Birmingham is well known for its vibrant and colourful food scene. In recent years hundreds of restaurants have popped up in some of the hottest destinations in town, from the Mailbox to Selfridges, and more recently the Cube with Marco Pierre Whites Steak House and the buzzing energy that can be found at Digbeth Dining Club on Fridayevenings after work.
But it’s inspiring people that create the perfect restaurants, so we were delighted to meet James Wong of the Ching Ying Group to sample the scrumptious food available at his recently opened Chung Ying Central on Colmore Row.
The Chung Ying story all began in the early 1980s. Living in inner city Birmingham James’ father was an entrepreneur that worked long hours and for little reward, but he had big ambitions. Unlike the China of today, James’ family grew up in a time not of plenty, but scarcity. The smallest things were treated with the upmost respect and understanding, and the Wong family were people of dignity and appreciation for hard work and humble beginnings. At this time, the idea of one day owning a small empire of fine Chinese restaurants wasn’t even conceivable, let alone a dream.
This courageous spirit had a profound affect on the family however. As the doors of the most famous corner in China Town, Birmingham opened, so did a lifetime of possibility. Over the next dozen years or so a once market driven inner city area burst into life, literally growing around the first Chung Ying restaurant. James’ father opened another – Chung Ying Garden and hand-in-hand the two venues became the place to be for thousands of key players in the city, from local celebrities such as Frank Skinner and Ozzy Osbourne to the never ending tirade of thespians after a night at the Hippodrome, footballers, ballet dancers, business men, club owners, bankers, politicians.
The impressive menus had one of the UKs only Chinese menus for Chinese people as well as the standard a la carte menu, including a near Bible of authentic, lovingly thought our dishes that James and his father scrutinised to the extreme to ensure they reflected the most honest, wholesome and delicious aspects of Chinese cuisine.
As the Chinese Quarter grew around them, they slowly began to reap the benefits of being household names in the city. James began a lifelong passion for travelling which took him all over the world, spending many months in America, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Europe.
So, nearly 30 years on and both restaurants still remain two of the cities finest dining establishments, but there’s a new kid in town. Late last year, James spotted a venue up for sale in the blue chip district of Colmore Row. A stone’s throw from the Jewellery Quarter and a short stroll from the city centre, James jumped at the chance to explore a different market in the growth of the Chung Ying Empire – the business sector. Within just a few short weeks prior to the the New Year James’ contractors had gutted, refitted, styled and polished a stunning and elegant new restaurant space complete with cocktail bar, lounge atmosphere, and a great menu for office workers and party goers to enjoy the best parts of the Chung Ying cuisine.
The menu at Chung Ying Central is centred around delicious dim-sum, classic dishes served to perfection such as duck, or beef, cocktails, and at the same time, not forgetting that unforgettable Chung Ying service, incredibly efficient, and always with a smile.
James Wong spent much of the evening talking with guests, perusing among the tables and helping his waiting staff manage service. The food at Chung Ying Central is elegant and classic in style, drawing upon the very best of the dishes served on the other side of the city centre down in the Chinese Quarter. We began the meal with two cocktails which were a refreshing treat to the evening. As its coming up to Chinese New Year, it may be worth spending a moment talking about one of the classics – Dim Sum, and what it means in a traditional context. First of all Little is known about the cuisine that people eat to celebrate this auspicious occasion of a Chinese New Year but come lunch time, it’s all about the Dim Sum. As small, delicate artwork, good Dim Sum is the hallmark for a good Chinese restaurant. The small bite-sized or individual pieces of food mean that for the diner having Dim Sum, you get to try many different kinds of food in one meal. This is fantastic for a celebration as everyone can try lots of unbelievably tasty treats, it fuels great conversation, and helps stimulate learning about the culture and traditions of Chinese cuisine.
We sampled some delicious skewered satay chicken, and prawns which were accompanied by a creamy sauce that melted in the mouth. We also shared a crispy duck with pancakes that came out on a tray fit for an Emperor, set upon a large cast iron plate.
The interior at the restaurant has a very cosmopolitan vibe and it fits well within the business community. Not pretentious, yet equally stylish and welcoming. For our main courses my associate sampled a decadent beef dish. This was extremely tender and fell to pieces in the mouth accompanied with a rich blackbean sauce. For me, I went for the Thai Style Sea Bass which was a refreshing change to the style of cooking I was used to with this fish. It was still flaky and succulent but the crispy skin added depth and flavour.
You can’t find all of the dishes you may find at the other Chung Ying restaurants but on the other hand it’s geared up for people who fancy a hearty lunch or business dinner. The service is fast and friendly, but the food is still prepared in a fresh and zingy manner. The other element about Central is the bar. Designed by James himself it’s a huge open and comfortable space where you can sit and enjoy cocktails with friends and it would be highly recommended for private parties, and functions.
For bookings and more visit http://www.chungying.co.