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The Enduring Legacy of the Rice Bowl: Exeter's First Chinese Restaurant

Imagine a time when the delicious flavours of noodles, fried rice, and green curry were unknown in the charming city of Exeter. Nowadays, you can stroll down North Street and discover a vibrant food scene with diverse international cuisines that will excite your taste buds. However, it all began in 1958, when a visionary named Sam Fat Law sparked a revolution.


Sam Fat Law and his partners took a bold step that would forever transform Exeter's food landscape. They introduced the city's first Chinese restaurant, which they named the "Rice Bowl." It was located at number 13 North Street, now home to an Indian restaurant.

The opening of the Rice Bowl marked a significant moment in Exeter's history. It brought the tantalising aromas and flavours of Chinese cuisine to a city that had never experienced such culinary delights before. People eagerly flocked to the Rice Bowl to savour the magic of noodles, fried rice, and Hong Kong-style curries, all prepared with authentic Chinese flair.


Photo of the Law family outside the “Rice Bowl” on North Street circa 1960


The success of the Rice Bowl inspired the Law family to embark on further ventures. In the 1970s, Sam Fat Law opened another acclaimed restaurant called "Hoi Shan" in Newton Abbot. From there, his talented sons and daughters branched out, each adding their unique touch to the thriving Chinese food scene in the Devon area.


This dynasty led to the establishment of memorable places like Hoi Shan in Torquay, Choys Takeaway, Sang Sangs, Ling Lings, Hings, and many more. With each new addition, the Law family shared their passion for Chinese cuisine, ensuring that the people of Devon could enjoy a diverse range of experiences.

In 2000, the Law family's legacy reached another milestone when one of Sam Fat Law's daughters, Lily, proudly opened Mei Wah in Chudleigh, which has now been passed down to her children. Mei Wah has since become one of the most respected Chinese takeaways in the area. With numerous awards and glowing reviews, it serves as a testament to the Law family's commitment to excellence.

Sadly, Mr. Law, the visionary behind the Rice Bowl and a cornerstone of the Law family's empire, passed away in 2013. However, his dedication to sharing the flavours of Chinese cuisine and his pioneering spirit continue to inspire and guide the Law family's endeavours.


For over 65 years, the Law family's Chinese cuisines have remained a symbol of authenticity and passion. They have preserved traditional cooking methods and passed down their skills through three generations. This remarkable legacy has not only enriched Devon’s vibrant food culture but also captured the hearts and palates of those fortunate enough to savour their creations.


So, if you fancy a Chinese curry or a Special Chow Mein at Mei Wah in Chudleigh, take a moment to appreciate the visionary spirit of Sam Fat Law and his remarkable family. Their journey from the humble beginnings of the Rice Bowl to the thriving empire they have built is a shining example of the power of passion, tradition, and the lasting influence one family can have on the heritage of a town. Don't miss the chance to try out the amazing food at Mei Wah, which comes highly recommended by locals and captures the essence of the Law family's culinary excellence.

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