Haozhan is split over two floors, with the dining rooms done out in black wood throughout (no tablecloths). Decor was reasonably smart by Chinatown standards. The menu is not the usual Chinatown fare: indeed I groaned as I saw the first page “the Haozhan concept” (you will be none the wiser if you read it). The cooking is mostly Cantonese in style, but there are some peculiar choices from elsewhere such as Thai style gai lan, the odd Malaysian curry and even some seriously weird ideas: “cheese lobster” and “Marmite prawns” are the stuff of nightmares.
We began with Szechuan soup (£3), hot and soup which had a good balance and avoiding the greasiness that can befall this classic (13/20). Chilli quail (£7.60) was excellent, the quail cooked on the bone with a chilli-based sauce that was actually quite controlled – indeed I’d have been happier with a little more chilli punch. Served with a few fresh salad leaves, the quail was cooked very nicely indeed (14/20).
Spicy prawns (£9.50) were tender, served with a variety of bell peppers and a lightly curried sauce (13/20). Steamed sea bass (£15) was served as four fairly small pieces rather than being on the bone, the sea bass not having a lot of flavour (undoubtedly farmed) with a black bean sauce that was rather a nondescript brown sauce (11/20). Steamed gai lan (£6) with garlic was really good, very delicately cooked with a nice hint of garlic (14/20). Egg fried rice was fine (12/20).
Service was unsmiling, and the two waiters for our section spent a lot of time chatting amongst themselves, but at least it was possible to get their attention. Overall this was very good, and certainly right up there amongst the best Chinatown eateries, which are so often disappointing. I was tempted to deduct a point for the very idea of Marmite prawns but this seemed a bit harsh.