Cha Chaan Teng

CHA CHAAN TENG

Note: KK from Russian Revels and I (Agirlhastoeat) attended a bloggers dinner at Cha Chaan Teng together. This is a guest blog post written predominantly by KK, with input from myself.

Meet Jeremy Pang, the man behind School of Wok, a British Chinese guy with generations before him who have cooked and worked in Chinese restaurants. Chinese cookery is in his blood, and having opened his own Chinese cookery school, he is now also the consultant chef of Cha Chaan Teng, an unashamedly ‘inauthentic playful’ take on the popular Hong Kong tea houses (cha chaan teng translates literally as ‘tea restaurant’) which began springing up in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Effectively ‘Chinese-style Western food’ (and not Westernised Chinese food), they are a Hong Kong institution in themselves, serving a form of fast food that where diners can eat quickly and leave. Given its popularity in Hong Kong, surprisingly, this is the first ‘cha chaan teng’ of its kind in London.

Housed discretely in the basement of the never-quite-upcoming Holborn, Cha Chaan Teng is a glitzy affair, combining the comforts of booth seating with glamour of the huge mirrored bar and white lanterns. Style-wise, it is a far cry from the cha chaan tengs you get in Hong Kong. You’re not just going to be drinking tea here, darling! Already in the second week of opening, there was a buzz with an eclectic mix of people in crowd. What a great start to a new restaurant opening.

We attended a bloggers dinner, dining on a banquet chosen by Jeremy himself, around a tall round table with two lazy susans in the middle (which were a bit too lazy as they almost didn’t move too well!) Generosity and sharing are part of a traditional Chinese meal, no matter how far the recipes have travelled. There’s a huge disclaimer on the menu that the menu at Cha Chaan Teng isn’t intended to be authentic (whatever authentic ‘Chinese-style Western food’ is), and so we tried not to compare to the food might have tasted like in Hong Kong. Even so, it was fun to think back to Agirlhastoeat’s childhood years spent back in Hong Kong when she use to eat in a cha chaan teng as a child. However nostalgia can play a part in defining one’s connectedness to the food eaten. As for the menu itself, it draws inspiration from some classic cha chaan teng staples such as French toast and macaroni soup, as well as a smattering of other Chinese dishes.

Before we began stuffing our faces, Jeremy gathered us up to show how bao buns, the steamed rice buns that have been so trendy in London lately, are made. We prodded, sniffed and stretched the brilliant white dough, to get the feel for this all-important base food. Special, super fine, flour is often used (often bleached back in Hong Kong, a technique which is banned in the UK). Jeremy’s team had spent weeks perfecting that one skill of making bao. In themselves the buns are rather bland, all the better for carrying fillings with strong flavours.

We were ‘allowed’ to choose our little appetizers, either bao or a crusty roll. Our duck bao with hoisin sauce, cucumber and carrot pickle (£5.50) was a lovely mini manifestation of the classic high street staple of crispy duck. It was a good flavour, if a bit too dry.

Cha Chaan Teng - London Food Blog - Crispy duck bao

Cha Chaan Teng – London Food Blog – Crispy duck bao

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Chablis Dinner at The Chancery

I recently attended a ‘Gastronomy and Geology’ dinner where we went on a journey of discovery into the unique and mineral-laden qualities of the world of Chablis. Chablis is always made from Chardonnay, and what makes it special is that it has its roots in a seam of 155m year old fossilised oyster shells, the same ground that exists in the town of Kimmeridge, Dorset, and runs through parts of Champagne, the Loire valley and of course, Chablis.

The event was held at The Chancery where we saw an amazing four-course menu prepared by Chef Graham Long being paired with a variety of different quality Chablis wines. The evening began in the Chancery’s cellar bar with crab beignets and truffled cheese arancini canapés accompanied by an accessible Petit Chablis aperitif, a Dauvissat Petit Chablis 2012, which was fresh and clean on the palate. This Chablis is supposedly from an appellation which is the most lowly (Petit Chablis) but it is in fact Petit in name alone. This is because Dauvissat is arguably Chablis’ finest, most manicured domaine.

The Chancery - London Food Blog - Chablis

The Chancery – Chablis

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The White Swan

The White Swan, located on Fetter Lane near Chancery Lane, is an old-fashioned boozer which has long enticed the city crowd with its fine selection of ales and refined gentile feel. But it also serves as a gastropub, with the first floor area being transformed into a smart but not overly fussy dining room styled with an art-deco touch.

The food is also classically British and smartly done, teetering on high-end without being too over the top. The ground floor pub also serves food, and although its menu includes a burger and fish and chips as options, the other items are rather smart with the likes of dishes such as confit duck leg and slow roasted pork belly. Migrate upstairs to the main dining room, and the a la carte menu becomes more creative with the added option of a tasting menu.

We decided to go for the tasting menu, which was a rather reasonable £55 for six courses. Our amuse bouche was a crab salad with cucumber and tomato which was lovely and fresh and blended with a creamy mayo that tasted distinctively homemade.

The White Swan - Crab salad

Crab salad amuse bouche

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Scarfes Bar

The luxurious 5-star Rosewood Hotel located at 252 High Holborn, previously the Chancery Court Hotel, reopened last October after an extensive refurbishment. The hotel’s launch also brought along some new dining options, one of which was Scarfes Bar. The bar was named after Gerald Scarfe, a London born satirical cartoonist who worked for Punch magazine and Private Eye during the early 1960s. Scarfes Bar has not only borrowed Scarfe’s name, but also his artistic vision by showing off a selection of his distinctive drawings of historical and well-known personalities.

Scarfes Bar epitomises the height of English sophistication. There are cosy armchairs and sofas, dazzling chandeliers and bookcases lined with antique books dotted throughout the room. But the focal point of Scarfes is the gorgeous fireplace that gives it an air of an old English manor.

Although a bar, Scarfes Bar also serves a lunch menu. Head Chef is Indian-born Palash Mitra who moved to the UK in 2007 to join The Cinnamon Club as the Senior Sous Chef. As such the menu is predominantly Indian, although there is a small selection of traditional casseroles and pizzas on the menu as well.

Our first starter was a half lobster with Bengali spices (£18) consisting of Indian green mustard, ginger, chilli and Indian mustard oil. The spicing was excellent and resulted in a sauce that was wonderfully creamy from the use of coconut milk. The lobster was a little lacking however as it’s texture was soft and flimsy.

Scarfes Bar - Lobster with Bengali spices

Lobster with Bengali spices

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ETM Bar crawl

This past Wednesday I attended the ETM bloggers bar crawl which was super, super fun. Blogger friends who came along included Greedy Diva, LondonFoodie, WineSleuth, Missimmo, Teatimeinwonderland and Faerietalefoody. ETM operate a number of gastropubs in London and we hopped along from one ETM bar after another, sampling food and drinks (listed at the bottom of this post) along the way.

First up was the lovely, elegant Chiswell Street Dining Rooms where we tried a number of canapés such as seared Isle of Man king scallop with crispy bacon and pea purée; smoked eel with horseradish; foie gras ballotine on brioche with Madeira jelly; leek and wild mushroom tart and soft boiled quail’s egg with truffled duxelle. Particularly delicious was the mini Aberdeen Angus beef Wellington as the meat was plump and juicy.

At The Hat and Tun we had a starter of Herefordshire snail & smoked bacon pie with a Guinness and mushroom cream sauce. The snails were nice, but the sauce was very runny, and both the filling and the pastry needed more seasoning.

Snail & smoked bacon pie

Snail & smoked bacon pie

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28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen

28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen, a wine bar and restaurant, is the brainchild of sommelier Xavier Rousset, one of the men behind the critically acclaimed one Michelin starred Texture which he owns with head chef Agnar Sverrisson and where I had a thrilling meal recently. The restaurant is so named as most of the world’s vineyards, in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, are located within these latitudes. Rousset is a master sommelier with a string of awards to his name including the accolade of winning Ruinart UK Sommelier of the Year at the tender age of 22. It therefore seems fitting that Rousset would open up a wine bar and call it 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen.

I had such a thrilling meal at Texture recently I felt inspired to try 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen. Despite its association with Texture, 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen isn’t a Michelin starred restaurant. Rather what it purports to offer is decent French fare and a range of good wines at reasonable prices. 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen has a choice of 15 red and 15 white wines by the glass, carafe and bottle. But most impressively, the wines by the glass include a 75ml option (from £2.15 to £20 for a 75ml glass), the beauty of which is the opportunity to try oodles of smaller glasses of different wines for less money than what you might otherwise have had to spend.

A foie gras and chicken liver parfait was wonderfully creamy, but it lacked a decent liver flavour and was more texture than taste. The accompanying peach chutney, with its rustic characteristics, worked well with the parfait. Less successful was the accompanying pickles which were so acidic that they were difficult to eat.

Foie gras & chicken liver parfait

Foie gras & chicken liver parfait

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Vanilla Black

Bubble and squeak cakes

Bubble and squeak cakes

I am not a vegetarian (obviously), but it wouldn’t do not to try a vegetarian restaurant now and then. I have many vegetarian friends and they always lament the lack of good vegetarian restaurants around the shop. Moreover, they lament the lack of vegetarian options in most restaurants, which usually limit their choices to pasta or risotto.

So Vanilla Black, which has been on my hit list for a while now, seemed to be an interesting choice for my first veggie write-up. All the more so when you consider that their approach to vegetarian food, as explained on their website, “is not that of vegetarian in the traditional sense, but rather a passion for meeting the challenge of cooking without meat or fish”. So I went along to Vanilla Black with some veggie and non-veggie friends to test how well they would meet this challenge.

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Pearl Restaurant

Note: Pearl Restaurant has now closed.

Amuse-bouche

Amuse-bouche

I like pearls. But there was a time when I thought, given a choice, I would have chosen diamonds over pearls any day, diamonds being that much shinier. Like how Marilyn Monroe use to wax lyrical about Harry Winston in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, I would nod in silent agreement and say bring them on.

Hand-strung pearls along the bar

Hand-strung pearls along the bar

But as I’ve gotten older, (for arguments sake, let’s say past my early 20s) my take on pearls has mellowed. Pearls are classy, and I must confess I wouldn’t mind some of those now in my jewellery box. They would be the perfect accessory to chic work suit, just the touch to make you feel like you’ll ace that job interview no matter what. Or they could dress up a classic evening gown, with enough glamour to light up any venue, from ballrooms of Britannia Hotels to cruise ships and fine restaurants. Diamonds could be reserved for the most dazzling occasions! Not that I have either diamonds or pearls mind, it’s just that they would both be nice to have. Sigh. A girl has to dream…

Anyway, my pre-ramble was brought on in part by the occasion of my dinner at Pearl Restaurant the other night. I adore Pearl Restaurant. I’ve been there on a couple of occasions, even managing to high-tail it once to the private dining room. My experiences at Pearl in the past have always been thoroughly enjoyable: great food, accomplished service, good company. And befitting a gem of a restaurant, it’s all shiny and sparkling.

Over a million hand-strung pearls dangle along the length of the bar which you must strut past in order to arrive at your table. They shimmer and emit soft flashes of shine in an all too seductive, ‘come hither’ kind of way. The bar is elegance personified: classically beautiful, classy and chic with warm walnut panelling, comfortable leather armchair seating and touches of marble throughout. Walking along this bejewelled path, one can’t help but feel that it would have been rather appropriate to be slinking down in a sexy little black Armani number with killer Manolo Blahniks and some gorgeous little pearls to boot.

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