Review of Cha Chaan Teng - fusion of East and West flavours
The thing I love about Hong Kong, are the local cafes - 茶餐廳 (pronounced cha chaan teng) . It's proper comfort food at decent prices. So when I heard about a new restaurant opening in London's Holborn, inspired by the cafes in Hong Kong, I couldn't wait to try it out.
Literally called Cha Chaan Teng - it's a trendy basement restaurant. It calls itself "genuinely inauthentic" and I couldn't have agreed more. From a look at the menu, I could see the classic staple dishes with an added twist. The question was: could Cha Chaan Teng pull this off?
The owner - Jeremy Pang - also runs the cookery school School of Wok. In a recent interview, he indicated Cha Chaa Teng being something in between a cheap and cheerful Chinatown restaurant and one that is Michelin-starred.
The food menu is spread across a little red book and a bao (buns) list which is on a green clipboard. I'm not sure why. Particularly as half of the red book was actually drinks, even though there was a separate grey book for drinks! So I was a little disappointed with the small choice of food. Anyway, it was the soft launch week, so I made use of the 50% off food and £5.00 happy hour cocktails and ordered quite a few dishes to share with my two companions.
Crispy Duck Bao (£5.50) - exactly like eating the shredded aromatic duck, just inside a fluffy white bun rather than the pancake. You can't really go wrong with this, since the hoisin sauce gives it all the flavour. That was until one of us bit into a massive bone! We told the waitress when she came to collect our plates and she instantly apologised and said she'd take it off the bill. So that was nice - being able to recognise mistakes and acting straight away to rectify it is an admirable thing.
Chargrilled Garlic Soy Pork Chop Crusty Tiger Roll (£5.50) - a bit of a mouth full to say, but essentially it's like the Vietnamese Banh Mi. A small piece of pork chip, served inside a tiger roll, with some coriander and pickles. I think this was my personal favourite out of the rolls that we tried that night. Probably because it had a bit of spice in it.
Crispy Spam & Fried Quail Egg Crusty Tiger Roll (£4.80) - I liked how Cha Chaan Teng turned something as basic as a piece of spam into something glamorous! I just wish there was more filling than bread. The piece of spam was pretty thin. But the distinct Asian flavours of sesame carrot, coriander pickle and coconut crunch were interesting and worth a try. The best thing was the quail egg being runny, so the velvety egg yolk oozed out as you cut into the roll.
Peanut Butter French Toast (£3.00) - it wouldn't be a cha chaan teng if this wasn't on the menu. I pretty much have this everyday when I'm in Hong Kong, so I know a thing or two about Hong Kong style French Toast. I think this was a good attempt - two fluffy slices of white bread, sandwiched together with a generous layer of peanut butter, drizzled with condensed milk (with an extra pot of it on the side).
Popcorn Chilli Beef (£7.50) - I'm not sure where the inspiration for this dish was from, as I don't think I've seen anything similar to this in a cha chaan teng in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, this was a pretty tasty dish. It was served in a quirky little American Chinese takeaway box, even with the little metal handle! There was a little pot of a sweet and spicy sticky sauce which was really tasty. The beef itself was alright, quite flavourful. A perfect nibble with drinks.
Braised Black Bean Beef Short Rib Lo Mein (£14.00) - this sounded interesting on the menu. But in reality it was really confusing to eat. The concept to this dish, is that all the ingredients are stacked in layers, which means you get to mix it all up yourself when it's served ("lo" means to mix or stir and "mein" means noodles). This part I'm fine with, because in some Chinese cultures (like the Malaysians) because this act of mixing up your noodles is a sign of prosperity. The flavours of the dish didn't work for me though. The braised beef had that authentic star anise flavour and the meat was pretty tender. But the added black beans, which seemed to just be tossed in with the noodles just spoilt the dish, in my opinion. Also, the sauce was too watery - for a lo mein to work, the sauce needs to coat and stick to the noodles. So I really wouldn't recommend this lo mein.
Salted Duck Egg XO Fried Rice (£5.80) - aka THE BEST THING I HAD ALL NIGHT! Salted egg is quite an authentic ingredient to use in Chinese cooking, there's something about a salted preserved egg that makes anything it coats delicious. XO sauce is a classic spicy Cantonese sauce made up of a variety of dried seafood like scallop, hence the price tag. So this was a pretty pimped up fried rice, and something I'd highly recommend if you want to try something with authentic flavours.
Pandan Raspberry Ripple Arctic Roll (£4.80) - something us Brits will like! Seeing this on the menu brought back some wonderful childhood memories of eating a slice of ice-cream wrapped inside a fluffy cake, and I always tried to get a bigger slice. I can't compare this to my fond memories though, as that would be unfair. I loved the raspberry coulis drizzled all over the plate - it was sharp and sweet, balancing really well with the ice cream. But the pandan cake itself wasn't so greatly made, as the sponge wasn't fluffy as it should be. The ice cream was also a bit of a let down as it was more icy than creamy. I think the concept of this arctic roll was really good, and the flavours went well together too. In the words of Master Chef - brilliant idea, bad execution.
Hedgehog Cinnamon Doughnut Bun (£5.20) - the menu described these as having an "oozing egg yolk centre" and you've probably guessed by now that I love a runny egg. When these arrived, not only did not look like hedgehogs (like it does on Cha Chaan Teng's instagram!), they also didn't have an "oozing" centre :'( The taste itself was OK though. The buns had been deep fried, so it had a crispy outside but a soft fluffy inside. The egg centre, although not oozing, it was still soft. The best part was probably the cinnamon sugar dusted all over the buns though.
I ended the night at Cha Chaan Teng with mixed emotions. I liked the concept and I thought some of the dishes were really clever. But most of the flavours were disappointing. It was also pretty pricey for the type of food being served. I think it's a good trendy place for drinks and some nibbles. But I'd love to see the food being improved - there's definitely room for improvement here. I can't fault the service though - super friendly staff, who went the extra mile to look after us. The decor was also really modern and trendy, so a nice spot for you quirky lot. There's also a fun factor feel within the restaurant - you even get fortune cookies with your bill where you can win a free dish for your next visit! I think I'll be back when there's another special offer, just to see if things have improved.
Address: 36-38 Kingsway, Holborn WC2B 5BX
Phone: 020 3876 4001