Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cha Cha Moon, Soho

There are few restaurateurs that have had as dramatic an impact on the way this country eats than Alan Yau. The man who created an impressive number of famous restaurants such as Michelin-starred Chineses Hakkasan and Yauatcha, and plush Japanese Sake No Hana in St James (though not still involved day-to-day with very many of them), he is perhaps best known for being the founder of the extraordinarily popular Wagamama chain, which has so many branches now up and down the country - and around the globe - that they're almost as almost as ubiquitous on the high street as Boots or Marks & Spencer. To be honest, I'm not a fan of Wagamama - it's timid food served as quickly as possible, and the bench seating is infuriating for a number of reasons - but then I'm a snobby Londoner with access to places like Koya and Chilli Cool; I can easily see why they've been so popular elsewhere.

So the guy has a decent track record. And he has been very successful, perhaps thanks to the very clear set of expectations crafted by his restaurants. So far, each has filled a certain specific role; Hakkasan is posh Cantonese, Yauatcha is posh dim sum, Saka No Hana is posh Japanese. Similarly, Wagamama is budget Japanese and Busaba Eathai is budget Thai. So presumably Cha Cha Moon is budget Chinese except - what's this on the menu - Dolly mee goreng is Malaysian isn't it? And Fujian style udon is most definitely Japan. There's Thai chicken curry, Sichuan chicken, Singapore fried noodles, Indonesian satay, baby back ribs!? - geographically, it's all over the place. And if you think that pan-Asian restaurants are doomed to mediocrity because no one kitchen can master such a wide range of styles of cooking, Cha Cha Moon is unlikely to change your mind.

First thing to arrive - dishes are just brought out as and when they are ready - was a warm crispy duck salad. I suppose the duck was technically crispy in that it had been deep fried to near-oblivion, but thanks to the shredded flesh soaking up the fryer oil like a sponge, it was unbelievably greasy. The salad itself was dressed in what I can only assume was simple syrup as I didn't detect anything other than sugar, and while ordinarily I'd compliment their generosity on such a large portion for your £7.90, in this case it just meant there was more sickly, greasy gunk to wade through. Hideous.

Singapore fried noodles were better, but then so is driving a ten-inch cook's knife through your thigh. It was a bit sweet, a bit bland and despite being marked on the menu as "spicy" we couldn't detect even the slightest hit of chilli, but at least it was fresh and just about edible. Still, this was the kind of thing you could get from any High Street Chinese takeaway in the country, absolute bog-standard fare, and was £6.90.

These spring rolls tasted exactly like the ones you can get in the plastic cartons from Tescos. That's not to say they were in any way inedible, I just have this old fashioned notion that people visit restaurants to eat food they can't reheat themselves in the oven for a quarter of the price. They came with some kind of tamarind-based dipping sauce that made them taste of tamarind-based dipping sauce instead of spring rolls. We used up all of the sauce.

I can't begin to tell you how awful the baby back ribs were. The cloyingly sweet sauce (described coyly as "tangy" on the menu) they came soaked in wasn't enough to cover the appalling smell of commodity pig and the meat was so overcooked and formless it was like eating rancid pork-flavoured blancmange. Unspeakably bad, and although perhaps nothing can quite beat the ribs at Hard Rock Cafe for sheer catastrophic terror, these weren't far off. Pitt Cue in Soho is still the only place in town I've eaten ribs of any kind worth paying for.

We drank sickly lychee-flavoured cocktails and cheap white wine, as you tend to do in these places, and after gamely working at the more edible elements of the food, scurried off wondering what on earth just happened. Alan Yau has dropped so many balls with Cha Cha Moon the streets of Soho could be used to film a Sony Bravia commercial. With its directionless, geographically vague menu, timid and incompetently prepared food, and piercingly loud room fitted with those dreaded communal bench seats, it's hard to find anything even remotely positive to say about the place. Oh - the staff were very pleasant and there were lots of them so you never had to try to hard to get their attention. But for God's sake, even the toilets were shoddy - Alan Yau's places are famous for always having nice toilets, even the budget ones. It's baffling, and my meal was miserable, but all said and done, this is Soho and alternatives are hardly in short supply. Eat somewhere else. Eat anywhere else.


Cha Cha Moon on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Cha Cha Moon


Laissez Fare said...

I am surprised it/they (?) is still open. Went once when they opened and was passable, but then again and it was pretty much as you described. Eek.

walshy said...

After a review like that, how nice to read, "I was invited to review Cha Cha Moon" - it's a brave PR who offers up this sort of restuarant to you, Chris...

Gregory said...

When I first queued up and drank Asahi at Wagamama's (Soho) in the winter 1998, I recall enjoying the evening because it was relaxed, clean and fun. It also didn't dent the finances and so with the sum of the above, I thought it was reasonably unique at the time.

Over a decade later.... times change.

The money men have a created a soulless gig that can't deliver the standard needed to compete. Cha Cha moon is just another Wagamama.

As you say, there are more interesting places.

Alex C said...

Poor old Chris , your last 3 outings haven't had much luck :-)
Fancy a go at Battersea Mess on sat Lunch?

Hollow Legs said...

told you so told you so lah lah lah lah LAH LAH!

Andy K said...

So Chris - what would it take to get a score of 1/10 if this gets 2?

Mr Noodles said...

Abysmal. Bar the salad (which just looks like someone opened a bag of mixed salad from Tesco's and put it on a plate) it all looks very take-away.

Food doesn't seem to have improved since my last visit when I was confronted with unrinsed noodles and dumplings that were deep-fried when they should've been pan-fried.

PS: What was the PR thinking?

Hungry Female said...

Bad Chinese food is so so so saddening. Those spring rolls look SO commercial!

Anonymous said...

I think you forgot on element in the equation: it is very cheap.

And for that price I think it's worth it.

Chris Pople said...

walshy/Mr Noodles: I often ask myself the same question. How would any self-respecting food blogger ever find anything to like here? It's baffling.
Alex C: Have emailed
Lizzie: You weren't wrong.
Andy K: Yes you're not the first person to ask that. I suppose it's not super expensive, the staff were nice, and there probably are people out there who like crappy Asian food. It wasn't, for example, as grotesquely offensive as Hard Rock or Aberdeen Angus.
Anon: It is not "very cheap" at all. Most places in Chinatown are cheaper I'd say.

Anonymous said...

was really good when it opened for a month or so when everything was £3 a dish.

last went over a year ago and it was pants - pretty much as you described.

Pretty sure Mr Yau not invlolved anymore.

Mr. Pernickety said...

It's 'Wagamama'

Hashtag pedant.

Chris Pople said...

Mr. P: Oops, have changed now, cheers

Unknown said...

Loving the review! So honest!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Did you duck into Pitt Cue for some ribs for dessert? You would have been able to smell it from there!

Becs@Lay the table said...

I did laugh pretty hard at you review - as Walshy says, there's some very brave PR's out there.

I hate Wagamama's for their social dining - I went once and got sat next to the most idiotic couple when nearly the whole restaurant was empty enough to allow me to sit away from other people. I do enjoy the chain Tampopo because it's my go-to restaurant - I know what I'm going to get for a tenner and it's pretty good.

Maria Paz said...

dear chris, i've only recently started following your blog but i've read about 30% of the entries over the weekend and have decided that i won't go to any new restaurants unless they have your stamp of approval. why bother with anything else. i agree with literally everything you say, at least judging from the reviews of places i've been.

nothing in particular to say about this post except that it is brilliant as usual.

j@feasttotheworld said...

Oh yes! You are not wrong there. I have only ever been to CHa Cha Moon once, only because my work colleague has decided to go there for food on her leaving do. Absolutely dreadful! Never been back since. In fact, the same can be said for Busaba Eathai and Wagamama.....just as bad.

The Dodge said...

Sounds really bad. Pity.

Incidentally, despite having lived in Singapore for two years, I've never seen anything like your photo of 'Singapore' noodles.

shan said...

hello there,

i just wanted to say that while cha cha moon isn't great, i really thought the char kway teow was really not bad, i personally liked it and i grew up eating that.

singapore fried noodles is a dish that you shouldn't ever order!!!!!!! it does not exist in the country which it supposedly originates from. could be the reason why you hated it. x

Anonymous said...

Went to Cha Cha Moon last night (Nov 2012) - dreadful experience. I come from Australia, where authentic Asian food is freely available everywhere and Cha Cha Moon wouldn't still be in business in Australia. BTW the food at Cha Cha Moon is not cheap either.