Friday, 16 May 2014

Chop Chop (Morrison St., Edinburgh)

Red chairs, bare wooden tables and plastic Chinese New year decorations everywhere – the place is so tacky it’s endearing. This is what a Chinese restaurant in China would look like, if it wasn’t for the Caucasian waiter it would all be incredibly authentic.
Being Chinese and having grown up in China, it’s a shame to witness this country butcher the cuisine with dreary meats bombarded with MSG, salt and sugar that’s then fried in reused oil and smothered in some thick generic sauce.

But Chop Chop is different -- it’s far from a culinary black hole like the rest of them. Claiming to be Edinburgh’s favorite Chinese restaurant, it specializes in Northern Chinese cuisine, and in particular, jiaozi – crescent shaped parcels that resemble dim sum and gyozas but have a slightly thicker dough which are either boiled or fried.  Chop Chop’s bright yellow plastic menu cards also feature simple home-style cooking dishes that may seem alien to the foreigner’s eye – egg and tomato stir-fry, fried aubergines, cucumber salad – typical Northern dishes that would be cooked at home. You won’t find your usual Singaporean fried noodles, wonton soup and black bean sauce at Chop Chop.

And that’s why it was all so promising to begin with. The order started with two cold dishes – a cucumber salad and a tofu salad, both of which were lovely and refreshing. The cucumber salad was sweet and garlicky and the silken tofu was light and fragrant from the sesame oil. Then came two of their most popular dishes – fried aubergines and crispy fried squid. The fried aubergines was excellent – deeply flavorful, the spring onions still crisp, the aubergines soft and tender.  The crispy fried squid, despite the off-putting orange color, was alright. The batter’s a bit thick, but it was nicely spiced and it tasted nice.
We then had the Chinese dumplings – there is soy sauce and Chinese rice vinegar on the table, which you can then mix and add in chopped garlic and chili as your dipping sauce.  Chinese dumplings are meant to be large and plump with a thin dough that is almost translucent so that it reveals the color of the filling. They’re supposed to be completely handmade where the dough is rolled out into circular disks which are then generously filled and finally sealed, by hand, one by one. It should result in a smooth and thin dough with a slight bite to it, and it should be the same thickness all around. This was the problem with Chop Chop’s dumplings which seem to be made the way ravioli are made – with a cutter, which meant that the edges were thick and chewy.  Nonetheless, the fillings were delicious, and on the plus side, there are over 30 fillings to choose from and in different portion sizes so you can try a bit of everything if you come as a big group.  
The dessert selection is limited but intriguing – sweet dumplings and sugar string apples. The latter had to be chosen as it’s a typical Chinese dish – the fruit is dipped in a light batter, deep fried then coated in caramel.   It’s served on a plate alongside a bowl of cold water so that you pick the fruit up with your utensil (forming the "sugar strings") and you dip it in the cold water to harden – you then get the cold sweet crunch of that caramel and warm soft apple in the middle – it's a thing of true beauty when done right. When done not so right though it can be a bit of a disappointment. Unfortunately while the execution of the dish was well carried out, you can taste the bad quality oil resembling that from a chippy shop, which just sits and settles in your stomach all day.
 The staff was nice, and not just general polite nice, but truly genuinely nice. The restaurant had an obvious group of regulars and it’s nice to see the manager talk to them about their work, children, family, daily activities and God knows what other personal details.  But this personal touch is always appreciated in a restaurant. 

Chop Chop as the best Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh? No doubt, as the competition is not stiff. Some dishes are promising, and I understand the temptation to adapt to the local palate (it was no surprise that the most popular dishes in the restaurant are battered and deep fried). It’s popular and endorsed by many (including Gordon Ramsay), and so if you’re craving Chinese and are intrigued by something slightly different, I’d recommend it.

(They also do takeout and loyalty cards -- and you're looking at about £20 per head) 

Chop Chop
248 Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8DT
0131 221 1155

76 Commercial Street, Edinburgh, EH6 6LX
0131 553 1818

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