Please note, Cha Chaan Teng has now closed. Time Out Food editors, May 2019.
What do you get if you cross an old-school American diner with a budget Chinese joint? A large helping of hoisin Coca-Cola ribs and a little bit of magic, if Cha Chaan Teng is anything to go by. It’s unabashedly a fusion restaurant – the weirdest and most wonderful one that strait-laced Holborn may ever have seen.
Taking its name from Hong Kong’s popular tea restaurants – which first started pairing the drink with cheap, slightly muddled takes on classic British cooking in the 1950s – this Cha Chaan Teng is a mash-up of East, West and everything in between. Confused? You’re sort of supposed to be. Even walking in is fairly mind-bending. From the outside, it’s scruffy and unremarkable, but push through the double doors and head downstairs and you’ll find yourself in an enormous, subterranean space that’s been sexed up with kitsch collages and art deco booths. The strangest thing of all is that it actually works. And as with the decor, to eat here you have to be ready for anything.
First up – a spam roll. I know what you’re thinking, but this may be the first time in history that spam has actually tasted delicious. It’s tossed in panko and served in a crusty bun, sandwiched between a fried quail’s egg and – the secret ingredient – a bed of sriracha pickle. It’s sharp, vinegary and beautifully fresh, cutting through the salty, fatty spam, and lifting the richness of the quail’s egg. Another highlight was a properly luxurious lobster prawn toast that came flecked with black sesame seeds and drizzled with wasabi mayo. And those hoisin Coca-Cola ribs – sweet, sticky and braised in ginger and dark soy, this dish is basically Cha Chaan Teng on a plate: bucketloads of American indulgence balanced with clean, zingy Asian flavours.
Sometimes, though, they take it all too far. Do not, for instance, order the peanut butter french toast. Imagine a threesome between a peanut butter sandwich, some prawn toast and a flan: this is their bastard love child. Cloying to a (massive) fault, one bite is so much more than enough.
But that aside, Cha Chaan Teng is a great experience and definitely a place to pace yourself. I’m currently clean eating to save calories so I can come back and power my way through the rest of the menu. It’ll be totally worth it.