I’d like to think that my belly is the base of my knowledge. That with every shunned gym visit for a meal with friends that I am learning, little-by-little, more about the cuisine on the plate. Over time I have become well versed in the layering of spices of Indian curries and the balance of sugar, salt, spice, and acidity at the heart of Thai cooking. One country whose food I know very little about is China, partially due to the local Cantonese being relegated to our default takeaway, so when well-travelled friends of ours said they fancy some Dim Sum for dinner I took it as an opportunity to differentiate between Har Gow and Chiu Chow.
Of all the places to go for Dim Sum, Chung Ying Central seemed the obvious choice. From the third branch of the long established Chung Ying group they claim to serve the best Dim Sum in the city. Never mind pigeon-holing into it just the city or small dumplings, I would go so far as saying it is some of the best Chinese food I have ever eaten, though how seriously you wish to take that depends on how much you trust a man whose hangover meal is curry sauce and chips in a tray. All of the dishes we ordered sang of authenticity; a bold move in a country that has basterdised the food of every nation to suit our own primitive palette. Every Dim Sum dish was a success, from the Chiu Chow’s translucent skin with a lean minced pork perked by rice wine and ginger, to the beef packed with ginger and spring onion. These steamed pieces have a texture that may not to be everyone’s liking. Its their loss.
They do street food equally well; Char Sui buns are little pillows of rice flour buns, hiding long braised pieces of unctuous pork belly that call out for regular revisits. Crisp spring rolls filled with curried chicken is reminiscent of the roadside snacks we purchased for pennies on a recent visit to Ho Chi Minh. Here, at £4.00 for a substantial portion, they are not much more and are far superior.
Yuk Shung with coarsely minced lamb is full of umami notes and aromatics. The meat has bite in all the right places and is quickly piled high on to crisp sheets of lettuce which soon disappears from the table. A wonton soup had a stock deep with shellfish bones, soured with vinegar and tempered with soy. The prawn and pork dumplings with good flavour and substance whilst never making the dish too heavy.
A couple of mains are ordered because we are greedy and also to satisfy my partners curiosity of whether or not Chung Yings chicken in blackbean sauce lives up to the dish she orders weekly as a takeaway. It does. The chicken is of higher quality, the sauce more complex. She scrapes the plate clean. Had we not been with friends she probably would have licked it clean. Crispy chicken with salt and chilli is perhaps too restrained; it would be nice to see this with the brakes taken off. Dishes like this should leave a mark on the soul, whereas this was a gentle hug of heat.
With a bill that works out at approximately thirty quid each, including beers and a cocktail or two thrown in for good measure, Chung Ying is exceptionally good value. It transports the true essence of Cantonese cooking from China Town into the heart of the city centre, never flinching from its roots for fear of alienating its cliental. Our dining companions had not long returned from Hong Kong where they were fortunate enough to eat the very best Dim Sum the city could offer. Their opinion of Chung Ying Central? “We’ll be back”. That tells you everything you need to know.