Most years we head up to Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year with some really good family friends. This year was no exception – we were heading up town to celebrate the Year of the Rooster in style. However this year we also decided to invite another family to join us. A lovely family with very small children, and a buggy, and a dad in a bad mood! It was really crowded and really raining – the odds of having a good time were stacked against us, yet we managed to turn it around and have a really great time thanks to a bit of planning and a few glasses of vino.
Here are my top 7 tips to enjoying the Chinese New Year.
1. Pre-book your lunch table
Now as I’m always with my kids on this occasion – and it’s always on a Sunday (ie school night) I’ve never made it passed about 7pm at Chinese New Year. This means I’m not sure whether it all kicks off Notting-Hill style once the night falls as I’m in the lunch contingent rather than the dinner gang. Lunchtime in Chinatwon on Chinese New Year is by and large a family-tastic occasion. The restaurants by and large won’t take concrete bookings. Instead they put you on a priority list so when you do turn up (which could well be late if you get stuck behind a dragon – see point 2) you go straight to the front of the queue. I booked the New Loon Fung Restaurant on Gerrard Street – it was perfect. Good service, fab food, very child friendly. And best of all seemed to be the restaurant of choice for the dragon teams once they’d finished bestowing their good luck up and down the street. Which meant that it not only had a great atmosphere – but it also must serve good authentic food – right?
2. Don’t try and overtake a dragon
If you find your timing a little off and are rendered stuck behind a dragon – just stay put for a bit and take it all in. You’re not gonna be stuck for more than 10 minutes. The atmosphere is frantic but fun and not at all threatening. Just pop the little ones on your shoulders or a nearby stack of pallets and watch the tradition unfold for a bit. It’s much less stressful, easier and more fun then trying to charge through the crowds – which is nearly impossible. And what’s the big rush? After all that’s the reason you’re there in the first place.
3. Be prepared for the rain
It’s winter, it’s London, it’s almost guaranteed to rain. So make sure you have a jacket with a hood. This is way preferable to a brolly which is a total nightmare to use in the crowds. Suitably waterproof shoes are also a good idea – Uggs are definitely a bad idea – hmmmm shame I didn’t read this blog before I went up to town last Sunday…
4. Get your merchandise early doors
Sadly we failed in this one so went home on Sunday night without a tiny rooster trinket, as by the time we’d finished in the restaurant most of the stalls had packed up due to the bad weather.
5. Buy delicious Chinese treats
Pocky and cream-filled pastries are guaranteed to keep the potentially whinging and tired children (and adults) happy. They’re cheap, colourfully packaged, and delicious. Personally I always love a trawl through a Chinese supermarket.
6. Invest in a multi pack of firecrackers (but make sure you set out the rules clearly before use)…
Kids love firecrackers – FACT. Adults also love firecrackers. The one problem is if you don’t tell the kids (and drunk adults) what they can and can’t throw them up you end up in a situation I was in a few years ago when my then 7-year-old boy threw a handful at a brand new top-of-the-range BMW driving up Shaftesbury Avenue. Let’s just say that the driver was not happy… This year with rules in place (including ‘Don’t throw them on the Tube’) we all have loads of fun with loads of firecrackers.
7. Go with good friends
This is probably the most important tip of all. Yes it’s busy, hectic and at times stressful – especially with young kids in tow. But if you go with really good friends you are guaranteed to have a great time. It’s a great occasion, and makes a good change from the usually Sunday pub lunch.