The Southside district of Birmingham is one of the most vibrant parts of our great city. Home to some cracking nightclubs, bars and theatres it’s also home to Birmingham’s Chinatown with its vast array of restaurants and cafés offering fine, authentic Oriental cuisine.
At the heart of it all sits the ‘original’ Cantonese restaurant and arguably the most famous Chinese restaurant in the West Midlands, Chung Ying. Originally the site of an old warehouse near Birmingham Hippodrome, Chung Ying opened its doors in 1981 as one of the very first restaurants in the area and a catalyst for what would soon become the Chinese Quarter. Now part of a small chain that has expanded to include Chung Ying Gardens on Thorpe Street and Chung Ying Central on Colmore Row, the restaurants are run by the founder’s sons, James and William Wong.
EASY AND RELAXED
It’s a restaurant that I used to eat in often as a child but it’s been a long time since we’ve visited, so armed with our very own second generation of hardened critics, we ventured in to see if the recent investment has paid dividends. It was Saturday lunch time and the restaurant was throbbing. The Wongs remain committed to their parent’s original vision of providing an authentic Chinese experience. Although mainly Chinese, there was a real mix of clientele. Young families, large groups, smitten couples chatting away – all tucking into a vast array of food and the vibe was easy and relaxed. The traditional décor is rich reds with mirrors everywhere and the large round tables that you associate with such a communal and fun way of eating. It was welcoming and fun. With so much choice, ordering Chinese can often be a daunting task but there was an army of young, enthusiastic waiters flying around that were more than happy to advise. And a word to the wise – if you’re visiting at lunch time best keep the afternoon free because a decent Chinese lunch can take a wee while. For starters we eased ourselves in with a selection of crowd pleasers. Prawn toasts were sizzling hot, barbecue spare ribs were covered in sticky, lick-your-fingers-clean sauce and spring rolls broke with a crisp snap and released a puff of vegetable-infused steam. The Peking duck was a particular hit with the younger members of our group.
BIT OF A BLUR
Next course was the famous Dim sum and with the huge menu boasting the largest selection in the Midlands it was all a bit of a blur. Plate upon plate arrived and was duly dispatched by a table of very satisfied diners. Particular favourites were the wafer wrapped king prawns and fried king prawn and chive. The children loved the sweet and sticky liquid gold-steamed bun. A brief interlude with some refreshing Chinese tea and a quick check on the footie scores and it was on to the mains. Again we greedily over-ordered but the tender sizzling beef in sweet sauce was the stand-out dish with succulent chicken and cashew nuts with steamed rice a close second. Refreshing ice creams for the girls and a more tea for the grown-ups followed before we happily waddled off into the afternoon sun. My little nostalgic return had been a massive success and there’s no doubt the late restaurateur Siu Chung Wong would be very happy to see the restaurant and district he started more than 30 years ago years thriving under the stewardship of his sons.