Wed 26 July 2006
Back in June we had a bit of an Oriental night out, which culminated in a visit to the Geisha Club on New Briggate. This is part of the DFusion multi-venue, which includes the new Chao Sq Chinese restaurant. As Eating Leeds does rather well if you google for Chao Sq Leeds (yes, we come top!) we thought it was only right that we go along and sample the food.
I'm hardly a Chinese food aficionado - frankly, I'm far more likely to head for a curry, but I am discovering that there is a lot of Chinese food out there which isn't reminiscent of dingy takeaways. Andy's got a very solid head start on me in this respect.
So - our visit to Chao Sq was around half 8 on a Wednesday night. The restaurant is quite large, although it does have a fair few tables packed in. The decoration is all very contemporary and I was a particular fan of the tables and chairs. On this occasion, there was only one other group in the restaurant when we arrived, which seems a bit of a shame, as the restaurant certainly deserves to be busier.
We started with a Tsing-Tao beer and an orange juice while we scoped the menu. It is a fairly 'typical' Chinese menu: quite lengthy, remarkably short on descriptions. However, it is also very cheap - with main courses coming in around £7. Considering how smart the restaurant's interior is, this is quite refreshing.
For starters we opted for the salt and pepper ribs and spring rolls. The Eating Leeds jury was divided on the ribs. I thought they were OK but Andy thought they were at least on a par with, if not better than, those available at Red Chilli. They are smaller (a bad thing, according to me, a good thing according to Andy), although the serving size itself is generous. The fresh topping is delicious, and good and spicy. The spring rolls were a different issue - we both thought they were below standard. There was very little filling and the pastry was a bit stodgy on the inside, as though it were a trifle too thick or undercooked.
Where would our main courses take us?
I had chosen the pork belly, Szechuan style - which meant I was quizzed about whether or not I like spicy food. This always comes across as incredibly patronising - there is no way to get around it. If the dish is very spicy this should be indicated on the menu! The pork belly certainly delivered in the spicy stakes - generous slices of pork belly, complete with a good layer of fat (mmmm!) were sauced with a chilli laden mix, and masses of large, cut red chillies. If you think you're coming down with a cold - I recommend you get some of this into you! Andy had chosen a beef dish. Unfortunately, his choice caused a huge amount of consternation - hence my inability to remember the dish's name! The waitress checked twice what is was he was ordering and then informed him that it was a hot pot (again - perhaps this type of information should be on the menu) and eventually it got to the point that Andy was rather hoping he could change his order. However, this wasn't an option and we were both glad he didn't.
The hot pot arrived, absolutely sizzling, in a large, hot, stone pot. The pot was so hot that the beef and sauce immediately in contact with it were caramelising into some very tasty treats. The dish was spitting and hissing away, but daring to dive in and pull out beef, mushrooms and greens was well worth it. It was absolutely delicious!
Given how tasty (and how generous) our main courses were I was glad we'd only opted for egg fried rice. We certainly didn't need any more to eat or anything to make the food more interesting. We were utterly defeated by the size of the dishes (and the staff are happy to doggy bag - so you'll also get lunch or dinner for the following day), and manged to round the meal off with just a pot of green tea.
Two starters, two mains, 1 egg fried rice, 3 beers, 2 orange juices and 1 green tea came to around £40 - pretty much a bargain in my mind.
I'm not going to be entirely uncritical of Chao Sq. The service was attentive and friendly, but not really quite up to scratch. I doubt if I'd had complicated questions about individual dishes our waitress could have answered them, I don't think an order should have to be checked twice, and I managed to be completely flummoxed when I was asked whether I wanted a bowl or plate with my main course. Apparently this is to establish whether or not a diner will be using chopsticks or a fork. I looked somewhat panicked and responded with 'however it comes', which meant I ended up with a plate and chasing rice around it with chopsticks! Of course, I could argue that the staff should have observed me eating my spring rolls with chopsticks (maybe they had!).
Service niceties aside, Chao Sq is definitely somewhere I'll go again - and definitely somewhere I'll take visitors. It's a bright, fashionable restaurant, which offers tasty food in sensibly priced and generous portions. What more can you ask for?
1. Chao Sq, 28 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU, phone 0113 245 2534 Stumble It!