Golden Dragon

28 Gerrard Street, Soho, London, England, W1D 6JW, United Kingdom

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The Golden Dragon is a large, bustling place on two levels. We ate upstairs, and the place was packed, with tables being turned even on this midweek evening. The dining room had along one wall a mounted set of wooden Chinese screens, and on another a gaudy red and gold patterned dragon display. Otherwise the walls and rather low ceiling were plain cream.  There was a tatty green carpet that has seen better days; lighting is bright, from ceiling spot lights. No music plays, but the sheer bustle of the place generates plenty of noise, so the lack of music was a relief. Waitresses and waiters, formally dressed, scurried back and forth delivering dishes and taking orders in a generally efficient manner, though there is no pretence at friendliness: this is all about turnover. The tablecloths had pink linen tablecloths and napkins and chairs were conventional wooden and perfectly comfortable. The tables were bare except for chopsticks, a soy sauce bottle and, rather oddly, a metal fork. These were presumably for those tourists from isolated parts of the country who stumble in and go “what was I thinking: a Chinese restaurant and they have chopsticks: I can’t cope”.   

The menu was vast; mostly standard Cantonese fare, with little in the way of “specials” or unusual house specialities. The wine list is an odd mix of joke wines (Mateus Rose: £14.50) and perfectly drinkable wines e.g. Opal Ridge Shiraz at £13.50. The wines were mostly French, and there was an odd mix of simple tasting notes with most wines, vintages for some but not others, and not even the grower in other cases. It was cheap, with Moet et Chandon at £42, a price well below any bar in central London. Beer is Tsing Tao at £2.80, and tea was 70p. Please note China Tang at the Dorchester: 70p for Jasmine tea including refills, not £6 and £6 per refill.   

A starter of crab meat and sweetcorn soup was rather mean on the crab meat (and even on the sweetcorn) but the broth, laced with egg white, nonetheless tasted well enough of its claimed ingredients, and the seasoning was accurate (11/20). Better was soft shell crab, deep fried and then liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper, served with a  little shredded carrot and cabbage and a few slices of green and red chilli. Soft shell crab is a flavour robust enough to cope with the vivid seasoning, and the crab itself tasted fresh and had pleasing texture (13/20). 

Steamed sea bass had good fish, well timed and served already partially filleted. The black bean sauce that it came with rather lacked black bean taste, and was a little watery compared to the best examples of the breed: the fish was garnished with fresh coriander. Still, the fish itself was fine (12/20, verging on 13/20). Szechuan prawns had tender prawns but a curiously insipid sauce, a brown glutinous concoction that tasted hardly at all of chilli or pepper, and resembled gravy (11/20). Gai lan was tender, steamed lightly with a light garlic sauce (13/20). Singapore noodles had good texture and had relatively little in the way of distractions (chunks of meat or prawns, for example) but tasted a little too strongly of curry powder, which blotted any other taste out and was just used to excess (12/20). Egg fried rice was fine, the grains distinct though the texture was a little on the hard side (12/20).  

There are virtually no desserts: just a fruit plate or some tinned lychees. The jasmine tea was fair, but not of the quality used at better establishments like the Royal China or Hakkasan. This was £75, and just appeared with no breakdown. Service was apparently included, though the waitress still offered us the opportunity of making a further donation to the management on the chip and pin machine.

This does exactly what you might expect, serving good, fresh Cantonese food in a simple, lively setting, with few adornments. Ingredients were fine and the technical side of the cooking generally good. The sauces for the main courses were both rather lacking in taste, which is odd given the bold seasoning of the soft shell crab. However overall this was a very pleasant experience, and the large portions will appeal to many. It is better than most restaurants in the area.  Disturbingly, in September 2006 it was prosecuted for serious food hygiene problems, including cockroaches and mouse droppings. It is supposedly now OK, bringing to mind a Simpsons episode where a sign outside an establsihment proudly says "now rodent free".

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