With almost 300 restaurants across America, Asia and the Middle East, PF Chang’s has built its success on a philosophy of good quality affordable Pan-Asian food, served speedily, so that it suits both busy diners and those keen to have a more leisurely meal.
So it was always going to be interesting to see how this recipe travelled when the chain opened its first and only branch in London – called the Asian Table – especially given the added ambition announced by co-founder Phillip Chiang to ‘create a special concept for our first-ever opening in this city that I adore.’
The plan was to offer something very different from the average run-of-the-mill British style Chinese/Asian eatery – with an in-house bakery, the Pastry Lab, bucking the long-held English belief that ‘ Chineses don’t do puddings’.
Other innovations include a no-reservations chef’s table, designed for working types and others in a hurry. The Pastry Lab provides all of the restaurant’s desserts, while modern takes on traditional dishes include Fish and Lotus chips.
We thought we’d give the new 138-cover restaurant near Leicester Square Station a few months to settle down before testing the waters (and the food) and weren’t disappointed by what we found. The menu was imaginative and varied – while the service was speedy and attentive.
Freshly prepared starters include everything from soups and noodles, such as the tangy Hot & Sour Soup and Lobster Chowder, to shrimp – and chicken rolls and an Asian twist on Caesar Salad, involving a choice of lemongrass, chicken, salmon and poached prawns.
The handmade lobster and shrimp roll and chilli jam wings which we selected were very tasty and left you anticipating good things to come.
The mains again presented a head-scratching dilemma – given the variety of dishes on offer – including classic fare like sesame chicken and BBQ pork ribs, as well as more out-of-the-ordinary dishes such as Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Chicken or Beef.
Side dishes again ranged from standard rice and noodle offerings to something a bit different including a chilli based aubergine plate and Sichuan green beans.
Whether classic or modern, a common thread throughout all dishes was the imaginative use of sauces and spices – so the Mongolian Beef was caramelised and came in a mouth-watering dark ‘signature’ soy sauce with garlic and spring onions.
The tender Chang’s Chicken was wok fried with spring onions in a lovely sweet garlic chilli sauce – while the Sichuan Green Beans were the pick of the sides, accompanied by of chilli, ginger, garlic and pickled radishes – delicious!
To finish off our meal we had a selection of fresh offerings from the Pastry Lab – which included a different take on Banana Spring Rolls which have come a long way since the Banana Fritters so common on old Chinese restaurant menus – drizzled with caramel and vanilla sauce along with a coconut pineapple ice cream.
That dish, and the Rhubarb and Gingerbread Trifle, were probably the pick of a dessert menu that also included indulgencies like Spiced Apple Cheesecake, Kaya French Toast (with maple syrup, Thai kaya jam and whipped coconut cream) and Deconstructed Lemon Meringue (don’t ask!).
All was served up amidst music-themed surroundings which live up to the co-owner’s stated aim of creating an atmosphere which reflects the location’s past as a jazz club linked with The Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Such is the variety of the menu that it’s possible to have a good meal for anything averaging between £20pp at the cheaper end to £35-£50pp depending on the number of courses and drinks chosen.
PF Chang’s Asian Table is 10 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7AJ – near Leicester Square Station