On Tuesday night I was sent along by Design My Night Birmingham to review Chung Ying Central. This new restaurant is part of the Chung Ying Family, who already have two restaurants in Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter. Located on Colmore Row, Chung Ying Central fills the gap for great Chinese food in this area.
Atmosphere and Service:
When we arrived we were greeted by owners, and brothers, Will and James. They were extremely friendly and welcoming throughout the evening, often stopping to have conversations with us during our visit. It was great to see that they are genuinely passionate about what they do, with everything from their cocktails to their delicious food to continuing the legacy of Chung Ying that was first established by their father in 1981 when he opened up the first of their restaurants.
Although it was only a Tuesday night, I was surprised to see how busy it was here – a sure sign of its growing popularity! There was a fantastic atmosphere about the place, created by the gentle buzz of conversation and relaxed ambiance. The waitresses were also very friendly and attentive, and asked if we needed anything at appropriate times during our meal, i.e. they didn’t come when we had our mouths full of food (I hate it when waiters do that!!)
Nowadays a meal out just isn’t complete without cocktails! And luckily for me, Chung Ying Central had lots on offer. As well as the usual classics and house cocktails, they’ve also created a Zodiac cocktail menu. I love this idea, something I haven’t seen done before anywhere, and knew I had to try a few from the selection! They all sounded delicious and I was spoilt for choice, but I finally settled on the Velvet Horse – Absolut Mandarin Vodka, Creme De Mure, Lemon Juice and Cranberry Juice – as it not only combined lots of flavours I like, but it’s also the Year of the Horse this year so it seemed like an appropriate choice! The cocktail was fantastic and burst with sweet, fruity flavours that complimented each other and had just the right amount of alcohol.
I also ordered the Snake Venom – Smirnoff Gold, Midori and Apple Juice. Contrasting to the martini-style presentation of the previous cocktail, this one was a long cocktail served with lots of crushed ice. Again it was a brilliant cocktail and was fresh, sweet and perfectly balanced. Chung Ying Central is definitely a cocktail bar in its own right too as well as a restaurant and I would love to go back again just for their cocktails.
Chung Ying Central offer up a traditional Cantonese style menu featuring familiar dishes that would be at home on any Chinese menu, such as Sesame King Prawn on Toast, Sweet & Sour Pork and Chicken in Black Bean Sauce. But for those seeking something a bit adventurous and wanting to try something new, they also have interesting dishes on the menu like the Salt & Chilli Frog’s Legs and Fried Seafood & Mange Tout in a ‘Bird’s Nest’.
When we arrived, there was a bowl of Prawn Crackers waiting on our table and we quickly dived in to try them before we’d even looked at the menus. They were absolutely amazing – thick, crunchy, and so so flavoursome. I think they were the best prawn crackers I’ve ever eaten and they walked all over the standard thin, artificial tasting attempt made by a lot of takeaways. Before we knew it, we’d munched our way through the whole bowl, but luckily for us they refilled it throughout the night…I think we got through almost three bowls!! I could have easily eaten them all night, and I was tempted to ask for a doggy bag to take our last bowl home with us. Our first impression of Chung Ying Central was a very good one, and we knew we were in for a night a great food!
Onto our starters and first to arrive was the Chicken Yuk Shung, a favourite of my parents but a dish that I hadn’t tried before. The filling exploded with flavour and was the most delicious, tasty thing I’ve eaten in a long time. I hate lettuce but it worked really well in this dish, encasing and complimenting the delectable filling, and I can now finally say that I have found a way to not only eat but actually enjoy lettuce!!
We also ordered the Crispy Aromatic Duck Pancakes. I had been looking forward to these the most out of everything we ordered, but following the Yuk Shung I felt that they were a bit of an anticlimax. The duck was dry, verging on being cold and lacked flavour. I definitely prefer Peking duck and wish that this had been an option on the menu instead. However, the saving grace of the dish was the absolutely heavenly Plum Sauce; it was deliciously sweet and flavoursome, and more than made up for the mediocre duck. We also received lots of thin, perfectly cooked pancakes, served in a bamboo pot to keep them nice and warm, which held their shape with the sauce and filling.
For our mains, we decided to order three dishes to share between us. They all arrived beautifully presented on long, slick white plates with flowers to decorate. The Sweet and Sour Chicken was brilliant and a very, very good version of this popular dish. Juicy, tender chicken was encased in a fantastically crispy, light batter. This was coated in the perfect amount of sweet, tangy and sticky sauce, which wasn’t sickly at all.
The Fillet of Beef Cantonese Style arrived with a generous amount of succulent sliced beef, crunchy strips of onions and a mouthwatering, slightly sweet sauce. Out of the three main dishes we ordered it was probably my favourite as there was lots of sauce and it was really tasty.
Our final main course was the Fried Lamb in Satay Sauce. Unfortunately I found it to be really unenjoyable and didn’t eat any of this dish. The lamb was sliced too thinly and had no texture at all. The satay sauce was completely bland and lacked that lovely, rich peanut flavour of satay sauces I’ve had in the past. It was such a shame as it had been the main I was most looking forward to, but I was extremely disappointing.
It would have been nice if they had used food warmers too to keep all the food warm throughout the meal, like is often seen in a lot of Chinese restaurants, as when ordering a few dishes to arrive at once it can be difficult eating it all before it goes cold. However, this is only a tiny criticism as it was only the crispy duck that was luke-warm.
Except for a few minor hiccups (the Lamb Satay), all the food was absolutely faultless and amazing, and it was the best Chinese food I’ve had in a long long time, if not ever! It’s easy to see why Chung Ying is often said to be the best Chinese restaurant in Birmingham and it fully deserves that title if Chung Ying Central is anything to go by. Combined with amazing cocktails and lovely staff, it was a brilliant night and I can see it becoming a regular haunt for myself!
In the past I’ve never been a huge fan of Chinese food. Yeah I liked and enjoyed it when I very rarely had it, but if given the choice I would have always chosen an Indian takeaway over a Chinese one. However after the fantastic meal I had here, I have to say that this has definitely changed! I’m glad I picked up a takeaway menu on my way out as I’m already craving their prawn crackers and yuk shung…how many days after a Chinese is it acceptable to have another one?!
Disclosure: I was invited by Chung Ying Central to review their venue for DesignMyNight Birmingham, and all food and cocktails were complimentary. But as always all opinions expressed are honest and my own, and I was not required to write a positive review