Chung Ying group have more than one Cantonese restaurant in Birmingham, but this review relates specifically to their Chinatown location.
This restaurant is ideally located in the heart of the city, a five-minute walk from New Street Station and The Bullring Shopping Centre. We couldn’t have been luckier as we were staying in the Ibis across the street, a mere 30 paces away for the purposes of a Christmas market review.
There is parking in the vicinity of the restaurant, but unless you’re staying somewhere pretty close and within walking distance, you might just be easier taking a cab than the inconvenience of trying to find a space.
The red brick building stands out on the corner of Wrottesley Street in the Chinatown district of Birmingham. Disabled access is provided by a portable ramp which staff will gladly assist patrons with.
The interior decor is almost Victorian in style and very refined being dark wood, mirrors, and neutral colours, it was a pleasant change from the usual reds and golds, hanging lanterns and flocked wallpaper so commonly found in Cantonese restaurants these days. It provides approximately 150 covers depending upon the table set up in an open-plan design, so there are no private dining booths available.
The uniformed staff are all exceptionally friendly and attentive without being ‘in your face’ constantly. A nice touch is the fact that they all know the content of the dishes and are able to assist with meal selection. We were shown to our table and a drinks order was taken. Now, a word of warning. The menu is extensive – Dim Sum alone takes up several pages, so do what I did, look at it online before you visit to give you an idea what’s on offer.
On the evening of our visit, there were some Chinese patrons dining, which, to me, is a sign of good things to come on the food front. There were also several other diners who appeared to be regulars and knew the staff by name – again, a good sign.
Prawn crackers and a choice of dips arrived, and we were also asked whether we would like cutlery – helpful for those who just might not have mastered the art of chopsticks! The crackers were light and dry with not a trace of oil and the sweet chilli dip spot on with just a hint of heat.
Despite the ‘muzak’ the restaurant was never so noisy that we couldn’t chat at the table and once again, wasn’t what you’d normally expect to hear. We were treated to a mix of everything from Celine Dion to Frank Sinatra.
So, to the starters. Dim Sum was always going to be a good choice and our selection of pork, prawns, and duck were all consistently excellent. The meat was tender, succulent and well seasoned, while the prawns hadn’t been overcooked, something I see all too often. The skin, a hot water dough was thin and translucent as it should be, with just a slight chew, while the fried versions were light, crispy and well drained. These were served with a good selection of dips, but I’m strictly a soy sauce sort of lad when it comes to my Dim Sum.
Next up was the soup course. We had opted for a chicken with Chinese mushroom, a chicken noodle and a crab meat and sweetcorn. While they were all of top quality, I thought mine took the gold medal. The broth for my chicken and mushroom was light and clear with a sheen from the sesame oil glistening on top, and it was full of chicken chunks and sliced Chinese mushroom. The subtlety of the herbs didn’t overpower the soup but merely added to the amazing taste. It’s not often you’ll hear me raving about a soup of all things, but this was a 10/10 soup.
The tables were cleared down and the mains duly arrived with pomp and ceremony, as three waiters bore down on the table with sizzling plates held aloft. Rice and noodles arrived with yet another waiter and drinks were replenished, It was very obvious to see that this ‘brigade’ of waiting staff were polished and professional in everything they did, which in this day, is a refreshing change from the surly and unhelpful.
I had opted for the chicken satay with a king prawn fried rice, while my dining partners chose a steamed duck in a plum sauce and a lamb with ginger and spring onion. It’s difficult to know where to start! I’ve eaten in many Cantonese restaurants across the world, some have been terrible, others have been pretty good, and a few make the grade as excellent – Chung Ying falls very definitely into this latter category.
My satay, I have to say, was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. This was quality Cantonese cooking at its best, from a chef who knows flavours and how they work together to combine and form a dish of perfect food. The chicken was soft and tender and could have been torn apart with just a fork. The vegetables – onion, pepper and carrot all had a bite and hadn’t been cooked to death, and the lot was enrobed in a delicious spicy sauce. You could taste the soy and honey/brown sugar notes, and there was just the right amount of heat from the chilli. I reckoned I could even get hints of ginger, garlic, and quite possibly even fish sauce. It truly was superlative. My dining partners also complimented their dishes with equal gusto as to taste and quality.
We finished off with Chinese tea having stuffed ourselves so much we had no room for a dessert.
So, if you’re in Birmingham, and you’re looking for an authentic Cantonese dining experience get along to the Chung Ying in Chinatown – you won’t regret it!