Each time you enter a restaurant, you have to be prepared to experience, learn, to free your mind and take what is on offer and mould it to make your own magical night. That’s what dining out is about.
I learnt a valuable lesson while eating at the Chinese Cricket Club during National Vegetarian Week – Google is not your friend when you don’t know what something on the set menu is.
I cannot stress enough just how important it is to keep your phone in your pocket at all times while eating. This alleviates the temptation to Google with your mouthful, because sometimes, however harmless the intention, you will be put off your food. But more on this later.
The Chinese Cricket Club is a restaurant within the Crown Plaza Hotel, and it sits on a busy thoroughfare opposite the north bank Blackfriars station on the side of the Thames. It’s a big L shaped place with cricket memorabilia on the walls, enough that you notice it but not enough that it really creates an interior theme.
In case the name didn’t give it away, this the Chinese Cricket Club is a Chinese restaurant with a nod to the Chinese national cricket team who played their first match in 2009.
I was there for their National Vegetarian Week special menu which was marking this most humble of awareness campaigns.
While browsing their main menu, I realised what an odd choice for a special menu this was. On their main menu, they only have one vegetarian main dish, and a mere handful of vegetarian starters and so I was curious as to what they’d make of it.
We started with steamed vegetable dumplings, which were perfectly pleasant, and the fried Buddha’s delight. This dish was made up of asparagus, egg tofu and mushrooms, coated in spiced breadcrumbs and it was one of my highlights of the meal.
Now, this is where I wish I’d kept my phone in my pocket. The second course of sautéed vegetarian abalone with lettuce wraps was delicious. I put this mystery, to me, abalone into the lettuce and I was happily munching away feeling smug that I was trying something new. Then I decided to look up abalone.
Luckily these were mock sea snails. Vegetarian sea snails.
I’m not a fussy eater, but I have a nervous disposition when it comes to the visual. On my phone screen there were reams of pictures of sea snails merrily going about their business not knowing that they were being imitated in the Chinese restaurants of old London town.
Sadly there wasn’t a mock chicken ball, or a tofu spare rib in sight.
A tapas arrangement of stir fried mixed greens, yu shang aubergine, water spinach in garlic sauce and pineapple rice made up the main course. The yu shang aubergine, aubergine in a Szechuan sweet chilli sauce, was superb. The fried aubergine, doused in the sauce, made for not only a delicious combination of flavours, but also a rich and creamy texture which made it stand out. I was also a huge fan of the water spinach, but there was so much garlic that I’m sure people on the tube the next day were backing away at a rapid pace.
The stir fried greens, and water spinach, showed what can be achieved by cooking vegetables with care. If people grew up with dishes like this then there wouldn’t be so many people, who only have a frame of reference of boiled to death carrots, questioning why people are vegetarian.
The dessert was listed as exotic fruit, but it appeared to be two types of melon, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Maybe they meant exotic to diners in China?
Overall the food hit the spot, Chinese food that bit fresher than you’d find in many other places, but one thing lacked – laughter.
As I said, the restaurant sits in the Crown Plaza hotel, but from the main entrance you’d never realise this.
The silence grew up around us as the meal went on and the restaurant filled up, and with each shared joke and anecdote from the day, we felt ourselves imposing on other diners. The suits who were still on their laptops, the groups of workers who were passing through looking for refuge from the buffet in the conference facilities below, and then there was us, laughing.
When you charge a premium to people that can pay a premium, then they deserve good food, and at the Chinese Cricket Club they get that. But if you’re paying a premium when it’s a stretch, then you deserve the good food, and they should throw in the atmosphere for free. I left full, pleased with the offerings I’d received, but I felt that they’d skipped on the merriment.
Chinese Cricket Club
Crowne Plaza London – The City
19 New Bridge Street, London, EC4V 6DB