The first recorded Chinese restaurant in Britain opened in 1907, though it wasn't until the 1950s that Chinese food (or, more accurately, an Anglo-Cantonese mash-up of cuisines that was more palatable to gastronomically cautious Brits), took off.
These days, authentic Chinese food is easy to find, and it's not just the preserve of Sinophiles living in London. Across the country you'll find a whole host of excellent Chinese restaurants serving a huge variety of regional dishes. From Cantonese to Sichuan, and Hunan to Fujian, we are opening our eyes to the delights of regional Chinese cooking.
Ching-He Huang, a Taiwan-born, British-raised chef, food writer and TV personality, is excited by the recent transformation of Britain's Chinese food scene. "True, authentic, traditional Chinese cuisine is making it to the fore", she says. "People are much more adventurous, have travelled, and are much more open minded. That has brought with it an appetite for true taste."
While regional and authentic Chinese food grows in popularity, Ching believes there are still barriers to break. "In a lot of Chinese cuisines they love offal – with our western palates we don't quite have the same love affair!"
This year, Chinese New Year falls on 25 January, and Chinese restaurants across the country will be celebrating with special menus. But what does a traditional Chinese New Year meal entail?
"There will be different dishes, depending on which region you're from", says Ching. "We have things like raw spring rolls, an assortment of roast duck, roast chicken or roast suckling pig, depending on the year; depending on what my grandfather wants!" Bamboo shoots with fried golden meatballs cooked in broth might be on the menu, as well as misua noodles, "which are the thinnest wheatflour noodles."
All the dishes have a special significance. The noodles, also called longevity noodles, are left uncut to signify a long life. Prawns are for laughter; fish for an abundance of luck and happiness; while dumplings are for wealth, because "they look like nuggets of gold and have to be golden fried."
But where can we try these delicious dishes?
To celebrate Chinese New Year, The Telegraph asked British-Chinese food experts to reveal their favourite restaurants around the country. Here are their top choices...
"Yu do Cantonese cuisine and Chinese-inspired cocktails," says Ching. "The chef, who runs it with his brother, is amazing. They've been near Manchester for years, it's in their blood. They do an amazing honey-roast cod. It's really good modern Cantonese cuisine."
Royal China Club
Fuchsia Dunlop, a cook and food writer specialising in Chinese cuisine whose book Land of Fish and Rice won the Guild of Food Writers Cookbook of the Year award in 2017, tips this stalwart in the capital. "The Royal China Club has the best dim sum in London: delicious, fresh and exquisitely crafted," she says.
"They also do a masterful rendition of one of my favourite Cantonese vegetable dishes, gailan (Chinese broccoli) with ginger. I'm a fan of the other Royal China restaurants too, but the Club is even better."
Another favourite of Dunlop's is Xi'an Impression: "This tiny restaurant just opposite the Emirates Stadium is a real treasure. Wife-and-husband team Wei Guirong and Song Yong offer a small selection of lovingly prepared and authentic snacks from Xi'an in northern China – home of the Terracotta Army.
"The biang biang noodles, Xi'an 'burgers' (roujiamo) and potsticker dumplings are particularly irresistible. Perhaps no other London restaurant offers Chinese food that is so personal."
Wai Ting, the co-founder of the extremely popular Bao and Xu restaurants in London, is also a fan. "A no-frills restaurant that satisfies my cravings", she reveals. "I order the same thing every time, from the Xi'an region in China. They do amazing biang biang noodles, refreshing black fungus, sweet potato noodles in hot and sour soup and hand-shredded chicken in special sauce."
A favourite of Ting's fellow co-founder, Shing Tat Chung, who says, "We used to go here all the time, every Tuesday night, when I was a kid. All you need to get is the 'Jin Do' pork chop. It's the best. Everyone does their own version, so it can vary wildly between different restaurants. But this one is the best."
Stack Dim Sum Bar
"Seductive dim sum is on the menu here," says Jimmy Lee, the head chef of Lychee Oriental in Glasgow. "Salmon and asparagus dumplings is one example where this place tantalises your taste buds with East-meets-Wests flavours. Other parcels of joy worth mentioning are the crab meat sui lun bao, which are delicious. This place never disappoints."
"Masterchef finalist Larkin Cen delivers his take on Cantonese casual dining here," says Jimmy Lee. Housed inside a 20-seater container, this quirky restaurant is fast becoming a hit in Bristol's foodie scene.
"Dishes such as 'Chicken or the Egg' fried rice shows off Larkin's interpretation of a classic takeaway dish using salt-cured duck egg. Heavenly desserts such as the salted caramel ice cream bao bun are a must-try."
Silk Road in Camberwell has become something of a South London institution, serving food from the western state of Xinjiang. Erchen Chang, another co-founder of Bao and Xu, says: "We used to go there every week after we made baos for the weekend. I love their lamb dumplings. We go there so much we even created a Menu A and Menu B list for ourselves so we get to eat everything every two weeks."
"It's around the corner from Xu and I always go to Four Seasons for Cantonese roast duck or roast duck noodles," says Erchen Chang. "I love watching the chef chopping the duck at the front; it just hits the spot every time."
Fei Wang, who hails from the Sichuan province of China and is head chef at Hutong in London, cites this Oxford stalwart as one of his favourites. "This is one of the first recommendations I was given when I moved to the UK and it’s often said that it has some of the best Chinese food outside of China.
"Many Britons view the menu as adventurous and the dishes are packed full of chilli heat. Don’t leave without trying their deep-fried spare ribs with dry chilli."
"I’ve always liked going to Hunan in Pimlico", says Wang. "They tend to use more chilli in their dishes as compared to Hutong, where I use more Sichuan peppercorns to create heat. You’ll be given a menu when you arrive but the best way to dine here is to let the team or owner order for you, which is usually upwards of 15 small dishes."
This article was first published on 12 February 2018