

Further Reading