Restaurants: Where shall we meet in Chinatown

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The Independent Culture
Millions of people would rather die than live in a city: every urbanite has had the experience of being dragged down to the country for the weekend only to spend the entire time being lectured about how horrible their favourite city is and how everyone pities them for having to live there. The thing is, people live in cities for many reasons: the culture, the easy access to social life, the desire not to spend one's life on the slip road to the superstore that drove the village shop out of business.

I'm convinced that people also live in cities for the dim sum. I don't think one could find a more urban tradition. Sharing plates of glutinous dumplings is one of the most popular pastimes for week-ending Londoners, which is particularly strange, given how unpleasant the experience often is. I would never conceive of being such a victim that I queued for a bar or a restaurant under normal circumstances, but for dim sum, particularly at Chuen Cheng Ku, I am perfectly content to stand in a corridor for half an hour while an exhausted infant squalls in my ear.

Chinatown is crammed with places to get char siu bao (fluffy buns stuffed with barbecued pork) or those lovely slippery pancakes, chueng fun, but this cavernous restaurant always attracts crowds of Europeans and Chinese alike. And it's worth the wait. I always take Americans here, as it's one of the few restaurants in London that they won't compare unfavourably with New York.

Beside the excellent quality of their snacks, Chuen Cheng Ku is one of only two restaurants (the other being New World, see right) that do their dim sum Hong Kong-style, off trolleys that whizz about the wide aisles between tables, and this added level of stress makes the whole experience doubly delightful. It's like hailing taxis, only pleasurable.

And where one almost invariably under-orders in menu-driven dim-sumeries, incurring the wrath of the staff by having to ask for seconds, here one can gorge, and nobody but you and the waiter who takes your bill will know how much you've had.

Happiness, on a wet Sunday afternoon, can still be found in the heart of a shark's fin dumpling.

Chuen Cheng Ku, 17 Wardour Street, London W1 (0171-437 1398)

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