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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Chinese Cricket Club

Chinese Cricket Club is a Chinese restaurant located in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars, right next to another restaurant I really like, Diciannove 19. The name is unusual as one doesn’t usually associate Chinese food with cricket. But the restaurant is named in honour of the original Chinese National Cricket team which played their first international match in 2009, so there you go.

Unlike some Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Chinese Cricket Club follows a more contemporary formula with its décor and is very smart looking. There are also pieces of cricket memorabilia hanging on the walls for those of you who not only love Chinese food but cricket as well. Food wise, the menu offers an extensive range of authentic Sichuan food. There is also a section devoted to dim sum specialties.

We went for lunch, a time of day that saw more of a business crowd. We started our meal by trying a variety of dim sum plates including scallop and prawn siu mai (£6.80) and prawn har gau (£5.80). The scallop siu mai was superb and had been topped with a beautiful piece of sweet scallop. This was a 5/5 dish for the quality of the scallop was superb and the perfect cooking time that meant the scallop was still juicy and delicious. The prawn har gau was also very tasty and plump, with a har gau pastry that was rather authentic – slightly thick, slightly soft and slightly translucent.

Chinese Cricket Club - Scallop & prawn siu mai

Scallop & prawn siu mai

Chinese Cricket Club - Prawn har gau

Prawn har gau

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Kai Chinese Michelin Restaurant

Kai Chinese Michelin Restaurant opened in 1993. It was awarded its first Michelin star in 2009, a star that the restaurant has maintained to this date. It has also won a string of other accolades including Best Chinese Restaurant in the Zagat Survey, the Highest Ranked Chinese Restaurant in The Sunday Times Food List 2012 and a placing as a finalist in Restaurant Magazine’s UK Best Dishes Awards. Celebrity chef Ken Hom also recommends Kai as his ‘go-to’ restaurant in London for dinner.

Kai is beautifully and tastefully decorated. There are the usual traditional touches of the Orient such as a fish tank and the giant Buddha heads, and to round off the glamorous finish modern glass pillars, soft, sexy lighting and expensive red tiling have been used. Head chef is Malaysian born Alex Chow who began cooking at the prodigious age of 14. He fine-tuned his skills at the famous Fullerton Hotel in Singapore before moving to London and to Kai in 2004.

Kai’s menu offers up a complex blend of modern interpretations of Chinese food as well as the more traditional Chinese dishes. It is unique and represents a compilation of special recipes that are original to the restaurant, some of which draw on ingredients not commonly used in Chinese cooking. That said the essence of the food stays true to its Chinese roots. The results are therefore a mixture of the familiar tinged with touches of the West.

The menu makes for a scintillating read and there were many dishes we wanted to try, and try we did. We started with a divine Tan-Jia’s broth (£18), a duck and carrot soup with lobster oil, a medallion of lobster, blanched baby spinach and shitake mushrooms. There was a beautiful flavour coming through from the thick, rich soup, and it made for a heavenly combination with the sweetness of the lobster. This was nothing less than classy, and it reminded me of the kind of soups served at Chinese wedding banquets in the best hotels in Hong Kong. We also opted for some matching wines with our meal, and for the soup the sommelier paired it with a 2011 Chenin Blanc, Saumur L’Insolite, Thierry Germain, Loire Valley, France (£13) that had a nice balance between acidity and sweetness.

Tan-Jia’s broth

Tan-Jia’s broth

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School of Wok – Experiencedays.com

Experiencedays.co.uk has a wide array of ‘experience days’ to suit every guilty pleasure, ranging from spa pampering temptations to a tonne of adventure experiences. There are airborne exploits such as skydiving and flying lessons, thrills such as track days and off-road stunts, and a wide array of water sports – all of which are available in a variety of locations throughout the UK. And it was through the Experiencedays.co.uk website that I stumbled upon something closer to my heart, The School of Wok which offers a gourmet day out. More specifically The School of Wok is a Chinese Cookery school based in Covent Garden specialising in Oriental seafood and fish cookery courses. The school is unique as it is one of only a handful of Chinese cookery days in the UK. Founded by Jeremy Pang, The School of Wok has officially been in operation for about a year, but prior to that Pang use to teach cookery courses from home.

The course was priced at £95 and the session began with some basic knife skills with a Chinese cleaver led by our instructor Stefan. We chopped our way through a spectrum of vegetables that formed the mise en place for our meal.

Stefan demonstrating knife skills

Stefan demonstrating knife skills

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A Wong

A Wong is the latest ‘buzz’ Chinese restaurant in London at the moment and is the baby of chef Andrew Wong who has studied in kitchens throughout China. But Chef Wong already came from restaurant stock for his father use to run Kym’s, the Chinese restaurant that previously occupied the same space as A Wong. Basically Andrew has taken on the same address as his own and refurbished it with a more minimalist taste. The result is a restaurant with shiny surfaces and none of the Chinese chintz. Not that there is anything wrong with Chinese chintz, but this style is much more in keeping with Western ‘cool’.

Chef Wong’s solid bio shows in his menu with a diverse range of dishes drawn from throughout China. During the day he serves dim sum from Hong Kong, and in the evenings the a la carte menu includes touches of the Sichuanese, etc. The pricing of the menu is also fabulously cheap, something of a bonus in this day and age.

To the starters and sweet and sour ribs (£1.50 each) were tasty if a little overcooked leaving the outer layer of the rib a bit dry. The sauce was well made and had a lovely sticky, sweet quality to it that was delicious.

Sweet and sour ribs

Sweet and sour ribs

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Naga Restaurant

Naga Restaurant and Bar, located across the road from Kitchen W8 on Abingdon Road, is an Oriental restaurant that draws its influences from both Vietnamese and Chinese cooking. There is also a Pan-Asian twist to the menu, and Head Chef Syarief was recognised as the Best Pan Asian Chef in 2011 by the Asian Curry Awards. Naga Restaurant and Bar also won Best Chinese Restaurant 2012 from the Asian Curry Awards.

The décor is appealing, helped in part by the glass ceiling overhead that leads to a light and airy feel. It’s a comfortable, casual space that one can easily relax in.

There were four of us so had a large variety of dishes to share, starting with the silken tofu with ginger dressing (£5.70) that was lovely and smooth and very delicious. The dressing, with its sweet and savoury tones, worked really well with the tofu even if there wasn’t a strong hint of ginger. The deep fried coating around the tofu added a nice texture to it.

Silken tofu with ginger dressing

Silken tofu with ginger dressing

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China Zen

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.

Seafood soup

Seafood soup

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Hakkasan – The Lunch Menu

I used to love the food at Hakkasan, not to mention their specialty cocktail, the Hakka, so much so that I use to be a semi-regular at the restaurant. Founded by Alan Yau who fused sexy interior design with high-end Chinese food, he created something iconic on the London dining scene. Alan Yau sold his majority share of Hakkasan to an Abu-Dhabi based company in 2008, and since then branches of Hakkasan have sprung up all over the shop with one in Mayfair, four in the US, two in the Middle East and one in Mumbai.

It was difficult to believe that standards would stay the same with the change in management even though it has still managed to hold onto its star. I haven’t been back to Hakkasan since the sale, and to test the waters, we decided to try their three-course set lunch menu (£29). The first course of dim sum platter contained a beef ball, a steamed scallop dumpling, a char sui sou (pork with flaky pastry) and a deep-fried pork ball.

Dim sum platter

Dim sum platter

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