One of the best things about London is the plethora of different food and drink you can experience within as little as a few square miles. Don’t have the budget to travel the world but have an Oyster card handy? You can experience the culinary delights of Japan, Ethiopia, and America’s Deep South all by just staying on the Central Line for a few stops, without having to endure a pat down by passport control. This week, I was sent on a trip to China, via Greek Street in Soho.
The Venue and Atmosphere
Below Bun House, a chic informal restaurant and takeaway spot, is Tea Room, an undeniably sexy speakeasy-cum-restaurant that errs on the right side of seedy - think neon Chinese characters lighting up the room in suggestive reds and greens, dark corners and a vintage record player.
We were greeted by our waiter who quickly sat us down and gifted us with a newspaper style drink menu and the tick-list food menu (talk about ordering with ease). He guided us through the most popular food dishes, then giving us a run-through of the drinks on offer. Rather overwhelmed, having not swotted up on my Chinese liquors before arriving, I ordered the first cocktail my eyes fell on; a fruity number with mango, chilli and Guo Jiao 1579 baijiu at £13.80 while my guest went for a herbaceous Bitter Melon and Ginseng cocktail with pomelo bitters and 30 year aged fenjiu. Our cocktails arrived with little pomp and circumstance, but a good dousing of flavour impact. My mango cocktail was softly sweet with the consistency of a well-blended slushy and while it could have done with a tad more chilli, I was happy with my choice. My partners cocktail was what we shall call a ‘grower.’ The initial taste made us both shiver, but after a while, we found ourselves happily sipping away.
The Food and Drink
While our cocktails were made on the bar in front of us, we surveyed the menu. Split into sections depending on the size and/or presentation of the dish, it is pretty easy to follow and a fun, interactive way to order. Ravenous after our 9-5s, we ignored the snack section and went straight for the meaty stuff ordering most of what our server had suggested - preserved olive leaf green beans, lacey dumplings and poached squid with house soy (£11.80).
Dishes here arrive in bouts of ones and twos, the first of ours being the garlicky chicken wings at £6.80. While they weren’t as garlicky as promised, they were crisp and the perfect starter to the rest of our meal. The poached squid was delicate, succulent and just the right tempo of spice while the pork neck skewers at £2.50 a pop were meaty, robust and peppered with a hearty, charred BBQ taste. While vegetables are sometimes a bit of an afterthought, the green beans certainly were not in this case - dry fried and jam-packed with a soy sauce based flavour, I could eat these all day.
The Iberico Char Sui clay pot with rice at £14.80 was the main event of our meal - it was soft and fell apart delicately, while the rice came with tangy and stiff sections charred to the edge of the pot. This is a must-order if you do visit.
While full, in a spate of gluttony and intrigue we ordered the butter pineapple bun which is marked on the menu as not actually containing any pineapple alongside a shot sized glass of Baijiu. Sometimes referred to as ‘China’s vodka’ thanks to its similar strength and clear appearance, Baijiu is a good mixer for cocktails (it made an earlier appearance in my mango drink) or as a shot, usually served alongside food. The menu at Tea Room has many different strengths of Baijiu (at different price points) so if you’re not familiar, I’d recommend asking your server to suggest one to suit your tastes. We sipped on ours tentatively while we tucked into our dessert which was all-in-all the perfect way to end our trip to East Asia.
Authentic, tasteful and bouncing with flavour, Tea Room at Bun House is the perfect hybrid between cocktail bar and full-on restaurant. A damn sight cheaper than buying a plane ticket? You can bet it's that too.