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One night while we were in London, we met a few friends for dinner in Chinatown. In my experience, there are several typical kinds of restaurants in the chinatowns of the world. First, there are those that provide a quick and inexpensive soup noodle lunch or single-plate dinner and pay no attention to decor or service. Wong Kei on Wardour Street near Shaftesbury Avenue is the best known in this category. It has been at that location for many many years (since my student days).  The waiters were plain rude but it was cheap. We did not visit Wong Kei this time.

A second type aims to provide local Chinese with authentic quality dinners and sometime even banquets. They are usually more comfortable, provide wrapped chopsticks and table cloth, and very likely have tanks containing live seafood on display. The Four Seasons on 23 Wardour Street is an example of this category. However, they do not have a fish tank, instead roast duck were hanging in the window – a practice more prevalent with the likes of Wong Kei.  Apparently, Four Seasons are famous for it but at the time without knowing it, we ordered a portion. The kitchen deboned it before serving – a rather uncommon practice in Chinese restaurant. It turned out to be one of the best I have tasted for many years – even the soy sauce is so good that I can taste the yellow beans. When in London again, we will definitely return to this restaurant or their branch in Queensway.

Then there are those restaurants that try to modernize the the traditional dishes with matching decor to provide a fine dining experience. Plum Valley at 20 Gerrard Street is an example of this third category. Unlike all the restaurants lining this street in the middle of Chinatown, Plum Valley’s facade is monochromatic with its Chinese name in matt gun metal grey.

The decor is all dark wood and natural stones. The interior is dimly lit. Many Japanese restaurants and spas don this look. Not innovative but definitely better than many others in the area.

It is certainly a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown just outside the front door. It reminded me of those Chinese restaurants in New York that are situated at the borders with Soho or Nolita.

We sat in a set of banquettes at the back which seated four people (not like these shown in the pictures). And the seating was very comfortable – a rare experience in any chinatown restaurant around the world.

We ordered a variety of dishes from dim sum, noodles, to stir-fry dishes. The dim sum were delicious.

Lobster fried noodles – very tasty but also a bit salty – they should have put more noodles on the plate given the amount of sauce.

Another vertically-oriented dish – stir-fried steak cubes in black bean sauce – perfect with white rice.

All in all, the ambiance was pleasant, service was responsive, but the taste was not quite refined enough to be classified as “fine dining” in my humble opinion.  While the dishes all tasted good, the flavors were a bit too bold. One surprise was that our bill was not unreasonable. Plum Valley is worth exploring.

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