A Crowne Plaza hotel in Blackfriars is an unlikely location for a Chinese restaurant, but the dining room has a pleasant, modern feel to it. There is much wood panelling in evidence, banquette seating and a few cricket-related prints (the peculiar name is to commemorate the recent formation of the first Chinese national cricket team), and there is plenty of natural light. The chef, Brendan Speed, grew up in a small town between Melbourne and Sydney, but has long been an expatriate: he was previously the head chef of Zuma in Istanbul, following a stint in the Hyatt hotel group.
The wine list is over four pages, organised by style and draws from a wide range of countries. Examples are Goldridge Premium Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 at £28 for a wine that retails at around £9 or so, Quercus Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Slovenia at £22 for a wine that will set you back around £8 in the shops, and at the upper end of the list, Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 at £120 compared to a shop price of about £41. For those who want to continue the cricketing theme there is the pleasant Silly Mid On Sauvignon Blanc from Jim Barry 2006 at £26 compared to a retail price of around £9.
The menu draws in different regions of China, and includes a dim-sum section (mostly £5), small plates at around £7.50 and main dishes in the £9.50 - £20 range. Lobster steamed dumplings (£9.40) had lobster that was cooked perhaps a fraction long, but were certainly decent enough (1/10). Har gau steamed dumplings (£5.50) featured dumplings of pleasant texture and nicely cooked prawns, though they were a little salty (1/10). Honey-glazed pork puff (£5) had reasonable pastry but could have done with more filling relative to pastry, and a little more of the the honey glaze, as the dish was a little dry (1/10).
The best dish was kung-po prawns, stir-fried with a healthy kick of chilli. The prawns were cooked carefully and were of reasonable quality (3/10). Gai lan with garlic (£7.50) suffered from having rather large pieces of broccoli, making it hard to cook to a tender state, and for me could have had more garlic (2/10). I was unconvinced by a stir-fried dish of orange beef, which seemed to me to have too strong a flavour of orange. Also, while some meats go quite well with a fruit taste element e.g. duck or venison, which beneft from the acidity that fruit brings, beef seems a less obvious vehicle for such a pairing. The Singapore noodles here had quite good texture (2/10).
We finished off with a chocolate fondant that was made from high quality chocolate (Valrhona) and had a reasonably liquid centre, though was cooked just a fraction long; I am also not sure that the raspberries on the side were such a great accompaniment – why not a fruit that was in season? (1/10).
Service was friendly and efficient. I guess that this location will attract mostly a corporate clientele, but the cooking is competent and is worth considering if you are in the area.