Steven O’Brien

Orient London – A sizzle above the rest

We were off to see the vast brocade of the Wallace Collection. However, lunchtime found us in a meander across the doldrums of Leicester Square. One minute later we crossed over the imperceptible border into Chinatown. For me this is the Brigadoon of Soho; a realm I rarely visit and only half-remember.

Orient London stands out as a restaurant that combines furious energy and speedy service with refined décor and accomplished cooking. This is definitely not your usual Chinatown gaff. The staff were friendly but not obsequious and seemed genuinely happy to spend five minutes discussing the elements of the various dishes.

We wanted a lightish lunch so the waitress sensibly suggested fish. Quick as a flash they brought us a great sizzling seabass in black bean sauce and seafood noodles. Scallops and squid sat among the noodles. These were familiar dishes, eaten before in other Chinese restaurants. Yet at Orient London they are elevated and more finely tuned. The place was crowded which is a key sign of excellence in the saturated market. There were many half-empty Chinese restaurants within the immediate radius that lunchtime.

Who would have thought that New Zealand cabernet sauvignon goes very well with sweet soy-laced seafood? As we sipped and wrestled with the chopsticks our discussion moved from Wuthering Heights to the latest television adaptation of Sanditon. To our great scandal Andrew Davies has sexed up Austen’s unfinished book, complete with nude bathing and anachronistic waltzes, no less. Perhaps they should have given the chief protagonists iPhones.

Orient London is a Chinatown restaurant, but more so. We went northwards to Manchester Square to the velvet boudoir of the Wallace Collection in a lightish state of mind and body.

Orient London is a sizzle above the rest.

                                                                           Steven O’Brien is a widely published poet and editor of The London Magazine. His most recent collections are Scrying Stone and Dark Hill Dreams. He has also recently published The Great Game: An Imperial Adventure with Endeavour Press. He lectures at the University of Portsmouth, where he leads the MA in Creative Writing. He is also Visiting Fellow of Creative Writing at University College Chichester. His doctoral thesis formed an interrogation of the poetic imagination from a Jungian perspective. He has published short fiction and travel writing.

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