Chinatown celebrates floral season with #ChinatownBlooms food and drink trail
Summer has hit central London, and Chinatown is officially in full bloom. The area is paying homage to the tranquil urban green spaces found across East and South East Asia by transforming the sky across Gerrard Street into a giant vibrant botanical garden. The installation showcases seven different species of flowers, each with their own distinctive beauty, cultural symbolism and significance, individually chosen to celebrate the start of the promising summer months ahead. The installation will be floating above diners in Chinatown London until the end of August.
From the striking pink Chinese peony, orange tiger lily, yellow sunflower and blue orchids to the delicate peach blossom, tulips and hibiscus plant, each flower has its own distinct meaning, from prosperity and good fortune to rebirth and hope. The flowers have been thoughtfully divided into their groups, which reflects the organised planning involved in traditional botanical gardens, taking Chinatown London visitors on a journey through the fantastical evolving hanging floral display.
Botanical gardens play an important role in East and South East Asian culture and tradition, serving as a relaxing spot to enjoy the outdoors. Similarly, this immersive hanging flower display will enhance the tranquil nature of Chinatown London’s vibrant outdoor dining experience, which comprises over 40 alfresco restaurants as well as an outdoor seating area of 150 covers in Newport Place in which to enjoy myriad takeaway options.
Along with having important symbolic meaning, many of the flowers that feature in Chinatown London’s botanical garden installation play an equally important role in the foodie culture of East and South East Asia. For hundreds of years, chefs in the region have been cooking with edible flowers, experimenting with their inherent wealth of flavour, alongside their nutritional and wellness benefits and aesthetic beauty in presentation.
Many of the flowers showcased in the installation are consumed regularly: sunflower seeds are roasted – a popular snack across East and South East Asia – and the cultivated dried flowers of red hibiscus are often steeped for teas, as well as being a popular herbal remedy. The orange-coloured tiger lily has edible, crunchy and fragrant buds, sometimes called golden needles, which are commonly used for their medicinal benefits in various stews and soups (both are available to purchase at SeeWoo and New Loon Moon supermarket in Chinatown London).
Look out for a variety of special botanical garden dishes coming to Chinatown London businesses as part of this floral transformation, celebrating the role of edible plants and flowers in their cuisine – from root to bloom. We recommend the beautiful orchid dumplings at Dumplings’ Legend, available in vibrant orange (prawn and pork) and green (vegetarian) varieties, both of which are bursting with flavour. Watch the chefs meticulously craft the dumplings by hand at the counter, then open the lid of the bamboo steamer and feast your eyes on these colourful works of art. We recommend enjoying with a chilli dipping sauce.
Another must-try are Plum Valley, who are offering up equally delicate rose-shaped seafood dumplings, almost too pretty to eat, as well as punchy wasabi king prawns decorated with edible flowers and lotus root – the earthy and sweet stem of the aquatic lotus flower – which is stir-fried with edamame and vegetables. They are also serving up an assortment of flower-inspired cocktails in a rainbow of bright summery shades: Lavender Attraction (purple), Carnival Fever (orange red), Plum Fantasy (pink) and Jasmine Delight (yellow).
Contemporary Chinese restaurant Shanghai Modern has pulled out all the stops with their lotus-inspired menu. This includes the moreish crispy slices of lotus root in salt and pepper and succulent pieces of stir-fried beef with slices of lotus root. This can be accompanied with a fragrant and floral chrysanthemum tea and finished off with a Osmanthus jelly pudding and goji berries – a firm favourite when it comes to Chinese desserts.
Viet Food are joining in the fun and have rustled up a rose bud chicken dish made with rose fish sauce, Vietnamese herbs and edible flowers – a beautifully fragrant plate that incorporates all the best flavours from Vietnamese cuisine. On the drinks menu there is a blue coral cocktail that is an explosion of colour and features some butterfly-pea flowers to give it some extra floral appeal. Some of its other popular dishes include summer rolls with prawns, crispy coconut calamari with sweet chilli herb sauce, crispy Vietnamese spring rolls, Pho Tai (a rich noodle broth with beef) and Bún thịt nướng (a noodle salad with three types of pork).
Other spots in Chinatown London readily use flowers in their recipes, such as Five Friends Desserts. Their desserts include the use of Roselle flower jelly; lotus seeds, lily bulbs and red bean paste soup as well as rose, peach resin, sago and jelly. When it comes to sweet dishes, though, you don’t get better than Bubblewrap. With queues out of the door, this spot is definitely worth the hype. Even more so now that they have introduced their Strawberry Blossom Combo which features a Bubblewrap waffle, strawberry cheesecake gelato, fresh strawberries, strawberry sauce and edible viola flowers. This sweet treat is one of the prettiest bubble wraps we have ever seen – and tastes even better.
If you haven’t got on the bubble tea train yet, Cuppacha might be the best argument for hopping on. This trendy joint is home to a permanent queue of under-25s for good reason: it’s sweet, refreshing and addictive (in the best way). And now even loyal fans can try something new by ordering from their list of floral flavours, comprising Sunrise Strawberry and Dawn Lychee (both made using butterfly pea flower Tea), Honey Chrysanthemum Flower Tea and Rose Milk Tea.
The options aren’t limited to China though, and Japanese joint Taiyakiya are also offering up a decadent taiyaki. For the uninitiated, this is a fish-shaped cake, a bit like a waffle, which the team fill with a beautifully balanced rose and lychee ice cream. We recommend getting the mermaid version, which comes complete with a tail and was practically made for Instagram. If you prefer, you can also get a regular ice cream cone (but where’s the fun in that?).
The editorial unit
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti, Azhul Mohamed and Filippo L’Astorina