Cha Cha Moon is the latest offering from Alan Yau, the man behind Yautcha and Hakkasan. I went to Hakkasan just after it had first opened in 2001 and had the most incredible meal. I recall being blown away by the reception area, the dark sexy décor a perfect dish of tea-smoked poultry and the little tobiko flying fish roe on my sashimi. I took my other half there for a birthday treat more recently only to discover that this is now a “sex in the city” recommended venue, i.e. it has been given the utter kiss of death.
Our entire meal was a horrifically overpriced msg-ridden affair which I have tried desperately to forget ever since (at one point it involved being semi-suffocated by wafts of flatulence coming from our neighbouring table). When we tried to take home the only decent meal served to us were told that this was strictly forbidden. Now surely, if I have paid for a meal that makes it legally mine, to take home or give to a homeless person or to do as I please with? Especially when you’re paying well over a hundred pounds for something that you could easily get across the road in Chinatown for around £3.50. Shocking stuff. So in the light of all this I was keener than ever to try Alan Yau’s much debated £3.50 noodles at Cha Cha Moon.
In my eagerness I even arrived too early for the lunchtime shift and was told to come back at midday. To enter you have to go through some huge ornate double doors, reminiscent of that other more opulent restaurant. Once inside the interior is pure Wagamamas, all bench-style seating and open-plan kitchens, albeit with incense sticks and perhaps slightly cosier. But only slightly. When I returned a huge queue had formed doubtless also lured in by the rave reviews. The staff meanwhile seemed to be having some sort of meeting on the other side of the restaurant. We stood there like mugs wondering if they would ever come over and actually seat us, as they could quite clearly see us but no, they decided to carry on for at least another 10 minutes. So far so awful.
Eventually they meandered over and upon hearing I was dining alone I was hastily seated at the nearest bench, while everyone else was offered a choice of seating. To be fair, I had a very helpful waiter who made up for it by making recommendations on the menu and who considerately warned me that my dumplings would not be ready until after my main course. I decided to go for a dish of jasmine tea smoked chicken with lao mian, beansprouts, spring onion and shrimp roe noodles. At the waiter’s recommendation I also went for the exotic sounding prawn guotie with prawn, water chestnut, sweet corn and garlic chilli sauce. At £3.50 a dish these sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately they were.
As promised my main course arrived first, the chicken soup was served in a separate bowl to the noodles (I was advised to eat them separately) with little bowls of spring onion and 5 spice to add according to personal taste. The chicken soup was delicious, it felt nourishing and as if it had developed for a good long time. Sadly the bowl was tiny and this was where everything stopped being so nice.
The main noodle dish was cold and despite being a lurid orange colour, completely devoid of any flavour. I added the seasonings, (all of them) and still could barely taste a thing. The meagre portion of chicken was nice enough, but could hardly be described as part of a filling meal. I counted exactly 9 rather pointless beansprouts. It was basically a slightly upmarket version of supernoodles, just without the flavour. My prawn guotie arrived and I realised that they were in fact second-rate gyoza. Thick and chewy with a slight nod towards the concept of having a filling, these made Wagamama’s look like haute cuisine. The only saving grace was the accompanying sauce of chilli and vinegar which thank god tasted of something. Why would I ever come back here when I can get perfectly delicious Sichuanese food at the slightly less “fashionable” but way tastier Baozi around the corner? In the meantime, Alan Yau should stick to what he’s good at – interior design.