If you thought all noodle bars were the same, think again. In both food and ambience, Cha Cha Moon is several notches above the rest, yet prices are on a par. The bench seats are even padded, for heaven’s sake.
Ganton Street is an attractive thoroughfare off Carnaby Street, an area awash with eating opportunities. You enter alongside the kitchen and see the chefs beavering away behind a see-through wall. The dining room is in usual noodle bar style with long, communal tables and bench seats for about 140, though here the benches are shorter and upholstered. A further 30 or so can dine outside in attractive Kingley Court, an open-air precinct which is home to numerous cooler-than-cool independent fashion retailers and a selection of restaurants and bars. Back inside, there’s flattering, dim lighting from suspended orange fabric boxes, brick walls and a row of high bar stools at a counter. It’s a little reminiscent of Wagamama, except warmer and more upmarket.
Even on a weekday lunchtime, the joint is jumping with groups of friends and office workers, as well as the odd family of tourists. Service is utterly sweet and efficient, and agreeably leisurely for a restaurant of this type.
Again typically for this sort of venue, there are dishes large and small that arrive as they're ready, rather than starters then mains.
Chinese basil calamari (which would be a starter elsewhere - £5.20) arrives piping hot with light, greaseless, crisp batter around just-chewy-enough squid. The basil doesn’t make much of an impact and some kind of dipping sauce or mayo wouldn’t go amiss instead of just a lemon wedge, but it’s still delicious.
Dolly mee goring (£6) is a big and mildly spicy tangle of noodles with comforting scrambled egg, crunchy choi sum (a green, cabbage-like vegetable), red pepper strips, bean sprouts and deliciously squidgy fried cherry tomatoes. Sitting on top are fishcakes quite unlike those we’re used to from western cuisine. These are small, thin, spongy, white discs with great fish flavour.
A warm, crispy duck salad (£7.90) couldn’t be simpler, or more successful. The shredded meat is reminiscent of what we’ve all rolled in pancakes down at the local Chinese, but with a crunchy, sweet-edged glaze. Apart from that, it’s just spinach leaves and chunks of cucumber in a piquant chilli dressing which balances the sweetness surrounding the meat.
A broad bean salad (£3.95) is an invigorating mix of correctly skinned beans, peppers, spring onions, cucumber and those delightfully odd and spongy cloud ear mushrooms in a sweet but fiery Szechuan sesame dressing.
Dessert proves a slight disappointment. Only two are listed (though an ice cream option is promised soon), so it’s a poor show that one of them has run out. At least the sole survivor, banana and melon fritters (£5), is a winner. Again, the batter is gossamer-light, and the banana filling hot and full of flavour. Melon is, of course, a far less usual filling for fritters than either banana or apple, and now we know why; it’s too watery and has insufficient flavour for the job. The warm golden syrup and sesame seed sauce is irresistible, whilst a little bowl of cold, vanilla-flavoured cream offers lovely contrast of temperature.
You wouldn’t expect a restaurant of this type to excel on wine and, sure enough, there’s a tiny list of three whites, three reds and one rose (endearingly called ‘pink wine’), all between £14.90 and £16.90, plus a solitary prosecco at £22. From a trio of alcoholic cocktails, guava bellini (£5.60) turns out to be every bit as refreshing, fruity and celebratory as the peach original. From a larger selection of non-alcoholic cocktails, wha lulul (£3.60) is a wholly successful mix of carrot and orange juices, ginger and rosewater.
The Last Word
You could eat and drink yourself to a standstill here for about £30, and you wouldn’t even feel guilty with so many healthy, crunchy vegetables and juiced fruits involved. Cha Cha Moon is a lovely experience from start to finish (even the coffee is good). Disentangle yourself from the noodle chains and try something a little different, and quite a lot better.