As a fan of the very English sport of cricket and a taste for spicy Sichuan cuisine, the London restaurant, Chinese Cricket Club, seems like a match made in heaven for me.
The restaurant is housed inside the smart Crowne Plaza hotel opposite Blackfriars station. My first query, of course, was: where does the name originate?
It transpires that the owner is a cricket fan. He opened the restaurant in 2009 in honour of China’s international cricket team who played their first international match that year. Although the team hasn’t achieved dizzying global success, the restaurant has continued its sporting connections with its sponsorship of the Kia Ova in South London, the venue of Surrey County Cricket Club.
There’s an intriguing selection of vintage photographs of cricketers, plus more recent stars including a signed photo of the 2009 England team. It's all against a backdrop of gentle mossy green décor and wood tones.
The restaurant is known for its Sichuan dishes in addition to its dim sum, a Cantonese specialty. And unusually for a Chinese restaurant, these are also served in the evening.
While it may not have been as acceptable in China, we began our dinner with a small selection of these “parcels of joy”—the literal meaning of dim sum. The feathery mooli pumpkin puff was as light as a feather and a real melt-in-the-mouth treat; my partner’s steamed spinach and chicken dumpling with sweet chilli sauce certainly got our appetites roaring. It’s no surprise that they were so good; the dim sum chef, Mai Lan, mastered her art at London's renowned Hakkasan restaurant. She shares her secrets at her monthly master classes here at the hotel.
For mains, I chose the executive chef’s special steamed sea bass and was astounded at its fiery, flavour-packed topping of spicy ginger, chilli, garlic and mushroom, piled high and as hearty as Sichuan cuisine should be. It was definitely big enough to share, and keeping the spicy theme going I accompanied with the classic Sichuan mapu tofu—a silky dish of bean curd in an oily, spicy sauce. To offset the tang, a gentle side of slightly crunchy pan-fried asparagus with garlic and cashews completed the feast.
My partner went for the recommended crispy aromatic duck, along with its classic accompaniments of spring onions, cucumber, hoi sin sauce and wafer-thin pancakes.
It was a hearty feast, so much so that we had to opt out of the choice of desserts: it wasn’t easy for me to refuse the mango custard with passion fruit, or green tea mousse cake.
“So," I asked the friendly Eastern European waiter, “Do you like cricket also?” “Honestly?” he replied, and then gave a shy grin. “No I don’t. Actually I prefer American football!”