Haozhan means ‘a good place to eat’, according to its menu. This description does not usually apply to many of the restaurants in London’s Chinatown, and being both Chinese and the child of a successful restaurant owner, I should know. This new kid on the block, however, has decided to be a bit of a rebel. The service is not just efficient, it’s actually friendly. Charming, in fact. The decor is upmarket. And most crucially, the food stands head and shoulders above that of most of its neighbours. It’s not Cantonese, but more of a fusion of various regional cuisines, with a modern twist. As a result, it has attracted rave reviews from the national press. World Foodie Guide had to check it out.
For my dining companions, I chose Indian novelist Jaishree Misra and her husband Ashe, and my vegetarian husband. Our friends had eaten here just three days ago, so I tried to avoid ordering what they had already sampled. They enjoyed the chilli soft shell crab starter and the coffee ribs, but found the signature dish of champagne cod (£18.80) disappointingly soggy (unlike Matthew Norman of The Guardian, who loved it).
What we ordered:
After some deliberation, and avoiding bizarre dishes like Marmite prawns and cheese lobster, the decision was made: wasabi prawns (deep fried king prawns tossed in a wasabi-infused mayonnaise sauce topped with vegetable seeds and tobiko – £9.80), Sanpei chicken (authentic Taiwan-style chicken claypot with sweet basil, peppers, chilli and spring onion – £9.50), Szechuan duck (stir-fried sliced duck Szechuan-style – £8.80) and Thai Gai Lan (Thai-style stir-fried Chinese broccoli with minced salted fish – £8.50). And plain white rice of course.
My vegetarian husband chose the Szechuan Vegetables (yam bean, asparagus, brown beech mushrooms, celery and tofu stir-fried in a Szechuan sauce and sprinkled with almond flakes – £8.00) and Ka Heung Ramen (stir-fried Japanese ramen with brown beech mushrooms and bean sprouts. Unfortunately, even though Haozhan makes its own tofu, none of the four tofu dishes on the menu were vegetarian!
The verdict? Neither the duck nor the chicken were attention-grabbing. But I absolutely loved the Thai Gai Lan. The minced salted fish turned these tender vegetables into a stunning dish. I grew up on salted fish as an accompaniment to rice or congee and love the taste of it, but have rarely come across it in restaurants. I wasn’t sure about the wasabi prawns though. The prawns were fresh and crunchy, but I didn’t like the mayonnaise. These were Jaishree’s favourite however, while Ashe liked both these and the coffee ribs from his last meal. My husband thought his food was tasty, but expensive for what they were – small dishes.
The dessert, recommended by Jaishree and Ashe, was the other highlight – Cream of Pumpkin (chilled pumpkin and cream puree with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream served with steamed black rice and cocoa powder – £4.50). I could have eaten several portions of this glorious combination of flavours.
I like what Haozhan is trying to do. It’s a bold statement to make in the heart of Chinatown. Some of the dishes are a bit hit-and-miss, but I’m sure they’ll improve over time. Perhaps I also made a mistake with a couple of the dishes. There are stunners here though. And I’m willing to return to see if these include the chilli quail, XO black cod, Haozhan tofu (pan-fried homemade tofu topped with chipped spinach and scallop with a supreme sauce) and the coffee pork ribs.
The bill came to £80.00 for lunch for four, minus alcohol.
10 – Perfection, 9.5 – Sensational, 9 – Outstanding, 8.5 – Superb, 8 – Excellent, 7.5 – Very Good, 7 – Good, 6.5 – Above Average, 6 – Average
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Contact Details: Haozhan 8 Gerrard Street London W1D 5PJ Tel: 020 7434 3838 email@example.com www.haozhan.co.uk