Upper Street, Islington has just got even more exciting as an unusual Chinese restaurant, Chinese Laundry, has just opened. The venue is charming, a carefully chosen mix of mismatched tables and chairs, it’s like being invited into someone’s home, maybe a Chinese home from the 1980s.
Soon the menu will expand as ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’ dishes are added but for now the menu is composed mostly of ‘breakfast’ dishes. But don’t let this put you off; this isn’t toast, marmalade and croissants. Like me, you might want to try everything on the menu. There are traditional Chinese dishes and Chinese dishes with a dash of British. On the traditional side there is tofu, which you can have with either sweet or savoury toppings. They make it themselves and it’s perfectly soft and light. With the addition of the savoury toppings it was a satisfying mix of crunchy and tasty. The congee (rice porridge), a steal at only £2.50 a bowl, is a perfect breakfast dish made from a light chicken stock with just the right amount of scattered topping to make the textures interesting. I’d like to return for the congee every single day, it is a perfect late breakfast — subtle, delicate, tasty and satisfying. It was served lovely and hot too, not something that can be said for the porridge pots served at most sandwich places these days.
More substantial food includes a choice of two set ‘breakfasts’, unusual enough for us Westerners that they could be lunch or dinner, full of interesting tasty surprises. Most of the items included in these plates can be ordered alone — especially good were the milky buns, more like doughnuts with a sweet crisp outer shell and beautifully light in the middle. There is a very nice spring onion pancake — this is a traditional dish, more a fried unleavened bread than a pancake. It is very satisfyingly chewy and here served with bacon and egg inside. The pancake has a beautiful delicate flavour so I would take out the bacon and egg and eat separately to enjoy the pancake as it is, to avoid overwhelming the pancake’s flavour. The baozi, large steamed bread dumplings, come with a green bean or a pork filling. The pork one was the best pork filling I have had outside China, maybe because it is made with pork belly so it stays moist inside, a good contrast to the light dry bread. (Try the take-away attached to Baozi Inn in Newport Court, Chinatown for the best vegetarian one in London — a mix of vegetables, egg and noodles and a wonderful foil to the chilli heat of the hot pot skewers sold there.)
Chinese tea, a lovely Oolong and a Jasmine tea amongst them, is served in beautiful small teapots bought in China by the owners. There is a bar and currently there are 4 special cocktails, one of which contains tea flavoured spirits and is served in a beautiful old teacup. I have found service to be very warm and friendly.
The breakfast menu is really interesting but I can’t wait until they start making evening dishes, planned to launch in a week or two. I shall be returning; I think we can expect interesting things from Chinese Laundry. ∎
(Photography: Ilya Fisher for Bubbobar)
107 Upper Street
London N1 1QN