CHA CHA MOON
She is lovely yes she's sly
And you're an ordinary guy
It’s probably sixteen years since I last visited a Wagamama. It was the very first one located in Bloomsbury and coincidentally (or maybe not) just round the corner from the first Pizza Express. In those days it was absurdly popular and the no-booking policy invariably meant queuing though they were kind enough to bring you a beer while you waited. The creator and owner of Wagamama, Alan Yau, sold his stake on about ten years ago and moved on to other projects nearly all successes although there was odd aberration – any remember the Italian joint Anda ?
Anyway, running restaurants for Russian oligarchs is obviously not floating his boat so he’s resurrecting Wagamama in the form of Cha Cha Moon: a sort of ‘Chinese’ version of the original which was ‘Japanese’ in flavour. The first branch is on a site just off Carnaby Street which he’s had for about four years. Expect another branch imminently in Whiteley’s and then coming soon to the rest of the known world - which is how these things roll.
First impressions after stepping into this first incarnation were of a Wagamama that had grown with its first customers i.e. people like me. It’s still functional but a bit more sleek, a bit more grown up, the seating a bit more padded (fortuitously, given my ample arse). You still have to sit at canteen-style refectory tables but for billy no-mates like me there’s a raised bench where you can watch out for staff trying to stop you taking pictures (a common theme in Alan Yau restos) and watch other bloggers get told off for doing the same.
So, all fine and dandy. Big problem is I was never that enamoured with the food at the original Wagamama and nothing seems to have changed in the intervening period. The menu is basically all about noodles, either with soup or without and a selection of side dishes. Dishes come as they’re prepared which may not be the same order as you’d er…ordered them or even wanted them. They’re all priced at £3.50 which is cheap but everything tastes that way too.
Char sui mian suffered from tasteless pork in a watery, tasteless soup. There were some pak choi and spring onion which didn’t seem to add anything. It was dull and boring to eat. Garlic Chinese Chives were oily but quite pleasant. They’re served in a pretty large portion - by the end I’d had enough for one lifetime.
XO Cheung Fun was poor – too dry - but the XO sauce tasted good. Crispy Duck wasn’t. Dry Duck more like, however, I liked the accompanying noodles. There was also a little bowl of what tasted like chicken (duck ?) stock that had more flavour than the preceding soup.
I might have enjoyed the Turnip Cake more if it wasn't covered in so much gunk - I couldn’t find it let alone taste it. I did order a dish of Cod and Bitter Melon but the order was forgotten. I’d had enough anyway. A non-alcoholic cocktail of Guava, coconut and lime was pleasant enough to distract me from the fact I wasn’t having a proper drink. I needed it too as the food gave me an unwelcome bonus of a dry mouth for the rest of the day.
One thing you can’t do here is stop eating so you can take a little break. As soon as you do that you’ll be asked – in my case five times – if you have finished, which probably is a good indicator of what this place is all about. Turnover.
Really, if you want cheap Chinese food there’s plenty of buffet places around where you can eat as much as you want for less money and I daresay the quality would not be far off what I ate here. But don’t take my word for it, give it a try before the prices go up (they’re in a promotional period) and you may get lucky. I can only hope when the prices do go up the food improves although I somehow doubt it.
When I got home there was news about yet another catastrophe of nature, this time in China, with a death toll running into the tens of thousands and rising. If my only problem was that my noodle broth was a bit one note then I’m doing pretty bloody well. At the end of the day it’s just a bad meal and not the end of the world.