This subterranean spot where Cha ChaanTeng is currently occupying has struggled with business over the years. Rocket, Wabi have both come and gone in previous years. Will this new Hong Kong diner succeed where others have failed? The name refers to the casual diners set up in Hong Kong after World War II to make Canto-Western food more accessible to the local population and literally means ‘tea house’. Whilst it is thoughtful to reference the influence for the cuisine served, the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue for Londoners and I still don’t understand the aversion of Londoners for heading into basement restaurants.
There is much to enjoy from the East-West cultural mash-up in their decor. Yes, it doesn’t quite look like the shabby Hong Kong cafes you might have visited, but the elegant turquoise coloured booths are ridiculously comfortable. The giant wall murals add a splash of colour to match with the eclectic cuisine. The psychedelic wallpaper along with the Jackie Brownesque music immediately transport you back to the 1950s.
The menu here is lengthy but well-balanced. If you are after a light bite, then their crusty rolls or bao burgers are your calling. Although I would favour the fluffy steam buns over the lightly toasted sliders, especially the zesty tasting mandarin-cured duck in their crispy duck bao.
The traditional supporting characters in a menu: the sides are a real gem here. They are not cheap here, with some at £6 but they are more main course portions rather than sides. The chilled silken tofu is as smooth as silk and you would never think of tofu as boring again with the tasty chilli soy bean marinade. Likewise, steamed chilli aubergine were bundles of joy with strong flavours from the light chilli, rice vinegar and coriander dressing.
The vermicelli noodles were beautifully thin with a touch of curry flavour in the Singapore fried noodles with the tiger prawns juicy and bouncy.
With most of the food at Cha ChaanTeng, there are a mixture of influences. This was very much in evidence with the banana flower & courgette fritter macaroni soup. Apart from the western influence for the macaroni, there’s the Korean touch from homemade kimchi and Thai influence in the tom yum veggie soup.
Drinks-wise, the selection of teas we tried were more successful than the cocktails. The Hong Kong style milk tea with sweetened milk and strong black tea was delightful, whilst the MSG, which is a gin-based cocktail which included the addition of monosodium glutamate was simply odd and didn’t add to the flavours of the cocktail.
Cha ChaanTeng must be lauded for bravely offering something the crowded London market just simply doesn’t offer at the moment. Hopefully the Holborn crowd will be in love with this piece of nostalgia.