I Like to Eat: Alexandra Leese on where to find the true spirit of Hong Kong in London

The photographer and director introduces us to a beloved restaurant, scene of many happy Chinese New Year celebrations with her family

By Isobel Van Dyke

2 March 2021

alf-Chinese, half-English, the sought-after photographer and director Alexandra Leese grew up in Hong Kong but moved to the UK to go to boarding school when she was 12. Being away from her family at such a young age meant that she craved Asian culture, and the sense of home that can so often be found in food. Though she struggled to find comfort in the Brits’ take on Chinese cuisine, there is one restaurant she finds herself returning to time and time again. Royal China on Baker Street is, she says, the closest thing there is to authentic Chinese food in London.

Image by Royal China Group

I first discovered Royal China when…

My aunties and mum took me there on my first ever trip to London, when I was nine. After that, it became somewhere we would go. I haven’t been in such a long time because of the pandemic. I need to go back!

The food there is very authentic…

I would say it’s always better in Hong Kong, but it depends what you go for. If you go at lunch or on the weekends they do dim sum, which is amazing. When we go for New Year – I would go with my whole family every Chinese New Year and whoever’s in town would come along – we always get lobster noodles, because you eat noodles on New Year as they signify long life. So it’s a place that has personal meaning for me.

Image by Royal China Group

The atmosphere is…

Loud. There’s always a buzz to it, it’s always crowded. If you go on the weekends there’s always a queue.

It wouldn’t be a good place to go on a first date…

It’s best with groups and families, because they have round tables and lazy susans.

Image by Royal China Group

My favourite memory of Royal China is…

Being there with my family at New Year. It’s always a nice thing to do, being away from home and with my parents. Being away at such a young age, it was comforting to have it and to have a taste of home.

The best thing to order is…

The dim sum is so, so good. But also, char siu bao (steamed barbecue pork bun), char siu so (baked barbecue pork puff), cheung fun (a steamed rice noodle roll, either shrimp or plain if you’re vegetarian), and siu mai (pork and shrimp dumpling). For dessert, get the egg tart or mango pudding.

Image by Royal China Group

The best seat in the house is…

You don’t really get a choice, but there aren’t any views so it doesn’t really matter. The whole experience is about sharing food. It would be weird to go there and get a dish each, which I think is what people in the West go to Asian restaurants and do. In Asia, you go out for Chinese food, you get loads of food and put it in the middle and all share. Not very Covid-friendly, but…

Lead image courtesy of: Royal China Group

The Short Stack

Sometimes the best place to eat isn’t the newest or the fanciest, but the one with the most treasured memories.

By Isobel Van Dyke

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