The Feng Shang Princess is a floating Chinese restaurant on the Regent’s Canal in north London, which flows from Little Venice to the Guardian to Limehouse, and in which they quite often find corpses in shopping trolleys and vice versa. I do not know if the restaurant moves, and could theoretically travel to Paddington. I hope it does. The Regent’s Canal is an ugly stretch of water, which reeks of sexual violence and cheap alcohol and cyclists, and it is desolate; place it near London Zoo and you have a peculiar cognitive dissonance that could only happen in London: a tapir near a canal featuring a floating Chinese restaurant. It is apparently Paul McCartney’s favourite Chinese restaurant, which I found insane until I thought about it.
Its marketing tic is this: it is a Chinese restaurant on a boat. It could be a falafel restaurant on a milk float, or a sushi restaurant in a cement mixer, or a hotdog and champagne restaurant in a Reliant Robin but it isn’t. It serves Chinese food and it floats!
The boat is two storeys high, with a peaked roof, like a tiny piece of the Forbidden City, and very red: drag-queen red. It is lit up like a minute Las Vegas or the aftermath of a collision between a Honda Civic and an Audi S1 Sportback on the M3. It looks like the musical box in Camberwick Green; that is, it seems magical, but since Camden, its parish, looks like a Victorian sex shop that has burned down and taken every teenage gay and resident goth — who came from Frome to be a goth, but died — with it, magic is easy to evoke. There is literally no competition, whatever Foxtons might tell you. I live in Camden and I know.
The Feng Shang Princess is, aesthetically, a Wizard of Oz, or a politician, or a relationship; magic melts with intimacy. There are bins on the sloping grass; they smell of congealed fat. The bridge has a dull green awning, a telephone number and a plastic menu. The canal here turns north to Camden market and the tattoo parlour called ‘Evil from the Needle’; the Feng Shang Princess is therefore on a watery cul-de-sac, on which float algae and duckweed and Diet Coke cans. It is grandiose with its lanterns of paper and its vicious reds; it smells of damp.
It is, so far, a vivid and interesting restaurant for a TV movie James Bond, or even Time Bandits, because this could be any year between 1975 and today. It is almost a themed restaurant. Unfortunately the food is terrible, and semi-duplicitous. We order crispy aromatic duck. The waiter brings the piece of duck, and then removes it. Then he comes again with some duck chopped up. It is now cool, and without skin. I am not sure it is the piece of duck he brought initially; was that the show duck? And has this duck — the imposter duck, the duck in the iron mask, the other duck? — been cooling in the kitchen, waiting for this moment? Is it a Sidney Sheldon duck? Does it have a novel? We let it go. Sweet and sour chicken and a grilled lamb chop in teriyaki sauce are very ordinary, if expensive. Rice is, well, you know, rice. I have no metaphor for rice. It doesn’t deserve one.
If you seek good, hot, cheap Chinese food, do not come here. Seek out the Golden Dragon in Gerrard Street, Chinatown, even if they do bring the bill when they, and not you, have decided it is time for you to leave.
Otherwise, because human stupidity is without end, the Feng Shang Princess won an OpenTable Diners’ Choice award last year: because, on a canal basin near Alan Bennett, it floats.
Feng Shang Princess, Cumberland Basin, Prince Albert Road, London NW1 7SS, tel: 020 7485 8137.