Chinatown in Soho is all very well, but there's a far more genuine East Asian dining experience a few miles up the A5 in deepest Colindale. It's called Oriental City, and it's an unexpected eastern treasure. Alas, it's also doomed. This Sunday evening, at 7pm precisely, the dim sum will stop, the diners will be ejected and the doors will be permanently locked. And all because what this part of London really needs, apparently, is eight blocks of flats, a health and fitness studio and a B&Q. It's a damned shame.
From the outside, on the Edgware Road, Oriental City looks like a rather shabby grey warehouse. The garden frontage is threadbare and overgrown, guarded over by a handful of gruff marble dragons. A row of blue canopies give the place a slightly, but not especially, eastern flavour. Various letters have fallen off the wall and not been replaced (ORIENAL) (RIENTAL). And yes, that's Sonic the Hedgehog, attempting to entice passing 90s youth into the "Sega Park" within. Please, don't let any of it put you off venturing inside.
Most shopping malls have a Food Court, but here it's Oriental City's finest feature. A choice of freshly-cooked cuisine, be it Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indian or Chinese. Colourful pictorial menus, brought to life on sizzling grills or spinning spits. A large central space to sit down with friends or family beneath dangling orange balloons, waiting for your order number to appear on the electronic displays. And happy feasting punters, chopsticks poised, perched on plastic chairs at wood-effect tables. There were still a few spare seats yesterday afternoon, but I bet this place will be packed out by the weekend.
Hidden behind the Food Court there's a rather austere Japanese supermarket, much larger than you might expect, but whose shelves are now running down in readiness for closure. Elsewhere, in several small retail units around the site, simultaneous Closing Down sales are underway. There's 80% off giant porcelain vases, 3 for 1 on Japanese lifestyle goods, and a pile of cut price handbags to be fought over. If you've ever wanted cheap plastic flip flops, half price pastel crockery or a special silky kimono, now is the time. And up the semi-functional escalators, level with the top of the car park, they're serving the final meals in the China City restaurant. It's a crying shame.
Some of the retailers have hand-written or printed signs to inform loyal customers that they're relocating elsewhere. The supermarket's off to Queensway, for example, while the Hamazaki Bakery is moving to Whetstone. For other businesses, however, the notices have a more melancholy undertone. "Our last day will be 1st June 2008 and we will be taking orders until 6:30pm. We have not found our own premises yet but please leave your email or mobile number so we can update you." There may be plans to incorporate an oriental marketplace in the new development, but that's several years from completion and many of these family-run businesses will never survive an enforced hiatus. I can't believe that Oriental City's "revitalised" replacement will ever have the character and genuine charm of the original.
Not being a fan of dim sum, duck and dumplings (as some of you can attest) I didn't stop for a final meal in the condemned Food Court. But I did pause at the Wonderful Patisserie (only the Chinese could get away with a name like that) on my way out. Their sugary fruit-topped cakes looked mighty tempting, but alas unwise, so I made do with a box of Fortune Cookies. No, hang on, the girl behind the counter insisted that they were now 2 boxes for 75% of the price of 1, and who was I to argue? I've got one of the cookies here now, so let's see if its contents offer any insight into the complex's future... "The heart is wiser than the intellect." The heart is certainly wiser than Brent Borough Council's planning committee. Cardiac arrest in four days, and counting.