I’ve been to many unusual places to review restaurants in my time but this one beats them all. 7th Cat, inside the Empire Casino is right in the heart of the West End on Leicester Square. We make our way past the bouncers, walk down some stairs, thread through the gamers at the slots and arrive at what almost looks like a film set. Except this is a real restaurant serving up decent Asian food.
In fact it’s more like a canteen – a bunch of plain tables in front of a counter with a backdrop of whole ducks, sandwiched between the slots and the bar. Now the Empire Casino is one of the largest and most iconic casinos in London and offers Blackjack, Roulette, Electronic Games, plus the famous London Poker Room. Even gamblers get hungry so the restaurant is open from midday until 4am, seven days a week.
The menu is curated by Chef Ellen Chew, a veteran of Soho’s Asian restaurants, who founded Chinatown’s Singaporean restaurant Rasa Sayang back in 2008. She says: “There is such variety and depth to Chinese food – at 7th Cat we are giving people the ‘highlights’ of the favourites that we have come to love over generations and to deliver good quality Asian cuisine”
Judging by the number of Asian gamblers passing through, with some counting their chips at a nearby table, she seems to be doing something right. The menu is pleasantly straightforward with a selection of dim sum, soups, rice or noodles, meats and deserts. It’s obviously designed for grazing so you can settle for one dish or mix and match.
We start with a selection of Northern Chinese Dumplings, prawn, chicken and vegetable. There are two of each and a spicy Sichuan Chilli Oil sauce to dip. Very authentic we agree, as are the Char Siu Bao – three large buns stuffed with savoury pork char siu. We’re on a roll so we also go for the Lucky 7 Har Gao Prawn Dumplings and the Vegetable Gyoza.
Looking around we seem to be the only ones with staying power. Other diners sit down for a quick fix of Won Ton Soup or Cantonese Roast Duck Rice, then are gone back into the bowels of the casino. We’re here for the food, not for the gaming, although you could feasibly have a quick flutter between courses.
Now onto mains and we opt for a half a Cantonese Aged Roast Duck, the particular supplier reputed to be one of the best in the world. It comes chopped into pieces, bones and all, in a Cantonese sauce and certainly is pretty good. A side order of Stir Fried Bok Choi makes a refreshing accompaniment.
Now, we were all set to carry on with Beef Rendang with Jasmine Rice, but sadly we’ve over–ordered so have to admit defeat. We make room, though, to sample Japanese Ice Cream Mochi in three different flavours – refreshing palate cleansing mango, salted caramel and coconut.
Food here is as good as you get anywhere else in Chinatown. Service is brisk and attentive and prices are reasonable. As we make our return journey through the neon slots with their solitary gamers, casting a glance back at the darkened gambling tables, I can’t help feeling that we’ve only experienced a fraction of what the Empire Casino has to offer – but then I’m a gourmet not a gambler.
Verdict:7th Cat Empire Casino offers good value Asian food in the West End in the heart of a casino.
5-6 Leicester Square,
London WC2H 7NA