In a city with a myriad of restaurants in abundance, Londoners are truly blessed with endless options that cater to everyone’s tastes. The Chinese food scene in particular has evolved over the years for the better, now much more rich and diverse. And whilst Chinatown may be a regular haunt for those craving a cheap and accessible Asian food fix, for those seeking a more premium fine dining experience, this newcomer to the London restaurant scene is certainly one to watch.
Located just a stone’s throw away from Chinatown and the bustling Trafalgar Square, is the much anticipated Gouqi, a debut solo venture from seven Michelin-starred Chef Tong Chee Hwee, where he brings innovative contemporary Chinese cuisine to St James’s in London. Chef Tong trained in Singapore, where he later spent fourteen years at both Happy Valley Singapore and its sister restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, before he moved to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Singapore, where he was discovered by Alan Yau. In 2001, Chef Tong made the move to London to become Head Chef at Hakkasan, which gained its Michelin star two years later in 2003, making it the UK’s first Chinese restaurant to do so. He eventually became Executive Chef of the Hakkasan Group in 2010, and has led the kitchens at Hakkasan Mayfair, Yauatcha Soho and HKK. After leaving the group in 2019, he explored Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Taiwan, before coming up with the Gouqi concept. Inspired by the Gouqi Island in the East China Sea, just south-east of Shanghai and east of Hangzhou, the name “Gouqi” derives from the plant which grows on it, Gouji (Goji; Wolfberry), traditionally viewed as a symbol of health and vitality and which informs the ethos of the restaurant.
We were welcomed by Restaurant Director, Alan Tang, whom I first became acquainted with at Shangri-La The Shard, his reputable experiences in the hospitality industry includes Michelin starred restaurants, 5 star luxury hotels, and global brands such as Hakkasan, Four Seasons, and Imperial Treasure. We were given a tour of the beautiful contemporary space, through the main restaurant where diners have a view of the kitchen, and the two private interconnecting dining rooms named Crimson Ruby, before being seated at one of their intimate tables in a semi-private area, concealed by elegant red velvet curtains.
The bar is headed by Bar Manager, Jamie Rowe, who presents an innovative cocktail menu inspired by the four Chinese mythological creatures, the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise of the North. I have always been partial towards smoky and intense drinks, and was recommended the Bixi, made with Laphroaig Whisky, Lapsang Souchong tea, bitters, finished off with smoke – a match made in heaven.
The menu is extensive, the a la carte consisting of sharing options using seasonal ingredients that offer a variety of flavours, techniques, ingredients, and dishes drawn from across China. As it was our first visit, we entrusted Alan with the ordering, who served us a feast, featuring some of their signature and unique dishes. To pair with our meal, we were recommended a bottle of 2015 Garnier et Fils, ‘Montmains’ 1er Cru Chablis from Burgundy, France; ripe and fresh, with delicate fragrant notes.
We began with some appetisers, starting on a strong note with the salt and pepper squid rolls, filled with minced prawn and served in a crispy noodle basket, followed by a portion of juicy pan-fried chicken and chive dumplings. Next up, we were treated to their Legendary Peking Duck served in two courses; the first course with crispy duck skin served with fresh strips of cucumber, slices of spring onions, and homemade duck sauce to roll inside homemade pancakes, followed by the remainder of the duck meat which was stir-fried as a second course, served with crisp baby gem lettuce wraps. We also had the opportunity to try some decadent mouthfuls topped with Oscietra caviar.
Putting a twist on the classic Cantonese–style of barbecued pork, another must-order would definitely be the honey-glazed Iberico char siu with salted egg yolk. The sweet and sour Iberico pork was just as flavourful, crispy and coated in a tangy sauce; a delicious take on another classic dish. To top off the experience, was a mouth-watering whole Scottish lobster served with noodles stir-fried with ginger and spring onion, which we enjoyed with some baby pak choi on the side. Never one to say no to desserts, we shared the peach gum, lily and longan sweet soup, and a portion of golden sesame balls filled with warm custard.
Gouqi also offers a European-style tasting menu as well as a dim sum menu that I’m looking forward to trying on my next visit.
- I was invited to Gouqi London – views and photos are my own.