Welcome to Best Dressed, an Eater series where diners show and tell what they’re wearing out to eat, from the small details to the splashy pieces — and how they approached getting dressed for each spot’s specific scene. Installments answer the question, how do we dress to go out these days?
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The Place: Food House
Location: London’s Chinatown
Concept: Hot pot served with tight looks
Menu Highlights: Sichuan fare like chile noodles, lamb and offal on skewers, whole fish, and especially hot pot, but with a broad menu that accommodates vegan and halal diners, Food House works well for a big group, often impeccably attired.
In February 2022, the Guardian restaurant critic Jay Rayner was shocked to learn that one of his Cantonese Chinatown staples had been remade into a Sichuan hot pot place that per Rayner was “so trendy, co cool, I’d never heard of it.” He was largely citing Eater, which claims that Food House “might be the hippest restaurant in central London.”
Does that reputation hold up? To find out, first you’ll have to locate the restaurant. The words Food House appear nowhere on its two-story building at the fulcrum of Gerrard Place and Street. (It also goes by the name Real Beijing, which is what’s displayed in front.) In London, Chinatown is smashed between the going-out bastion of Soho; Covent Garden, a pedestrian shopping mall with a side of opera; and Leicester Square, anchored by M&Ms World, movie premieres, and chain restaurants. On paper, it hardly seems like any old Sichuan place bang in its middle is going to draw notable looks. In fact, many diners ambling up on Saturday night had no idea what the restaurant was even called, or had never heard of it before. It just seemed good, with its lit-up menu out front, and a not-too-long line snaking out the door. Maybe it was a little shorter because England was, at that moment, losing the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Maybe, because it was chilly out, hot pot seemed especially ideal.
And so despite its reputation, most diners queuing up for, having a smoke outside of, or departing Food House hadn’t gotten dressed up for it at all. Many had been out that Saturday, at a museum or doing Christmas shopping — or in the case of a big group of acting students, in a drama class all day.
But these Food House diners illustrate a compelling facet of London: No one kind of person lays claim here. Together, the looks at Food House present a corollary to the city center’s staid and touristy and overly moneyed reputation. Jonathan Nunn may have proposed that “what is in the London suburbs increasingly feels more like London than what is in the centre,” but what makes something a center is that everyone eventually circuits through it. That’s precisely where Food House is located, physically and spiritually — and probably why the styles there make a feast of everything from high street to designer label.
Victoria, 27, and Daniel, 28, both from Reading
Eater: So what brought you guys to this restaurant that you don’t even know the name of?
Daniel: A friend took me here a few months ago, and I remember it being pretty decent, so I decided to take Victoria. We just came from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Victoria: We didn’t have to book a table which is obviously a problem in London now if you want to eat out on a Saturday.
This isn’t near the V&A, though, so you’ve really crossed town to get here.
Daniel: We did — we wanted to have a look at the lights, though, and look around town as well, and the ambience, and we ended up coming to Chinatown.
Victoria: We just felt like some Chinese food.
But your outfits are for the museum, they’re not for the restaurant.
Daniel: Well, Victoria always likes to dress up when she goes into the city.
Victoria: Anywhere, really.
Daniel: And I follow suit, you see.
Do you feel like you fit in with the crowd?
Victoria: Fitting in with a crowd doesn’t concern me, as long as I feel comfortable wearing what I’m wearing. People can wear tracksuits and I’m fine and wear what I’m comfortable in.
Daniel: But, potentially, you stand out.
Victoria: Potentially, but, you know, I didn’t get dressed up to go out for food, I’ve just got dressed up because, why not? I like it.
How would you describe your style?
Victoria: Sort of like, neutral-classic.
Daniel: You have your little flourishes, but you do keep it quite classic.
Victoria: I don’t really keep up with the trends. I know what I like and I stick to that increasingly.
Who makes your coat?
Victoria: Most of my clothes are from the country where I was born — that’s Moldova. Whenever I go back, I try to go shopping because I can get nicer clothes that fit my style and they’re reasonably priced. I find that if you want good quality in the U.K. it’s either very expensive — or just bad quality. My mum and I dress him up as well — we bought this for him.
What did you see at the V&A?
Victoria: Everything. We started with the Japanese and Chinese rooms.
Daniel: We were very interested in the glass sculpture, right on the top floor.
Victoria: And the jewelry as well.
Daniel: Yeah, the jewelry section was brilliant, and the section on theater, the clothes and set design, that was really good.
Alessio, 31, from Woking
Eater: What brought you out to Food House?
Alessio: We just waited 20 minutes and we left because nobody came to us to ask nothing — we just left.
So you didn’t even eat there?
Where are you gonna eat now that you can’t get in here?
We’ll probably go to Burger King, just to get something.
Is there a piece you’re wearing that you’re especially proud of? Like your shirt has kind of a Versace vibe to it.
What do you mean?
You know, sort of reminiscent of the designer.
I like the stylized rock style. I grew up with this style, and I’ve kept it.
Phoebe, 24, from Bath
Eater: What had you heard about this restaurant before you came out?
Phoebe: Well, a friend who’s on our acting course and Chinese recommended it, and so I trusted her because she can speak Chinese to the waiters, and it probably helps us out a little bit with our ordering.
So did you put on your outfit to come to dinner tonight?
I always like to dress the best I can. I’ve been exploring with accessories. I’m really interested in having cool-looking hands because I’m into tarot, and mysticism, and I’m a bit of a witch. It means that if anyone crosses me, they will get hexed.
When did you get your nails put on?
A couple of weeks ago, so they’re growing out a bit. I’m thinking of a little update. I like to do them according to the seasons. It’s winter, so I’m thinking of more of a Christmas look to do soon.
Is it tough for you to pick things up with your very long nails?
I’m a receptionist, so I think it’s part of the glamour to me, typing away and the nails get in the way, and I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m so girly right now, my nails are so long.” It’s kind of part of the slay. At first, it is a bit annoying, but you kind of learn of navigate it. I see it as part of the slay when I’m casting spells and hexing men who’ve crossed me.
That’s very good. What are your pants, where did you get those?
These are from Cider, which is an app that I downloaded and you can get a lot of discount codes online for it. I love that place. The pants have little frills at the bottom, but they’re black, so I can pretend to be a professional wearing them but secretly I’m sporting frills.
Do you feel like your look is a good fit for the restaurant, or do you feel like you stand out?
I think I’m the only one wearing a beret for sure, and a big fur coat, but to be honest I like standing out a little bit because it makes a statement.
Is it real fur?
It’s definitely not — I’m a vegan so I’d never do that.
Do you find that adult braces are part of your look?
I have made it part of my look. I actually change the color elastics on my braces according to the season just like my nails, although I am excited to take them off and have perfect teeth, not gonna lie.
Aaron, 32, from London
Eater: Why did you put this outfit on to come here?
Aaron: Because we’re having a black-and-yellow party, and that’s yellow, and that’s black.
What’s a black and yellow party?
Uh, you probably don’t want to know.
My friend is Black and I’m Chinese and for the past 10 years we’ve been having black-and-yellow parties.
Is that okay to put on a website?
I don’t know — that’s up to you. It was kind of an in-joke.
Kai, 25, from Earl’s Court
Eater: Why did you come to dinner here tonight?
Kai: Because they offer quite good and quite cheap hot pot, and some of my friends eat halal, so, this is the only hot pot place in London I think that does halal hot pot.
Why did you put this outfit on to come here?
I think it’s just the way I kind of dress, really, it’s kind of my style — formal-casual, I think. I try to get a mix of that.
Do you feel like you fit in with the crowd here?
Yeah, everybody’s really chill and everybody’s having a good time, so, yeah.
What were you doing before this today?
I had a haircut. I did do some Christmas shopping. I’m actually not from London originally, I’m from York, so I’m just getting some presents for my parents, some like, chocolate truffles from one of the Christmas markets, in Trafalgar Square.
So you’ve been seeing what’s going on around town today?
Kind of, yeah.
Mark, 38, and Claire, 34, both from Crystal Palace
Eater: Did you put these outfits on to come to dinner tonight?
Mark: No, not at all, we’ve been wandering around this afternoon, mostly along the South Bank.
And how did you end up at this restaurant?
Claire: After lots of walking around — it’s really busy, and this is the only one that had a short waiting time, and we fancy Chinese, so.
Did you feel like your style fit in with what people were wearing in there?
Mark: I can’t say I even really considered it.
Claire: I think so because it’s really casual, it’s really chill.
How would you describe your style?
Claire: Very casual! Very wintery. Warm — but dressed for the weather, I think.
What do you do to insulate from the cold?
Mark: Layers, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Like roughly how many layers?
Mark: I’ve got four on top, I think — one, two, three — yeah, four.
Claire: I’ve got three on, but I’ve got a hat and scarf.
Mark: Yeah, I need to get some gloves. I want a hat.
I do think you need gloves, I think that’s pretty key. Keep your hands in your pockets. Who makes your backpack?
Claire: This one? Oh, I think it’s from Sainsbury’s.
It’s a Sainsbury’s-brand backpack?
What about it made you like it?
Claire: The color.
What would you describe the color as?
Claire: Just green, right? Or turquoise.
Mark: Yeah, green.
Any specific green?
Claire: Oh, I don’t know – it’s like, Little Mermaid green.
Lily and Kelin, both 20 and studying in London
Eater: Do you think your style was a good fit for the restaurant?
Lily: I think mine is a really good fit because I dressed to go eat hot pot.
So you have enormous pants and a really baggy jacket and shirt on. What do you call your style?
Lily: Yeah, you got it.
Is that a little Gucci bag? How long have you had that?
Lily: For, like, about six months?
And you’ve got a little bag on as well, a Vuitton — are you cold right now?
Kelin: A little bit!
You’ve got a big puffy jacket on — that’s not helping?
Kelin: It’s helping, but it’s still cold out, with London’s weather at the moment. It’s pretty cold.
How would you describe your style?
Kelin: Just, casualwear, I guess? Casual, comfy.
Are Docs keeping you warm right now?
Kelin: Surprisingly, yes, they’re actually keeping me really warm.
How long have you had those?
Kelin: Almost a year now. They’re broken in, they’re functional.
Did walking around London help break those in?
Kelin: For sure. At first it hurt, but then after a few walks it got comfortable.
What does YOHJI stand for?
Lily: It’s a brand — it’s a Japanese brand.
[Gesturing to their friend in a Canada Goose parka.] Do you think his look fits in with yours?
Lily: We’re like, a gang.
Kelin: We’re a three-o.
Ceanna, 28, from Kensal Rise, and Manny, 23, from Croydon
Eater: So what brought you guys to this restaurant?
Manny: Date night slash everywhere else was busy, and we were just super curious. Saw the queue, came inside and smelled the foods — we were like, you know what, figure we’ll have a good time here.
So you didn’t put on these outfits for this restaurant?
Manny: I just came out and I thought, it’s date night. Let me try to look my best. Let me come with the flowers. Let me come with the gifts. Let me bring the hot chocolate as well, because it’s cold out. So every level of consideration, because I’m trying to get her.
That’s how you do it, I guess. It seems like perhaps it’s working.
Ceanna: You’d be very accurate in your assumption.
How would you describe your style?
Ceanna: It depends on the day — I was trying to go for something not-too-much, a bit more casual, and it’s cold outside so not a skirt or dress. So I thought, jeans with some rips would be good. And the diamanté bag, I bought it the other day and I really like it.
Who makes the bag?
Ceanna: Oh, this is from Primark.
Do you also shop at Primark?
Manny: Yeah. The shirt I’m wearing underneath, it’s like a graphic LA tee, I’ve seen a couple people wearing it, and it’s because it’s just that good. It’s from Primark, but this jumper that I’m wearing, it’s from Next. Surprisingly, my mum bought it for me. Then like casual-smart chinos, my limited-edition Huaraches which are like suede with brown and purple bits. Then a couple of random rings — I picked one up in a vintage shop, and I bought another one from a website called True Vintage. And a nice little piece form Amazon, a pendant that’s got Africa on it with some crystals. It’s not super shiny but it means a lot to me. I wear it everywhere. It just reminds me that, yeah, that’s my motherland.
Would you say you guys are both kind of like, high street with glam touches?
Ceanna: Yes, 100 percent.
Manny: I think so.
There’s a lot of, like, designer in this restaurant. Do you feel like your looks fit in?
Ceanna: I didn’t even notice!
It’s probably because I’ve been standing outside looking at what every single person is wearing going in and out of the restaurant.
Ceanna: They probably plan to come here, that might be why.
I like that your shirt matches the flowers he got you. Did you plan that?
Ceanna: That’s coincidence.
Manny: I didn’t at all — I was actually just at the florist. I was like, “Okay, let’s get some roses, get a bit of foliage.” I didn’t know how expensive flowers were until today, but I will happily pay that cost again because the smile on her face was priceless. That brought some more joy to my evening.
I think it’s working. I think you guys are gonna work it out. It’s kismet. But this restaurant has a reputation for being trendy, but it seems like nobody who showed up actually dressed for this restaurant — you all just equally ended up here, and are stylish.
Ceanna: It’s so busy because of the England game. We went originally to Burger & Lobster and the woman was saying an hour wait. So we were walking into Chinatown and trying to figure out where to eat, and we just kind of stopped, like, this one is interesting and the queue doesn’t look too long. We went inside to check the time and they said 15 to 20 minutes, and it was like, perfect.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Michaël Protin is a London-based photographer.