Thursday, 4 February 2010

Special Zone 1997 review - the best beef hor-fun in London

Address: 19 Wardour Street,
London W1D 6PF
Tel: 020 7734 2868
Nearest Tube station: Leicester Square

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £5 pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: *
Suitable for: A quick and cheap bite
It was interesting how I could walk past Special Zone 1997 every time I stop by London's Chinatown for groceries and never even thought of stepping in. For one, it looked suspiciously like Cafe TPT, which was next to it along Wardour Street. I had been to Cafe TPT twice and was really disappointed by the run of the mill dishes served by it. So I guessed that rubbed off on 1997.

A couple of weeks back, KL told us about 1997. "It serves the best beef hor fun (flat rice noodle) that you can find in London!" he claimed. After his tip off on Joy King Lau, which I thought offered value for money, I had begun to take his recommendation a bit more seriously.


Besides, I was a huge fan of beef hor fun and wouldn't hesitate braving the traffic back home all the way to Geylang for its oh so famous dry beef hor fun. Just the thought of it was enough to bring a growl to my stomach. So last weekend, I made a detour to Leicester Square just to try out the beef hor fun at 1997.

"Come on, take a seat," the waiter beckoned to us as we pushed through the door. 1997's furniture was a mix-mesh of sorts: square and round tables, which looked more at home in some of the coffee shops in Malaysia and Singapore, haphazardly pushed against the walls with heavy chairs lined up side by side. It was quite clear that 1997 did not seek to impress with its ambience, which was just as well as I didn't go there for it either. I just wanted my beef hor fun.


I was pleasantly surprised by what was on the menu - the wide selection of (mainly) Cantonese Chinese dishes were all going for just £3.80 each. You don't get any cheaper than that, at least not in this part of the world. I quickly spotted the beef hor fun or more precisely beef brisket hor fun on the menu. The only thing that I prefer over the peppery dry beef hor fun was the beef brisket variety thickened with gravy.


My order arrived quite soon after. The dish looked fabulous, just the way I imagined to be: generous portion of hor fun with an equally generous serving of beef brisket doused with thick starchy gravy. I just couldn't stop shovelling it into my mouth and didn't even look up for a moment.

"How was it?" Wife asked.

"Mmm… Hmmm…" I managed to let out some grunts and kept on nodding my head while struggling to take a breath in between mouthfuls. Need I say more? It was that good. The beef brisket was soft and tender, the hor fun had the 'smoky' aroma, which went fabulously well with the starchy gravy.


Wife was a bit disappointed with her fish ball noodles though. She wasn't too keen on the fish balls, which she claimed was 'a bit flat'. According to her, the noodles and soup stock rivalled that of Cha Cha Moon's wonton noodles.

1997 is one place that I would recommend for those on a budget. Who says London is expensive? You just have to know where to go. I'll be back for another round of beef brisket hor fun real soon.

Update (6th Feb 2010): I went back again and this time round the hor fun wasn't as good. Seems like it's a hit and miss thing. Also I neglected to mention that the £3.80 offer is for lunch only. However, we saw a couple request for the lunch special at 5pm, which the staff obliged.

1997 on Urbanspoon

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Mr Noodles said...

Damn that beef brisket looks good ! The fishballs less so which is no surprise in London. In my 15 or so years in the smoke, I've never knowingly been here but may have to give it a try. What's to lose - £3.80 ?

Wild Boar said...

Years ago 1997 and HK Diner used to be the only Chinese restaurants still open past 3am so I used to go there for a greasy meal after a night of clubbing. Is 1997 now rebranded as Special Zone 1997 or is this a branch?

Anyway the wife loves beef brisket hor fun so we'll try to check this out. Thanks for the tip off.

C K said...

@Mr Noodles,
I have no idea what's the fascination behind fishball noodles soup and I told that to my Wife as well. I mean, isn't it plain noodles in soup (probably laden with MSG) with a few fishballs?

Anyway, do go try out the beef brisket hor fun and tell me what you think of it.

@Wile Boar,
I think this is one and the same. But I've always heard people referring it as '97'. I was comparing some photos of its facade online and found that the signboard was changed as well.

Enjoy the hor fun!

Singapore Beat said...

Tried it last week - the beef's tender and great - so was the hor fun. Considering the price - very good.

However, the lady staff was a real bitch. Not sure if it's a practice in Chinese diners in London to bring the bill even before I was done, but when asking her the total price (handwriting was unreadable), found reason to shout it out at me.

C K said...

@Singapore beat,
Sorry to hear about your experience. As the place was basically empty when we were there, the staff didn't have any objections to us hanging around. Was the place crowded when you were there?