British diners refine appetites for Chinese cuisine

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William Poon opened his first Poon's Restaurant in 1973 in an 8-square-meter space in Lisle Street, Central London. It had been occupied by an electrical supplies shop and was only big enough to accommodate four tables.

A restaurant in Chinatown, London. China Daily

But Poon's Cantonese food became so popular he opened six more restaurants. One he opened in 1976 was awarded a Michelin star in 1980 and named the best Chinese restaurant in London. He sold his business in 2003 and retired.

Poon, an immigrant from Hong Kong who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1967, said the secret of his success was his stubbornness. He never gave up traditional cooking methods.

"I am a very stubborn and conservative person," he said. "I always try my best to keep the original taste as much as possible."

Looking back on his time at the forefront of Chinese cuisine in the British capital, he remembers with pride that he was the first in London to serve stir-fried beef with a "stinky" shrimp paste. Despite its popularity in Hong Kong, his peers in Chinatown thought he was crazy because they assumed the dish would not suit the palates of Western diners.

But Poon's bold move was successful and his dishes were well received by diners-locals as well as those with roots in China. His barbecue pork or char siu, roasted chicken livers and pig's intestines were among the most popular items on his menu.

As his first restaurant's reputation grew, and with people waiting in a public house next door for tables to open up, it became clear the location was too small to accommodate the growing crowd of fans. One of Poon's solutions was to create set menus, which he thinks were the first of their kind in the United Kingdom.

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