10 Great Newport St, London WC2H www.pfchangs.co.uk
Just before it opened to the public, Nick goes to PF Chang’s for a sample lunch and to meet the founder.
A wonderfully interested man – he asks me more questions than I ask him – he is the the Chiang of PF Chang’s an ‘Asian Themed’ restaurant chain that he co-began in the USA and which is now just about all over the world with almost 300 outlets.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh no,’ you cry in horror,’not a chain restaurant, how awful!’ Well chains no longer have the same bad rep, after all many of your favourite restaurants such as Hawksmoor, Flat Iron and Pizza Pilgrims are now chains too and no one seems to mind that.
In fact, Philip’s mother, Cecilia Chiang, is widely held to be the person that properly brought Chinese food to the USA, so this man has pedigree.
PF Chang’s serve what is usually called American Chinese Cuisine, a recognised offshoot created by the Chinese who came to the USA and adapted to American tastes.
It’s not’authentic’, but neither is Chicken Tikka Masala but that doesn’t stop the UK loving it. Cleverly PF Chang’s has taken what might be called a Steak House approach to serving a food traditionally served in a kind of family- run, rather bumbling way.
I’m here for a preview lunch at the first ever UK PF Chang’s situated a spring roll throw away from Soho’s Chinatown. A location that rather sums up PF Chang’s – halfway between Chinatown and Covent Garden and surrounded by theatre land. An ideal location for the passing tourist trade, as well as out of town Londoners coming in for a night out.
It’s a large, modern space with an open kitchen at one end and an in house bakery downstairs (where, once upon a time, there was a club where bands played in the 1960s).
Staff move fast, the kitchen roars with the sound of big wok stoves and dishes come thick and fast to our table, all chosen by Philip, as a quick sample of what is a large menu.
I also get to try a few very good cocktails created by the ever fashionable Fluid Movement, the people behind The Worship Street Whistling Stop I recommend the Fizu – sparkling sake, cucumber and lemon oil, very refreshing.
Lobster spring rolls are delicious and I usually find lobster watery and bland. Pork’pot stickers’ are good too, nicely singed on the bottom but properly soft and slippery on top and with a zesty dipping sauce.
The’signature dish’ of PF Chang’s, or at least the most popular worldwide, is the Dynamite Shrimp. It’s prawn actually, but the restaurant wants to keep its American name, which is battered and deep fried and served with a coating of mayo enlivened with Sriracha for heat.
It reminds me of the old English/Chinese dish Sweet and Sour pork as it is texturally a bit similar and has the same sweet/sour kick. I can see why these are so popular and I eat more than my fair share. I even eat Philip’s, but I’d personally hold back a bit on the sweet side and add some more dynamite. Us Brits can take it; I explain to Philip as I spear up another.
Chili jam wings are good and meaty but again I felt were a bit too sweet for my taste, but millenials love wings and sweetness so they are bound to sell very well. However, the orange peel lamb chops were proper grown-up excellent, the lamb cooked perfectly and the orange peel dusting an unusual but effective foil.
Mongolian beef, thinly sliced flash-fried beef glazed in soy and served with the green part of spring onions was another winner. ‘Eat the meat with the onion,’ I was advised and he was right as the combination was perfect.
Some people are going to be sniffy about PF Chang’s and its hybrid look and feel, but I think they’re wrong. This is freshly-prepared food, cooked here by Deepak Kotian, a former Nobu chef, made to please a crowd not over-fussed about authenticity, only good taste and good value.
With a large menu, smart decor and atmosphere it’s somewhere cool and pleasant to eat in all the way from breakfast to dinner. I suspect this won’t be the last PF Chang’s to open in the UK.