Sunday, 21 March 2010

Wonton Mian @ Cha Cha Moon (Chinese), London

I feel a bit sad writing this post given that there are so few high profile ethnic Chinese people in Britain. I guess you may have worked out from the opening sentence that this isn't going to be a flattering write-up. That said, I think it'd be worse if I gave Alan Yau an easy ride just because like me, he's British Chinese.

There aren't many people who can say that they've changed eating habits but Yau certainly can, from the day Wagamama opened its doors in 1992. After introducing Japanese noodles and communal benches to the masses, he then brought Chinese restaurants kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with Hakkasan and Yauatcha. His take on modern Chinese cuisine and all day dim sum may not be to all tastes but the food is technically brilliant and both restaurants have a Michelin star.   

Yau has limited involvement with the above eateries having sold Wagamama years ago and retaining only a minority interest In Hakkasan and Yautacha. This doesn't means he slowing down as he still owns upmarket Japanese restaurant, Sake No Hana; casual Thai chain, Busaba Eathai; and his newest creation, Cha Cha Moon, a Chinese noodle bar.

Cha Cha Moon opened in 2008 amid much fanfare as Yau went back to his Hong Kong roots to open up a Chinese noodle bar in Soho. I went a couple of times during the launch period but sadly the noodles didn't live up to the hype. Apologists may point out that they were selling all dishes for £3.50 during this period but low prices shouldn't be an excuse for some of the crap that was being served.

I had no intention of returning here until I read a couple of favourable recent write-ups by TomEatsJenCooks and London Chow. Sadly, my experience didn't chime with theirs. It may be that I set the bar higher than these guys. It may be that I have different tastes. It may be that they ordered better than I did. But I found the food was as big a let down as before. Except this time the disappointment cost more than £3.50 per dish. 

Cha Cha Moon doesn't do starters or desserts; they serve only mains and sides with the objective of getting punters 'in and out' as quickly as possible. That said my side dish of fried prawn guotie (£4.60) arrived first. This dish immediately got my hackles up, as these weren't guotie, which are dumplings that are steamed and pan-fried on the bottom. These impostors were deep-fried and their meagre underseasoned prawn filling was a big disappointment. They reminded me of the ersatz Chinese snacks that supermarkets sell and the only redeeming feature of this dish was the garlic soy dip.

Sadly things didn't get any better with my wonton mian (£6.00). The broth was flavourless with the only discernible taste being the slight taint of 'gan shui' or alkaline water. Fresh egg noodles or san mein are made with alkaline water (usually water with added potassium carbonate) to provide a springy texture. However, any potential aftertaste should be removed by rinsing the noodles thoroughly, something that they failed to do here. As the broth was so insipid, it was a relief that the garlic soy dip that came with the guotie was on hand to pep up the noodles.

On the plus side, the chicken and prawn wontons were properly seasoned although there wasn't enough prawn for my liking. These were passable wontons but I'm not sure why chicken was used instead of the traditional pork. The portion size was a total rip-off too as there were only four wontons in the bowl. Most Chinatown caffs charge no more than a fiver for this dish and they serve at least five or six wontons. I was still hungry after spending around £13 including tea and and a tip.

I know some of you may be thinking that I ordered the 'wrong dish' but if a Chinese noodle bar can't knock up a decent bowl of wonton noodles then you do wonder what its raison d’être is? I mean would you think it acceptable if a pizzeria served up a sub-standard pizza margherita?

Service was better than I remember although their intention to get you in and out as quickly as possible wasn't particularly well disguised (perhaps they're more Chinese than I give them credit for). Some may like the trendy interior design but I think it's pretty soulless. In particular, the communal benches got on my nerves, especially the one I was sat on with high chairs.

Cha Cha Moon can probably survive catering to tourists and kids with silly haircuts but this is probably more to do with its Soho location than actually being any good. It should be noted that when a second branch opened in the mini-Chinatown of Bayswater, it closed after only a few months.

Going back to start of this write-up, I do admire Alan Yau for being a British Chinese role model. However based on recent visits, I can't say I'm a big fan of any of his eateries, in particular this place. If I were in charge, I'd ditch this brand entirely and set up a proper noodle bar, somewhere like like Hung Tao with a wide selection of noodles, siu mei (Cantonese BBQ), and authentic treats like congee.

Verdict: An exercise in style over substance, Cha Cha Moon (together with chains like Ping Pong and dim t) in many ways represents the worse of Chinese and Oriental cuisine in London. It says it all when the highlight of my meal was the garlic soy dip.

Other Stuff: If you want noodles in this part of Soho, then go to Ramen Seto, where you won't leave feeling hungry after spending £13.

Cha Cha Moon on Urbanspoon


  1. I have heard of this restaurant.. would give it a go!

  2. Hey Mr Noodles, thanks for the link and sorry to hear about your experience with Cha Cha Moon's wanton noodles. Like I mentioned, I'm not a fan of having noodles in soup to begin with but I thought the wanton were still quite fine.

    Then again, the noodles' expert has spoken. :)

  3. Shame about it. I last went over a year ago so I guess the standard has dropped dramatically since I really loved their food (and was priced at £3.50 per item). In fact I thought their food was over-seasoned rather than being bland.

    Re the guo tie, is it because you ordered "fried" guo tie? I think when I last had it, it was cooked as you mentioned how it should be. Anyway I doubt I'll be going again since it sounds quite miserable now.

  4. Cha Cha Moon remains to be the worst Chinese food I've eaten in London. And I've eaten at Mr Wu's.

  5. mycookinghut - thanks for dropping by but I'm a bit puzzled as to exactly why you'd 'give it a go' here.

    LC - as I wrote in my review, the actual wontons weren't that bad. However, it's obvious that there are big problems with consistency here.

    WB - guotie (or wor-tip in Cantonese) are always fried. But they're ALWAYS pan-fried as guotie translates from Mandarin as pot-stick hence the English name potsticker dumplings. I don't want to be a total arse about this but guotie are NEVER deep-fried.

    What we have here is Cha Cha Moon trying to be clever by giving these dumplings a transliterated Chinese name. Sadly the wrong one, giving me another reason to dislike this place.

    Lizzie - ouch! At least Mr Wu's doesn't have any pretensions! BTW - it was nice to finally meet you the other evening.

  6. I think Yau has served up some mixed experiences. Busaba, for me, remains his triumph and I'm not sure he's ever reached those heights.

    Sake No Hana is a bit too expensive for me to try at the moment, and does anyone remember his Italian venture that appeared - and then quickly and quietly - disappeared on Baker St?

    Good write up Mr Noodles - if they can't get the stock right then there's little point in going.

    @Lizzie - just as Mr Noodles says: Ouch! Says it all really.

  7. Grubworm - you're not missing out on much at Sake No Hana, though there are often 50% off deals on TopTable which make the experience more palatable.

    Mr. Noodles - Interesting point about the alkaline water used to bring springiness to the noodle. I hadn't realized, so thanks for that tidbit.

  8. I had a horrible meal at Cha Cha moon as well (at the £3.50 opening prices) personally I would prefer to pay more and eat decently.

  9. There is nothing worse than having the gan sui taste in the broth! The deep fried dumplings are a big no no too. I don't think you have set your standard too high at all...

  10. GW - I used to eat at Busaba frequently when I did evening classes near their Bird St branch. I thought it was pretty decent but I often wondered what Thais would make of it, especially as chopsticks - which Thais only use for Chinese dishes and soup noodles - are laid out on the communal tables. Funny you mentioned the failed Italian on Baker St as I was just talking about this place with Luiz (London Foodie) the other day!

    A-in-L - thanks for the heads up on Sake No Hana, I've not been either but I find it so ironic that it is ultra-traditional whilst Hakkasan is uber-modern. RE: the alkaline water, I had to look up the English translation as I only knew the Chinese term, 'gan shui'.

    GC - worse thing now is that it's full price and still poor. You can go to Chinatown and spend less for a better bowl of noodles.

    3HT - absolutely! You're so lucky that you don't get crap like this in Melbourne - it wouldn't last five minutes there.

  11. @Mr Noodles. This is true re Busaba, it's definitely not what i would call authentic (particularly when it comes to street food). And you're right, it should really be fork and spoon, which suits the food better.

    But for the price, I think it's good quality (although you sometimes have to pick carefully) - particularly the calamari. Saying all that, I haven't been for about a year and there is always a risk it could get a bit Wagamama-ish.

    @An American in London - thanks for the tip - i will keep an eye out for the 50% off deals as it might then be worth a try. Have you tried Saki (near Smithfield market) - if so, how does it compare?

  12. GW - Busaba's Thai calamari is one of their best dishes and I like their curries. But their soup noodles aren't great.

  13. You over traditionalist you.

    Interestingly I won't tolerate Sake No Hana as it is a tepid imitation of the proper thing in Tokyo. For Japanese I run traditionalist but for Chinese I am anyone's tart.

    No I am off to go and live in HK for two years I will be interested to see how my tastes develop.

    However we at least agree on Ping Pong. Still intending on the holiday inn trip sometime... maybe over Easter

  14. Tom - call me over-traditionalist if you like but if that means expecting my noodles to be rinsed, to have flavoursome soup, and not to have my dumplings deep fried (we're not in f-ing Glasgow you know) then I'm proud to be an over-traditionalist.

    Lucky you, off to live in HK. I'm sure you'll love it and you must blog so that we can live vicariously through your foodie experiences. I'm away over Easter but would love to meet before you go.

  15. Mr Noodles - where do you recommend in HK? I have never been and quite excited to start building a food list.

    I will be interested to see if HK can blow away my previous ramen or noodle experiences. I slightly doubt they can beat the best Japan has to offer so will be keen to know your recommendations.

    Some of the ramen-ya places I went to in and around Tokyo (especially one I remember near Mt Fuji which was epic) were just incredible (though Ippudo in NY's pork broth holds a special place in my heart).

    Jen seriously reckons some of the places on the West coast of the US but then she is an American (of Chinese descent) so she is biased against the Japanese.


  16. Tom - I'll get in touch with you by e-mail and hope my limited experience can give you a head start for your laudable aim to start a list of places to eat in HK.

  17. I've been curious about Cha Cha Moon for a long time but have never ever heard anything good about it! And I still haven't. See you Tuesday ;) x

  18. Catty - there are so many options out there, I really wouldn't bother coming here.

  19. Where can I find great Wonton noodles or pot stickers in China town in Soho? Id love to be able to grab it to take away for my lunch but I just dont know where to go! =P


  20. Danny - try Hung's on Wardour St or Wan Chai Corner on Gerrard St for soup noodles. Try Jen's Cafe in Chinatown for pot-stickers. I've reviewed all three places and you can track down my reviews by going to the A-Z London Restaurant Reveiws page. I hope you enjoy!

  21. I agree - ate here once. Had a bowl of very boring noodles. Spent more money then I'd like.

    Never going back.

    Sadly Ramen Seto has started being a bit cheeky with it's pricing (they suddenly ad 20% VAT at the time of the bill) - otherwise it was my close by favourite.

  22. Frank - CCM is pretty bad. BTW, I think what Ramen Seto are doing, if that is the case, in respect of the 20% VAT could well be illegal. T
    The listed price has to include VAT.