Following in the Footsteps
For tastes of faraway lands, Zheng Chelsea offers slick, minimalist surroundings to enjoy well-executed modern Malaysian cuisine
Review by Rupert Watkins
It shows when you find as a magazine editor you have a bit of history behind you. Heading to stylish Sydney Street to review Zheng, I remembered publishing the review on Brasserie Gustave some years ago. A former resident at No 4, my business partner didn’t stop raving about the steak tartare for weeks… Clearly this address has a little flicker of divine culinary fire in the basement, so I was keen to see whether the Malaysian restaurant maintained the standard.
Entering you are confronted by a rather narrow dining room; with black walls, lime green banquettes and low hanging lighting over the tables the feel is certainly very Chelsea trendy, stark and minimalist. Once sat at your table though, the low hanging lights give a nicely intimate air to proceedings. I can’t help the suspicion though this may be a better eatery for the evening with its current décor as the narrow dark room with the window overlooking Sydney Street is unlikely to bring in much natural light for lunchtime diners.
Presented with our menus, my guest and I turned first to the cocktail menu. Recently refreshed, with an eastern slant on some western classic drinks, my guest opted for an East meets West – a refreshing blend of Chapel Down sparkling and plum wine – whilst I went for a Chameleon Gimlet. Both crisp and sweet with the infusion of simple syrup, it proved a relaxing accompaniment whilst we perused the food options.
Confronted with too many delicious dishes for starters – crispy aromatic duck and steaming scallops leap out at the reader – we eventually alighted on Zheng’s Starter Platter which allowed us to sample a selection of treats. With satay chicken skewers, prawns on toast, salt and pepper squid and seaweed salad amongst other nibbles, the platter was a well-presented and precisely cooked array of Malaysian food. Even as a non-squid fan, I found myself eagerly diving in and enjoying the piquant cephalopod. The skewers were sticky, sweet and everything satay chicken should be.
Moving swiftly to the main course, as we were opting for seafood and red meat, we decided to order wine by the glass. Zheng has an extensive wine list ranging freely across the old and new worlds with five per colour available by the glass. My guest’s Baron de Ebro 2013 Rioja was a full bodied, easy drinking wine that proved satisfactory accompaniment to her Satay Style Beef. Well cooked the succulent meat sat well with the creamy and sweat peanut sauce. I opted for one of the house specialities, Crispy Cereal King Prawns. The prawns were fresh and succulent, with the oats adding a nice sweet hint to balance the chilli. This is a dry dish though, when served with rice and good roti canai I felt it didn’t quite bond and I would recommend a noodle accompaniment so there is just a drop of sauce and moisture on the plate. Alternatively (thinking well off the reservation here) consider sharing these prawns as a solo starter on their own.
I drank a fruity and well-balanced Chilean 2017 Gran Reserva Chardonnay which sat well against the sweetness of the oats. The food at Zheng is filling so by desert I reached for the ice cream whilst my guest sampled a tasty Bubar Pulut, the black sticky rice equivalent of the rice pudding.
One can’t dine at Zheng with being caught up in the history behind the name. The restaurant is named after one of China’s greatest late 14th and early 15th century explorers who extensively travelled around Malacca – the empire that was the forerunner of today’s Malaysia. A eunuch, one of the names he was known by was “sān bǎo” – a reference to the three jewels in Buddhism. We perhaps best know of Zheng in the west through the story of Sinbad the sailor. For well executed tastes of faraway lands, Zheng in Sydney Street is worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. Modern, slick and a little less pricey for the neighbourhood than one might fear.
Enquiries: Zheng, 4 Sydney Street, Chelsea, London SW3 6PP / 0207 3529890 / www.zhengchelsea.co.uk