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Chinese made Cheaply
Cha Cha Moon (London)
Member Name: shopaholicleo
Cha Cha Moon (London)
Date: 07/12/08, updated on 07/12/08 (100 review reads)
Advantages: authentic, cheap, tasty fast-food
Disadvantages: dishes can take a while, drinks are pricey, queues
When in central London, it isn't easy to find a cheap place to eat. There are fast food places and well known chains, with slightly inflated London prices, and people holding billboards advertising a £4.99 buffer for a random nearby restaurant. It takes me quite a while to find a new place to eat, since I rely on personal recommendation, but when my friend told me of a place in Kingly Court (can be reached from central London's iconic Carnaby St), where all the dishes were £3.50, I thought it was too good to be true.
Cha Cha Moon is the creation of Alan Yau, a man who's made Chinese food a 5 star affair in restaurants such as Hakkasan but also brought Wagamamas to the High Street. The concept behind the restaurant is that all the food dishes are £3.50, and turnover is fast with a constant queue of people waiting to take over your table. Dishes come when they're ready (I'm very much used to this concept now) and the tables are canteen style, complete with the obligatory randoms either side of you. The food is a mixture of Chinese, Taiwanese and Singaporean and there is a mixture of soup based and stir fry noodle dishes (note, no rice anywhere to be seen, it's just not fast enough) plus side dishes such as guotie dumplings, won ton and other dim sum. Drinks are pricier than the food, with unrecognisable brands such as 'Afrikola', and others around the £3 mark if my memory serves me correctly, so I'd recommend getting tap water if the names confuse you too much.
On the occasions I've been here, it's always been busy (once I had to queue for 20 minutes as the queue went out of the back door and around the corner), but the food has always come relatively quickly (apart from the dumplings). The authenticity of the menu means that the dishes can be tricky to work out if you're not used to anything beyond your 'Sweet and Sour Pork' so it's worth asking the staff for explanations and recommendations if you're not used to certain things. Being a more adventurous eater, I've gone for seafood, Chinese salami and beef ho fun which all of course come with noodles, but there are other dishes including duck and chargrilled chicken (can't quite remember the names, but they are easy to find on the menu). After a bit of investigating, there should be something to suit everyone on the menu. Since the mains are £3.50, many of the dishes are pretty similar relying on the same broth and noodles with slight variations such as the sauce, but at that price I wouldn't really be expecting the most ground breaking dishes.
The taste of everything is quite pleasant, though the portions vary, some dishes come with an extra soup and others (such as the seafood) can be finished within minutes. I often get a side dish to fill myself up, though the dumplings I have ordered twice seem to take a while to come, and I end up polishing them off within seconds. I did once overestimate some of the dishes and ended up with two rather filling mains, which was reasonable for £7, which is the cost of one meal at Wagamamas. I think it'd be a great idea to go with friends, maybe getting a few extra dishes and sharing it all for the perfect portion size.
Some of the reviews of this place in the media haven't been great, criticising the random combinations of ingredients and taste, but I think they're over-analysing the place too much. You can eat out here for less than a Mc Donalds meal, and the food is so much more exciting. It's a functional place purely for eating, and opens your mind up to the foods of another culture for less than a fiver. It isn't the place to go for a special occasion, but for a lunch break or quick bite before taking on the Oxford St crowds, it's perfect. I'm not sure if the prices are a promotion, but I hope they last forever.
Summary: A decent cheap eat