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Chinese Cricket Club - Restuarant Review

Chinese Cricket Club
The City Crowne Plaza

The Crowne Plaza Hotel brand – part of the Intercontinental Group – has strengthened, its stand-alone profile in recent years. This development has gone hand in hand with refining the dining offer. The latest example is at the Crowne Plaza London – The City, situated in the rather bleak Blackfriars area by the Thames, with the opening of the Chinese Cricket Club. Chinese cricket!? Perhaps intended to suggest a happy blend of East and West, the restaurant is named after the recently formed Chinese national cricket team, who played their first international game this year. It seems that even the arcane laws of the game have been translated into Mandarin!

A clear translation also helps you find your way through the Sichuan based comprehensive menu, which is divided into sections - including ‘Cricket Club dishes’, ‘Dim Sum selection’, ‘From the Wok’ and ‘From the Fire’. We put ourselves in the very experienced hands of the charming General Manager Tony Chan, and asked him to make a selection which would show us just what the CCC kitchens could do.

Tony is undoubtedly a great asset for this new venture, discreetly attentive in a way that ensures no table feels forgotten - and is blessed with that essential quality of all first rate restaurant managers – eyes in the back of his head!

Tony Chan brings a lot of experience to the Chinese Cricket Club – including that garnered from the Royal China Group International - including a spell at Raffles Hotel Singapore – and latterly at the Michelin starred Haiku in Mayfair, where turnover shot up under his stewardship.

The kitchens are under the control of Executive Chef, Australian Brenden Speed, a man with global experience. He started at the Hyatt Regency on Australia’s Sunshine Coast moved on to Irelands top luxury Spa resort – the Carlton Redcastle Hotel - and then launched Zuma Istanbul – collecting a fist full of awards in the process.

The Club has its own cocktail – Cricket Club Fizz ( pineapple juice, melon liquor and champagne) – which seemed a good starting point . No problem with that, and soon it was time for the food to flow too! As it is with Chinese cuisine, there are no strict courses, and all dishes are created to be shared. We began with a cold platter of superb tea smoked duck salad - thinly sliced, pink and laid on a bed of crisp bean shoots with spicy sauce (£9.50); it worked well as a starter. The phrase ‘melt in the mouth’ was probably invented for this delicate duck. With it came another dish from the ‘Small plates’ section of the menu – soft shell crab with chilli mayonnaise dressing (£11.00). Served on a bed of curly leaved lettuce, the baby crabs were magic; no jarring textures in the mouth, just softly crunchy, and bathed in an unusual, subtle, sweet flavoured dressing .

No Chinese meal would be complete without something form the ‘Dim sum selection’, and so it was; from the dozen or so possibilities, Tony Chan had chosen black cod gow gee(£8.90) and prawn har gao (£5.50). Delicate, tender, sweet flavoured parcels of delight, lovingly created by the Clubs Specialist Oriental Chef – Guanghoa Wu. A master of Sichuan, Cantonese and Shanghai cuisines, his 20 years of experience showed in the preparation and cooking of these comforting Dim Sum basics.

Then, ‘From the Wok’ came jumbo prawns with ginger(£20), and ‘From the Fire’ – fried sea bass with garlic chives(£16).These are pricy options, but there are many alternatives in these menu sections between £7.50 and £10.50 – although not the steamed lobster in Sichuan butter ; that’s £31! The prawns – served ON their shells rather than IN their shells - yielded up ample tender meat. Again, the cooking was spot on and the freshness undoubted. However, the sauce was rather salty and disappointing; more could have been made of the ginger and chilli elements to give the dish an enhanced distinctive Sichuan flavour.

The fried sea bass was fine, but the species was irrelevant. It could have been any fish, which was only a vehicle for the flavoursome sauce and garlic chives which dominated this dish.

Finally, from the ‘Cricket Club dishes’ section of the menu came a rather special crispy orange beef ( £14.50). Distinctive and mouth watering, these slivers of beef had a great crunchy texture and a somewhat oversweet, but zesty and aromatic, flavour. The accompanying dry sautéed green beans were cooked to perfection, and enlivened with a splash of blended garlic and shallots. Basic but satisfying – as is the case when seemingly simple things are done really well.

Puddings are not a big Chinese thing and at your average high street restaurant, lychees often seem the best option! It is here that the Chinese Cricket Club shamelessly mixes East and West. We chose two. First a delicious hot chocolate fondant oozing with melted chocolate – superb - with Sichuan pepper ice cream(£6.80). The latter, explained Tony Chan, is meant to be “numbing rather than spicy”. Perhaps more pepper would not go amiss; it was a nice textured ice cream but lacked distinctive character. There is no need for the kitchen to be too timid; we Brits can take it! The second choice was Chilled coconut custard with tropical coulis and lychee salad (£6.20). Basically Japanese in origin, it was a multi-coloured work of art, and a great blend of exotic flavours; highly recommended.

The Chinese Cricket Club has a good range of wines – starting at £16 - but appropriately focuses on a red and a white from the Old Cricket Ground Vineyard on the Limestone Coast of South Australia run by Jim Barry. The vines are planted around the 60 year old pitch, and the intense red Cabernet Sauvignon is dubbed ‘The Cover Drive’ whilst the aromatic white – a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – is labelled ‘Silly Mid On’. Both stand up well, but it was the red which bowled us over (sorry!).

Chinese food is universal and often formulaic, so it is not easy give dishes a fresh character. Also, home cooking has a great tradition and is still practiced with pride by the Chinese, so many of those little family run restaurants, scattered across towns and villages in England, often do a good job. But with its top class ingredients and a touch of inventiveness, the Chinese Cricket Club – launched as destination restaurant, independent of the hotel - does raise the bar with some of their dishes. Many of your old favourites are there – hot and sour soup, steamed pork bun, crispy duck and egg fried rice - but you will find some new and imaginative dishes to try. And anyone who brings a bit of class to Blackfriars gets my vote!

Stephen Higginson December 2009

Chinese Cricket Club,
Crowne Plaza London – The City
19 New Bridge Street, London EC4V 6DB
Open for lunch 12 noon - 2.30pm and for dinner, 6pm -10pm
Reservations 020 7438 8051

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