Away from the bustle of Blackfriars, the Chinese Cricket Club restaurant is an oasis of calm inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel. To coincide with next week’s Mid-Autumn festival, they have devised a special Sichuan-style menu which we were invited to savour.
The whole menu is dim sum style courses but with ample portions so there’s no fighting over the last dumpling. The starters are a challenging blend of flavours. The chilled pork belly served with minced garlic and chilli is spicy and spiky while the lobster dumplings have a trace of heat but are fairly bland (luckily there’s chilli oil and soy sauce to rescue the situation). The tea smoked duck salad, made by “smoking” duck meat over oolong tea in a wok is full of flavour and reminded us of snogging someone with a two-pack habit (teenage dreams so hard to beat).
The main course pairs jumbo prawns in Sichuan butter with kung po chicken. The prawns have been flown in from Madagascar and are huge; verily, you may be able to choke a donkey with them. Their sauce lends these crustaceans a soft heat in direct contrast to the kung po chicken which has plenty of whole dried chillis of the deliciously evil variety scattered amongst the meat, cashew nuts, diced cucumber and kung po sauce. Served alongside these dishes were the signature Sichuan green beans and fried rice.
The meal was finished off with the festive mooncake - a pie-like affair filled with sugary lotus paste and a preserved duck egg, representing the sun - and a fresh fruit platter served with a raspberry sorbet. The cake's dry sweetness was well complemented by the wet sweetness of the varied fruit.
Last year, Fay Maschler emasculated the restaurant's food over its saltiness and expense. We can only assume she is either part-leech or that experienced chef Brendan Speed (who recently set up a branch of posh Japanese eaterie Zuma in Istanbul) has toned down the sodium chloride. Either way, this menu may have 99 flavours but overly saline isn’t one of them. This is a well-thought through menu that could take your taste buds to new places. At £35 per head for three courses (albeit before drinks, tips etc), this certainly isn’t extortionate for a hotel-based City restaurant and its a highly recommended option if you’re looking to try something different.