In Hong Kongese culture cha chaan tengs were a bit like our greasy spoons, places where everyday, working people could grab a bite to eat. The cafes started to spring up in the ‘50s and ‘60s as a result of Britain’s colonial rule; local residents wanted a taste of British food but due to the imperialists’ racism, were denied entry to British restaurants. The result was cafes that borrowed bits of British culture and infused it with their own Asian heritage; spicy soups used macaroni instead of noodles and ribs were substituted with spam. Cha Chaan Teng in Holborn takes this concept and turns it on its head, from Britain to Hong Kong and back again.

The Venue

Located in central London, Cha Chaan Teng is moments from Holborn station; its seemingly nondescript double doors opening up to a basement restaurant of hybrid British and Asian interiors. Cafe-like tables are topped with pots of chopsticks and chilli sauce and mismatched floor tiles clash with the swirling gold and brown wallpaper mirroring the dual personality of the place.

Diners can choose to sit in great, deep circular booths that are reminiscent of old-school fine-dining restaurants and look out to the hustle and bustle in the open kitchen, as chefs swish about speedily preparing dinners. The bar is another juxtaposition, leaning more towards its colonial side than its Asian personality. Deep orange sofas and armchairs sit atop a blue, velvet carpet and the bar is lined with four, grand-looking pillars.

Cha Chaan Teng
The entrance leading down to the restaurant and bar hints at Cha Chaan Teng's heritage.

Food & Drink

Cha Chaan Teng’s menu has been devised by Jeremy Pang, the founder of School of Wok and winner of the best young rising star at the British Cookery School awards, and is designed to share. From small plates of nibble-size bao buns to mains of whole poached chicken, there is a huge choice available, with unique dishes being more than a little stand-out.

We started with the BBQ Hoisin and Coca Cola Ribs (£6.80), of which came dripping in gooey sauce and stood as completely moreish considering its unique, soda edge. The Lobster Prawn Toast (£11) with its fleshy chunks of sweet lobster meat drizzled with wasabi mayo left us squabbling over the last piece due to its tangy flair. For mains, the Whole Poached Free Range Corn-Fed Chicken (£28) was served in a spicy red chilli sauce and was perfectly tender, while the Popcorn Chilli Beef (£7.50) was piled high and lightly dusted in spice. Sadly, the beef was a little overcooked, while the dusting of flavour enticed, the whole dish wasn't pulled of in the same way some of the other dishes had been, lacking lustre due to the time it had been left to cook.

Cocktails are given an Asian twist; the ChaChaanTeng Sour (£8) was a fruity burst of raspberries and honeysuckle cordial, and the ChaChaanTeng Spritz (£8.50) was mixed with rhubarb and passion fruit for a concoction that was refreshingly tart.

Cha Chaan Teng
A Bao Bun at Cha Chaan Teng - order a few and share.

Atmosphere

When it comes to service Cha Chaan Teng eschews traditional British uprightness for a more friendly and informal style. Waiting staff sit you down and explain the concept of the restaurant as well as helping you navigate through the vast menu by offering up their favourite dishes. We visited on a Tuesday, so while not heaving, there was a gentle after-work buzz of couples meeting for dinner and taking advantage of the £5 cocktails from 5-8pm. 

Cha Chaan Teng

Cha Chaan Teng mixes up the flavours of the East and West on their cocktail menu.

Summary

Cha Chaan Teng is an interesting concept and something completely original for London. The restaurant’s stylish redesign, complete with street-art-style murals save it from being too greasy spoon and the food menu has enough unusual combinations to keep you busy for an entire evening.