Specializing in Malaysian-Chinese cooking, Zheng Chelsea is the second restaurant from Executive Chef Izlinda Baharom and General Manager Adam Abdullah, the husband and wife team behind the critically acclaimed Zheng in Oxford. Dubbed ‘The New Best Chinese Restaurant in Oxford And Possibly In The Country’ by The Times Magazine’s Giles Coren, Zheng has garnered a loyal following since it opened in 2014.
With its slick black wood and mirror panelled walls, olive green velvet banquettes and hand printed Chinoiserie wallpaper, Zheng certainly looks like it belongs in the neighbourhood.
After the warmest of welcomes we kick things off with one of their signature chilli rimmed martinis – an aperitif to put hairs on your chest. Leaving it in our hosts capable hands, we relinquish control and let them bring us a feast.
Malaysian cuisine is well known for being a wonderful fusion of all the best bits of Southeast Asia. So you might find a strange familiarity in the veg-packed crispy spring rolls, the slightly retro but very welcome seaweed, spongy spheres of prawn toast and the perfectly spiced chicken satay skewers – but it’s all done so well. An out and out highlight, and a dish they’re rightly very proud of, was the salt & pepper squid (which you can also order as aubergine, prawns, tofu or chicken wings). A meal like this makes you nostalgic, nostalgic for perfect takeaway food you’d eat as a family. Although our experience at Zheng was no doubt better than anything we ate as kids, it did make us wonder why it had been so long since we’d had a meal like it.
Less familiar dishes included the crispy cereal king prawns – great big juicy morsels coated in an oat, chilli and curry leaf marinade – a great discovery we’d hurry to order again. We’re huge curry fans and the full flavoured, slow cooked chicken rending did not disappoint with its huge pieces of chicken. Alongside the obligatory fried rice, we’d recommend ordering a side of green beans with minced chicken and chilli. Less successful for us was the slab of custard-like tofu. We’re told it’s made in house which is impressive but we prefer ours firmer. Others will surely disagree and the dried radish, chilli & spring onion crumb will appeal no matter which camp you’re in.
Once you’re ready to move on from the cocktails you’ll appreciate the selection of new and old world wines available by the glass. We tried a particularly thirst quenching glass of Chablis, and there’s also sake if you’d prefer to keep things authentic.
So whilst we think Coren can be a bit of a div sometimes, on this occasion we’d have to agree with him.