‘Refreshing’ may seem like an odd term to describe a Chinatown alley. Especially one ripe with the sweet, fetid odour of meat putrifying in sun-roasted binbags, and the glutinous, ammonia-tinged perfume of fresh noodles puffing through dusty ventilator shafts. But that’s exactly how I’d describe Dansey Place, a deliciously grimy and wonderfully authentic Chinatown alley that links Wardour Street and Dean Street. It’s quite literally like you’ve suddenly stepped into Beijing.
Most visitors to Chinatown never make it down Dansey Place; at first glance, it seems like little more than a dumping ground for the surrounding restaurants. It’s completely overflowing with big black bins and flattened cardboard boxes inked with Chinese script. Not that it’s ever seen better days; in the Thirties it was a popular location for illegal ‘bottle party’ nightclubs with names like Parody Club.
But many local Chinese come here for Lo’s Noodle Factory, where you can fill a shopping bag with fresh noodles for £1.50. That’s not even the best part about the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hole in the wall. Once you put your order in you can glimpse the staff working the dough, twisting it and smacking it on the tiny worktop like a skipping rope. They then pull it between their fingers until perfect, identical strands of noodles emerge, as if by magic. They do a mean steam bun here too.
I am an equally big fan of the mini market on Dansey Place. Usually you’ll find rare fresh herbs in cute wooden boxes outside; everything from Thai sweet basil to lemongrass and fragrant white-budded Chinese chives. Inside, they also stock a surprisingly good range of Chinese jarred and pickled products, noodles, and Asian fruit like kumquats, lychee and custard apples for such a titchy place. Granted, there is no shortage of Chinese supermarkets in the area but I find it less frantic and slightly cheaper than neighbouring options, and when I’m shopping for Chinese products I like to take my time and enjoy the experience.
There’s something that really gets me about Young Cheng Fresh Seafood Shop, the third and final store on Dansey Place. I always feel like I’ve just landed in a Shanghai fish dock. I love the big white doors of the lock-up; it makes the store seem like a giant open fridge. Peer in properly and you’ll notice the tanks of live lobsters and crabs. I come here for the latter and also the exemplary whelks and clams displayed in the main counter – perfect for rustling up a seafood noodle soup. Sometimes I’ve noticed local restaurant staff turning up with their notebooks and calculators penning orders – if it’s good enough for Chinatown….