Posted on Friday, 12th April 2013
China Zen is located in the County Hall Building on Southbank and offers lovely views of Waterloo, Westminster and the London Eye. On their website they state that they specialise in Beijing cuisine, and according to some food blogs I’ve read, its Peking duck is allegedly its specialty dish. So when a TopTable 30% off special offer popped up I was rather excited. Peking duck and 30% off was something too good to miss.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I turned up at the restaurant to discover that the Peking duck was not part of the special offer. I might not have read the fine print properly, but it’s annoying when these specials hide a number of conditions. Nevertheless, I had come to China Zen to try the Peking duck, so offer or not, I decided it was still worth ordering.
But as it turned out it mattered little as the restaurant came back to us a few minutes after we had placed our order to inform us that they had run out of Peking duck. Run out of duck? On a Friday night at 7pm? What kind of restaurant runs out of their specialty dish at the beginning of service on one of their busiest nights of the week?
So began our calamitous experience at China Zen. We had also tried ordering about three different types of dumplings to be told that none of them were available. Intent on having some dumplings, we eventually stumbled on one which they said they had, only to discover minutes later that once again they were unable to deliver.
So we gave up on the dumplings and had the seafood and crabmeat soup (£5.80) and the salt and pepper squid (£7.80) for starters instead. Disappointingly, the soup was quite a small portion, and the ‘seafood’ quoted on the menu didn’t really consist of any seafood but some tiny shrimp that was extremely bland. It tasted as if it had been sitting in the freezer for far too long and all its flavour had been bled from it. The rest of the soup was decent with the crab being tasty.
The salt and pepper squid wasn’t great. It was very oily and the batter was too thick and limp. There was not enough salt or pepper either, the essential elements needed to make this dish work. Consequently, the whole thing did not taste of much.
Traditional Beijing Noodles with yellow bean sauce and quick fried with minced beef (£7.80) tasted like it had been cooked with a mixture similar to gravox. To be fair, it was tasty, but in an MSG kind of way. The noodles were a little overcooked.
Classic dried fried green beans with minced pork (£10.80) came out to us with mangetout instead of green beans. Not that they bothered to tell us in advance, but yes the restaurant had run out of green beans. Sigh. Was it really possible for a professional kitchen to be this disorganised?
Tofu with green peas, prawns and salted egg (£13.80) was ok but bland as the prawns didn’t have much flavour. The menu said there was salted egg in the dish but I didn’t taste any. Nor did I bother to ask where it was.
China Zen was a shambolic, diabolical experience. Notwithstanding that the kitchen was a mess and that it was missing half the ingredients it needed, the food wasn’t authentic either, catering essentially to Westernised palates. The service was average.
The prices were dear relative to the quality of the food, or rather, the lack thereof. The discount helped to ease on pain on the evening. But discount or no discount, China Zen is not worth making the trek for. We didn’t have the Peking duck but it’s impossible for me to believe that it could be any good.
Food summary: 1.5/5
Service rating: 2/5
Prices: Expensive for the quality. You can get better in Chinatown and pay less.