Chung Ying

Chung Ying, Chinatown

It’s hard to remember life before lockdown, but before we started abandoning each other, this country turned its back on the Chinese community a full eight weeks prior. Since mid-January they had to endure unforgivable xenophobia because of something that was happening 5500 miles away, with takeaways and restaurants up and down the country empty and stories of unprovoked violence towards them a regular occurrence. Here in Birmingham, where our Chinatown bleeds into our Gay Quarter and is just a stone’s throw away from our central train station, the window displays of roast ducks and slow cooked bits of pig acted as shields to hide the empty chairs which lay inside. A large proportion of this city let our fear turn into casual racism, and casual racism is still racism, whatever way you want to gloss over it. As bad as you think your three months lockdown have been for you, the Chinese community have had this for 2 months longer. Their restaurant industry was crippled when the rest was still taking body shots.

Three days into restaurants being allowed to reopen and Chinatown still cuts an eerily quiet scene. I get out of the taxi at the bottom of Hurst Street and walk up through its spine, passing through the Arcadian and into Chung Ying where I’m having lunch. It is here that I have my temperature checked by a remote sensor, onto a sanitiser station, before being taken to a member of staff in a face visor. The table is not in the restaurant as I know it, but in a new covered outdoor seating area which will serve as the restaurant until it is deemed safe enough by them to go inside. Two pieces of paper appear; one for my contact details to trace, the other to tick the dim sum boxes which I wish to order. It seems like they have looked at the guidance and decided to go above and beyond them to make this the safest experience it can be.

I’ve known co-owner James Wong for ten years, which is twice the length of this blog’s life. If memory serves me correctly I was the drunkest person at his stag party and I was absolutely the drunkest at his wedding when I got on stage, took the mic off the band’s singer and proceeded to rap verses from ‘Ready To Die’ over something from The Beatles back catalogue. This conflict of interest and general love for his family is the reason why I don’t write about his and brother Will’s restaurants. But this isn’t normal circumstance. For clarification, this is the final soft launch day and for the most part James is sat opposite me. I make several attempts to pay and he tells me to buy him beers in The Plough as repayment.

We eat very well. Char Sui buns are delicate, fluffy clouds bound around sweet pork filling, whilst chicken gyoza zip into life when licked with a Chinese vinegar that I’m unfamiliar with. A bean curd dish isn’t to my taste, and I once again have gelatinous chicken feet forced upon. Previous experience tells me that to get the most out of them you need to suck hard and have a bowl ready for the discarded knuckles. I like the baby octopuses in light batter, which are meaty and still tender. A lunch time trade of both Chinese and Western clientele are well catered for, but this is a restaurant that has been adapting for 39 years. This year is going be a tough one for all of the industry. Chung Ying are going to need your support to ensure they make 40 next year.

I took my first A2B in a long time and felt as safe as houses. Screens and PPE are their priority.

Chung Ying Central, Birmingham

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

8/10
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