I am told over lunch with a friend from out of town, the hilarious Dubai-based reporter Tom Gara, that in Hong Kong, dim sum and lunch are a sight to see and experience. During lunch hour in downtown Hong Kong, hundreds of restaurants, cafes and shops, whose purpose throughout the day can be anything from a photocopying to convenience store, serve lunch over one hour in make shift kitchens to thousands of hungry workers. And all is served fast, hot and delicious.
Never having been to Hong Kong myself but spellbound by his descriptions and knowledge of Asian fare, I was glad Tom had agreed to accompany me to try Chop Chop, a new restaurant that serves various Asian foods from dim sum and sushi to noodles and assorted dishes. The regional cuisines listed on the menu are Chinese, Thai, Malay and Japanese. A slight mishmash; but I suppose there’s something for various tastes and inclinations.
The first piece of advice I have is to take a really good friend with you to Chop Chop.
The second piece of advice I will offer you is to order dim sum as a starter for your meal or for the entirety of your meal. For the first time ever when reviewing a restaurant, I let somebody else lead the order. My experience with dim sum is minimal, China Town in Philadelphia circa 2002 with my uncle who had ordered me Chinese escargots in a garlic sauce and doughy balls stuffed with chicken, prawns and others with sweet bean curd. Was it Mandarin or Cantonese that was being yelled over my head by waiters and other diners then? Were we going to eat those tiny fish swimming in one of the many aquarium tanks lining the dark restaurant’s walls?
Fast forward to 2011; the restaurant is in a residential building but on the ground floor decorated in a well lit and modern manner. Floor to ceiling windows look over the Giza Corniche and across is a view of Garden City. Light wood, semi-circular booths, and orange light fixtures hang overhead, all aesthetically quite contemporary. The kitchen is visible through glass windows and I see puffs of steam repeatedly rise up as dim sum is prepared by Asian and Egyptian chefs working fastidiously inside.
While munching on complimentary prawn crackers, seemingly fresh and produced on premises, we ordered our dim sum: the Scallop and Prawn Shui Mai (LE 55), the Scallop, Water Chestnut and Seaweed (LE 55), the Malaysian Black Pepper Prawn Dumplings (LE 35) and the Steamed Beef Buns (LE 40).
The scallops and prawn shui mai stuffed with minced tiger prawns, scallops and shitake mushrooms offer that typical flavor of dim sum: the dough is slightly moist and steam burns your mouth when you bite into it too quickly but the flavors so wonderfully overwhelm me reminding me of my first and last dim sum lunch with my uncle.
The scallop, water chestnut and seaweed is served as a sushi roll of sorts; slightly soggy and bland. I preferred the Malaysian black pepper prawn dumplings with the spring onions and sweet sesame vinaigrette. Yet nothing comes close to the sweet beef puns; bloated like toddlers in puffy winter coats, the beef inside was delicately shredded and sweet, as was the dough, its texture soft and fun to poke with my chopsticks to see slowly puff back out.
It’s hard at this point to imagine you’ll want to continue eating: I made my way through a full basket of prawn crackers, so addictive as if they’ve been laced with morphine, quipped Tom, but onto mains we braved: Crispy Spinach (LE 23), Wok Fried Aubergine and Asparagus (LE 45), Cantonese Chow Mien Noodles (LE 65) and Roasted Duck ‘Chop Chop Style’ (LE 130).
The spinach dish was a plate piled high with whole leaf spinach seemingly fried and seasoned with granules of salt and cashews.
Delicately thin and see-through like paper tissue, the spinach leaves dissolved on the tongue, but the aftertaste of oil mixed with the bitterness of salt was unpleasant. Having ordered it as a nutritional contribution to the meal, we were disappointed. The aubergine and asparagus dish was delicious. The aubergine was fried with the lightest of hands and the asparagus and baby corn seemed to have been grilled. The perfectly grilled vegetables were grouped well together and gave a satisfyingly soft crunch with each bite.
The noodles were as good as they could get anywhere else; portions are generous and the noodles came down piled high and perfectly cooked. The duck was disappointing. Served with julienne cut onions, cucumbers and steamed wheat pancakes, what is ordinarily labeled Peking duck— to be assembled and rolled with a smear of delicious plum sauce— was a duck whose skin was neither crispy nor sweetly glazed as is typical with the dish. The wheat pancakes were cold quickly and the duck was tough and overcooked.
As with Asian restaurants, the dessert menu is limited. We shared a Lychee Pannacotta (LE 30) that was perfectly jiggly and offering that sweet taste of milk and sugar. Accompanying our meal throughout was tea. I selected Shou Puer (LE 35), a dark tea with a pungent earthy taste and no bitterness, served in a surprisingly large glass teacup.
Service is the best I’ve seen outside any five star restaurant: friendly, intuitive to diners’ needs, efficient and knowledgeable. Value for money is also some of the best I’ve ever seen in Cairo for foreign cuisine. Next door is Asha’s, an Indian restaurant whose menu you can also order off from while at Chop Chops. I’ll be giving that a try soon, sadly, without the company of Tom who is back in Dubai.
I suspect then I’ll have to decide on the order myself.
4 Ibn Kathyr Street,
Suez Canal Tower,