Cha Chann Teng, restaurant review: ‘The bao burger was the star’

Cha Chaa Teng

Cha Chaa Teng - Credit: Archant

A playful take on Hong Kong’s postwar cafes serving condensed milk and spam this eaterie is bonkers; in a good way finds BRIDGET GALTON

Living in Hong Kong and Singapore during the 30s and 40s, my grandparents’ diaries record a diet of ‘congee’ and ‘tiffin’.

They returned home with superbly eclectic tastes; curries and kedgerees served with dessicated coconut, raisins, sliced banana, lard-fried bread and salted peanuts.

There’s the same joyful culinary collision – as opposed to fusion - of East and West in Cha Chaan Teng’s avowedly “inauthentic and playful” take on Hong Kong’s post war café diners, where aspiring middle classes went to sample exotic Western ‘delicacies’ like spam and condensed milk.

Descending to a basement off Kingsway, Holborn I was baffled by the wilfully extensive menu that featured crusty spam rolls, instant noodle soup and milky tea

As we sat on plush banquettes in the quite glamorous surroundings, (chrome, low lighting, street art and formica) sipping gin sours wih raspberry, lemon, grapefruit, honeysuckle cordial and Beefeater, we got into the spirit and opted for peanut butter French toast served with sweet sticky condensed milk.

It would have got Vegas-era Elvis’ pulse racing dangerously and nearly sunk my friend at the first hurdle, but she loved it.

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She was keener than I on a spring onion and kale bao dough pancake fried and served with a sour dipping sauce.

Besides, I was too busy tucking into my own sweet sticky confection of Coca Cola hoisin ribs. I prefer my ribs with more of a chilli kick but these fell off the bone and were undeniably good.

The star turn was a bao burger, a light and fluffy steamed slider with a faultless take on classic crispy duck, cucumber and spring onion. It slid down in seconds.

We skipped the macaroni soup; a British reinvention of Chinese noodle soup, and moved onto another star dish, the sweet and sour pork shoulder. Crunchy pork topped with a crackling that took you back to Sunday lunches, then chunks of pepper onion and pineapple just like a (superior) Chinese take-away.

A black bean beef short rib was slow cooked with spice, sourness and plenty of noodles, and the pick of the sides was a delicate steamed aubergine with chilli, rice vinegar and coriander dressing. Refreshing, delicious. ..and much needed as we stuffed down dirty desserts.

A genius steamed and fried cinnamon doughnut with a custard covered yolk buried inside dipped in (what else?) condensed milk, and an artic roll encased in bright green pandan cake. The cake brought little to the 80s party, but the raspberry ripple ice-cream and coulis were just the ticket. Cha Chaan Teng is a bonkers mix of superior Chinese food and crazy comfort food with a fun element.

I loved it.