Zheng (Malaysian) – Chelsea
Zheng in Chelsea is a restaurant whose menu, while Malaysian in its roots, focuses on fusion to dish up dishes that are perhaps as eclectic in nature as the famous 14th century Chinese explorer it is named after.
Admiral Zheng was a mariner who, though born into a Muslim family, was said to have adopted a more all-embracing world view in later life.
At the helm of this restaurant, and a man who warmly welcomed us, and everyone else for that matter, with equal enthusiasm, was the general manager, Adam Abdallah – a graduate of Taipei’s Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung.
Zheng had only been open just over two months when we visited, and so had that fresh feel and newness about it.
With black dominating the interior – from the walls and the chairs to the heavy slate-top tables lit by low hanging lights – the place was more than spacious enough to allow for the dark ambience to lend a level intimate enclosure without any sense of confinement.
Hence, while the ground floor has a capacity of 55, the basement, which houses the bar and which will be open in August, can accommodate 40.
The restaurant itself, however, is somewhat strangley located just off Fulham Road.
Given its relatively small shopfront sign and the manner in which it appears to seamlessly blend in with the rest of the similar looking houses on the street, we’ll forgive you for also driving right past as we did.
Yet, given the pedigree of the place, we weren’t expecting the crunchy popadums along with the sweet and sour sauce to be so, how can we put this, ordinary (the former, as one Lion put it, “Tastes like packet crackers!”)
As for the orange, then it is what it is and fresh at that.
The mocktails were a little underwhelming, particularly the Pina Colada which, in spite of an attractive frothy top, was more pineapple than anything else, lacking, as it did, in cream and coconut.
As for the still Mojito, then, despite being marginally better, it required a stronger squeeze of lime to balance things out.
First up, and the best of the lot, was this Fresh Seaweed Salad, which was uniquely different as a salad.
Dressed in a mild tasting fish sauce, the chewy textures of the seaweed interspersed by the thin crunchy slithers of a vibrantly orange carrot, and topped with broad beans, were addictively good. Just wish there was more of it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Crunchy and flavourful Sesame Prawn Toast filled with a soft prawn paste which we’d order again for sure.
If there was a word to describe this fried Chilli Salt & Pepper dish, it would be ‘flat’. What’s more, these had a chewiness to them that bordered seemingly on the stale.
And though the chilliness came though, it lacked any distinct pepperiness.
The ever popular Malaysian street food – Chicken Satay Skewer – while being decent enough, wasn’t exactly out of the top draw.
With a sweet undertone, it was lightly chargrilled, and was accompanied by a peanut sauce that was equally average.
Crunchy pastry encasing a salty filling, that assured a good amount of heat, defined these good tasting Vegetarian Mini Spring Rolls.
Quintessentially a modern Malaysian-Chinese creation, Zheng’s presentation of Crispy Cereal King Prawns was an intriguing one, with well cooked chilli coated prawns dusted in sweet, crispy oat flakes. Yummy textures and flavours here.
These Green Beans were tossed in a sauce which, while pungently strong, had enough sprinkling of sea salt to make this a thoroughly enjoyable little dish.
Though the peel of the dry chillies wasn’t too pleasant to chew on, the combination of the crunchy beans and the dispersal of the soft chicken made for a good combination.
Arguably one of the dishes of the evening.
While the aubergine was soft enough without being overly so, it was the deep, rich intensity of the beef chilli sauce, with just the right level of heat, that made this Stewed Aubergine such a surprisingly delicious dish to devour.
In the end, our spoons were parrying and riposting for the last few morsals!
BEEF & LAMB
This Cumin Spicy Beef had the unmistakable fragrance of the cumin coming through followed behind strongly by the pepper and chilli heat.
The meat had a tender chewiness to it that made the entire dish a decent enough eat.
It won’t exactly leave you reeling; but it was good in its own right.
Rendang Chicken is, of course, a classic Malay dish.
The chicken was tender and soft, and said to be “slow cooked”.
But it was the sweet coconut-based spicy sauce, which had such body to it, and which managed to deliver enough heat to counter the sweetness of the coconut, that we all enjoyed.
And given the generous quantity, it went perfectly with the well cooked, fragrant rice that accompanied it.
The fairly succulent nuggets of Fried Boneless Chicken were nice and crispy, and worked well alongside the crunchiness of the cashew nuts.
And although a hint of spice was assured, we again did not appreciate the chewy exterior of the dried chilli cases left therein.
RICE PLATES, NOODLES & ROTI
Char Kuey Teow is said to be a specialty of Penang Island – “the food heaven of Malaysia”.
The flat rice noodles were expertly cooked – soft and just on the right side of al dente, if you will – and all the textures well accounted for.
The sauces that made up this dish were pungent and lively, while the prawns meaty and succulent.
But, in the end, it seems our expectations got the better of us, for although this duck was indeed crispy and relatively aromatic, it turned out bone dry.
Not even the addition of the salad and the superb quality of the sweet and salty hoisin sauce, which had a surprising zinginess to it and slight bitter-sweet aftertaste, could ultimately mask the resultant chewiness of the meat.
DESSERTS & HOT BEVERAGES
Texture-wise, these were both soft on the inside and the out.
The coconut interior had a sticky sweet filling that was tasty without being overly sweet.
This may be the way it is traditionally meant to be, but perhaps a contrasting textural exterior might have made this more of an interesting dish.
The Bubur Hitam is a traditional Malay dessert which, despite its weird purple-pink appearance, was in essence well cooked, and not too sweet, black glutinous rice.
Sweetened by the palm sugar sauce, the rose water globules that made up the rather large and attractive sagu wasn’t overly strong in its rose water flavour.
As such, this Sagu Melaka was a delightful little penultimate end to the evening.
The Chinese Tea (Oolong) is a very subtle tasting green tea which didn’t quite deliver on the soothing nature of some other green teas we’ve had.
This version of the classic Teh Tarik (hot) was, perhaps, a little more bitter than Tek Tariks usually are. While it had a good body to it, we all agreed in having ours sweeter.
As for the Zheng Ice Coffee, then we enjoyed it for its depth of flavour and strength, and the fact that it allowed for the sweetness to come through later.
- YES/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
Nevertheless, as impressive as the feedback has been for the latter, no less from the Godfather of Cantonese Cooking, Ken Hom, who succinctly concluded: "Great food!" or The Times Giles Coren who considered it: "Possibly the best authentic Chinese-Malaysian in the country", we weren't quite as enamoured by its Chelsea counterpart.
While the set up of the place was thoroughly refined and elegant, including impeccable service with all food being served on warm plates where applicable, a few of the dishes didn't quite match the restaurant's ostentatious theme.
Having said that though, and despite the Chelsea-inspired prices, there were a few outstanding ones that we'd definitely come back for.
If you're looking for Malaysian-Chinese fusion food in fancy surroundings, Zheng Chelsea is the place.
And be sure to take those few steps down to the basement to marvel over a framed rendition of James Dean's classic, Rebel Without a Cause, if only to see what a whopping £80,000 painting looks like!
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