Look up a Chinese dictionary and the term Bao Fa is defined as ‘to get rich or prominent’.
That’s ironic in the case of He Cheng Kuan – owner of the Bao Fa Garden restaurant – because it was his love of authentic Chinese food, and a desire to find a stunning location, rather than pure profit, that was his prime motivation when opening his restaurant eight years ago.
He explains: “Bao Fa is actually an extremely old northern Chinese brand, going back over a hundred years, and it was this tradition of wonderful Chinese cuisine, with a modern twist, that I wanted to reflect in the name.
“The position of the restaurant was also extremely important to me – and that’s why we chose a prime waterfront location in central London so that diners could enjoy good food in exceptional surroundings,”adds Mr Kuan, who developed his love of Chinese cuisine in his Manchurian homeland before settling in the UK.
Based on our visit, Mr Kuan has succeeded on both counts. Situated on the South Bank at County Hall, a stone’s throw from the London Eye, the restaurant boasts wonderful views across the Thames to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
The view can be seen from almost all of the tables, with prime position being a table next to one of the large windows overlooking the gardens and waterfront which are brilliantly lit at night.
The food also lives up to the ‘traditional with a modern twist’ tag, appealing to both Chinese clientele and less ambitious diners who just enjoy a good Chinese meal alike.
So there’s a version of the traditional crispy aromatic duck that it sweetened with honeydew melon and spare ribs in a special WuXi sweet and sour sauce.
There are also good old British eaters’ favourites such as Chicken in black bean sauce, sizzling beef, stir-fried lamb and a wide range of fish dishes. Plus the full range of vegetarian, rice and noodle dishes.
Falling under the latter category, we started off with chicken and corn soup which was nicely flavoured with ample amounts of both key ingredients. That was followed by a Dim Sum platter, comprising a selection of tasty meat, fish and vegetable dumplings.
But the highlight was the squirrel seabass, which involves no harm to squirrels but takes its name from the shape of the fish once all the meat is extracted and placed in the middle of the dish. Beautifully cooked in a sweet and sour sauce, the fish was both tender and tasty and nicely accompanied by a selection of steamed vegetables (other accompaniments are available).
If you have room after the first two or three courses, there’s a wide choice of desserts available – from Chinese Style Bombolone stuffed with peanut butter and wolfberry and osmanthus jelly to an ‘exotic’ mousse and mandarin soufflé.
Prices are reasonable for such a prime location with great views in central London, with our meal coming in at around £30 a head. There are also set, lunch and pre-theatre menus as well as the a la carte version.
All in all, the Bao Fa Garden definitely lives up to the targets set by owner He Cheng Kuan.
As he says himself: “Having a great Chinese meal is about so much more than good food, although that its important of course.
“It is meant to be an enjoyable, social occasion – where the diners can relax and expect excellent service in great surroundings.”
Based on our experience, the Bao Fa Garden succeeds on all counts.
– The Bao Fa Garden is in the County Hall Building, The Queen’s Walk, London SE1 7PB
Tel 020 7261 1196 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org