Naming a restaurant after the recently recognised Chinese national cricket team seems a little odd, given that they’re hardly making waves in the world of leather on willow. Still, it’s a kind homage, and thankfully this place fares considerably better than a side bowled out by the UAE for just 27.
Located within the City Crowne Plaza, The Chinese Cricket Club sits in exalted company, right opposite Giorgio Locatelli’s celebrated (and very busy) Refetorrio. Diners there might be missing a trick though, as this place is calm-amidst-the-London-storm personified, with swathes of soft lime, brushed woods, chilled music and a few nods to the East making things feel, well, very suitably Zen. Having to trek through the lobby and down a couple of flights of stairs to the bathrooms is a little annoying, but at least you’ll be able to have a little nose around and judge whether next time you’d prefer the vibrant bustle of Refetorrio, or settle down for the calm of this well-appointed and good-looking little dining spot.
Busy Blackfriars bubbles in depressing hues of grey outside but inside it’s a wholly different affair, and not just because it’s not particularly busy. The staff are brilliant, getting that balance between professional service and relaxing informality pretty much spot on. It’s something that’s certainly reassuring as diners are a real mix, from nervous daters to businessmen, tourists and hotel guests with big and brash American appetites - being able to handle them all with the same relaxed aplomb is no mean feat.
An extensive and flexible menu borders on being all things to all men, with authentic Szechuan dishes and interesting Cricket Club specials sitting next to the kind of Chinese cuisine that British palates lap up without much thought – we can be very unimaginative when it comes to Chinese food, after all. Given it’s a hotel restaurant it’s an understandable culinary compromise, and thankfully there’s enough choice for you to go down either route and be pretty pleased with what comes to the table.
Dim sum (go for the chef's selection - £11 for seven) are great, with the honey-glazed pork puff, the prawn and pork sui mia and the excellent black cod gow gee more than making up for an ever so slightly stodgy steamed pork bun. The chilled pork belly (£8) packs some serious punch thanks to a load of garlic and a bit of chilli, but purists might be a little miffed there’s no crispy crackling, which is half the point, surely.
The citrus Mandarin beef (£15) is definitely a good one for Western mouths, with deep-fried pieces of beef in a sweet and sticky sauce made with hoisin, soy, chilli and, presumably a touch of orange, though it’s such an unapologetic dish that there’s little room for many delicate flavours. The Hunan lamb (£15.50) displays a little more finesse, with well-marinated lamb (incredibly soft and tender) cooked with chilli, ginger, soy, rice wine vinegar and leeks, and served with chopped chillis, garlic and spring onion. If you want to feel like you’re putting at least a semblance of health in your body, the dry sautéed green beans (£6.50) are brilliant – beautifully seasoned and with the tiniest hint of chilli kick.
If you want to keep things cricket old boy, you can sup on a couple of Jim Barry’s fine and aptly named bins (a Silly Mid-On and a Cover Drive) from a vineyard on what was once the Penola Cricket Ground in Coonawara, in Australia. There is, though, plenty of scope to explore wines from all across the globe on a menu offering a decent number of affordable options, and which only really flirts with anything extravagant. Staff seem to know their stuff, and a suggestion of a Charles Dupuy Sancerre (£39) is a very good shout, with enough about it to stand up to the spicier elements of the menu. Tiger, Tsingtao and Asahi are the bottled beers, and there are a few well made cocktails that at £8, aren’t bad value at all.
The Last Word
A versatile, tasty menu makes the Chinese Cricket Club worth a visit, but charming staff and a pleasant atmosphere should ensure this place stays at the crease a whole lot longer than its cricketing brethren over in the People’s Republic.