While I am never over the moon with Chinese restaurants in London’s Chinatown, this place Special Zone 1997 is somewhat my exception, probably along with the dumplings at Jen’s Cafe and the roasted duck at them Four Season branches. The name 1997 evokes the distant memory of Britain’s handing over Hong Kong Island back to China, which interestingly has been materialised as the vintage-looking decor of the restaurant. Say, the walls are adorned with images of influential Chinese leaders, such as Deng Xiaoping. The dining rooms spread across three floors are predominantly green and blue, with wooden chairs and tables, making you feel like you have entered a really authentic place, not those modernised cafs like HK Diner’s or Cafe de Hong Kong. Ambiance-wise, this is a restaurant that never sleeps. It’s opened from noon till about 4am serving home-cooked sort of dishes, many of which can also be found in any other Chinese eateries in Chinatown.
So, why am I blogging this?
Well, after years of eating at 1997, I have found out they also serve solidly good, reasonably priced and not very common dishes that do not appear anywhere on their menu!
Before I tuck into those, I’ll start with 1997′s decent dishes. The first is their Hainanese Chicken Rice with Chilli Sauce. The chicken was plump and juicy, served with greasy, yet very fragrant rice cooked in oil, chicken stock and ginger. You can opt for two types of sauce – make sure you ask for both as the service can be rather ignorant – one soy sauce and the other chilli sauce. I usually go for the chilli as the heat and the sourness from vinegar add dimension to the ginger perfumed rice. Also, if you want to make your life easier, ask them to debone the chicken before serving. You can also ask if you want them to serve the chicken and the rice as two disparate dishes or have them all in one. Be specific!!
Another dish of note is their Stewed Beef Noodle. This is probably the cheapest cut of beef stewed to extreme tenderness. The broth itself is rich in flavours and can make one happy in a wintery day. The egg noodle is usually nicely cooked, though on some occasions I came across dishes with noodle stuck in one big lump. Again, we’re talking cheap eat Chinatown – not fine dining – and the consistency of many dishes depend entirely on luck! One criticism of this dish will be that the proportion of the beef and the noodle is not right. I would have loved to have more pieces of beef, but again, this dish costs less than a tenner.
Now.. what’re NOT on the menu?
There is this dish of stir-fried veggie with oyster sauce, dried shrimps, marinated soy bean, garlic and chilli, which I never come across in any Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. This tube-like, leafy vegetable called morning glory or “kong ching chai” is lesser know than other Chinese favourites, such as bok choi or kai lan. It has this crunchy texture, which I love, and at 1997, you can opt for a spicy one or a non-spicy one. Just ask for “kong ching chai” and you’ll get it! Always perfectly seasoned, with the salty kinda flavour from the dehydrated shrimps and the soy beans, the aroma of garlic and the mild heat from the chilli.
Another good one is this Deep Fried Prawns with Salted Eggs. Big and succulent prawns are crispy and all coated up with mashed salted egg yolks. The sweetness from the prawns gives a perfect contrast to the salty and grainy coating. It is lush! This dish is served on a bed of shredded lettuce, a fresh crispy uplifting. There is also another good dish of Deep Fried Chicken with Spring Onions and Garlic, which unfortunately I don’t have a photo of. Basically, it is composed of mini pieces of chicken wings deep fried for an orgasmic crispiness served covered up by a mountain of golden, chopped and deep fried garlic. But, this dish takes so long to make, so long you think the waiters must have missed out your order.
That’s, more or less, what I have to share about 1997, and I start getting hungry at 1am. Maybe I can do with a short trip for Hainanese Chicken Rice?
Oh! Their iced bubble tea is also quite lovely
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
SPECIAL ZONE 1997
19 Wardour Street
Tel. 020 7734 2868