With its cheerful green frontage, Cah-Chi looks from the outside like it might (as is the case with many moderately priced Asian restaurants) have a bit of a canteen-y feel to it. Stepping inside, however, you’re quickly reminded of the old adage, never judge a book by its cover. When my dining partner and I joined a couple of friends there for an evening meal one weekend, we were impressed from the outset and I immediately knew I’d be featuring Cah-Chi in a restaurant review.
For a small, neighbourhood restaurant, Cah-Chi is smartly presented with crisp white tablecloths and comfortable, high-backed chairs. Staff were attentive, whisking away our coats as we sat down, and taking our friends’ food allergies (between the two of them, nuts, fish and egg were all off-limits) seriously when explaining the menu to us.
Traditional touches such as the washing of the hands before the meal were not forgotten, but were presented as a slight novelty: first, our waiter quietly placed a dish of small, white pebble-like things down on the table, then he proceeded to pour water over them from a little jug. Only after we had watched in puzzlement at the magical pebbles expanding, did he explain that they were the mulsugeon cloths for us to wash our hands with.
The next treats to arrive were four dainty dishes of complimentary amuse bouches: a smooth potato salad bound together by a delicately sweet mayonnaise and peppered with pieces of carrot and peas; quarters of hard-boiled egg drizzled with a light soy sauce; a pile of tiny brown soy beans enveloped in a delightfully sweet sticky sauce; and the Korean classic of spicy kimchee. I was a particular fan of the soy beans, though their sweetness almost made me feel like I was beginning my dinner with dessert. The kimchee was also excellent, with just enough spice that the vinegary pickled flavour of the cabbage came through in the mouth, but it still packed a big chilli punch in the aftertaste.
We shared three starters between the four of us, which was ample as the portions were generous: home-made pork dumplings looked like Japanese gyoza but had a more intense flavour, while the filling in the vegetable version was made from lightly pickled rather than fresh veg to give an unexpected but pleasant tang to the dish. Kan-poong-gi, an enormous helping of deep-fried chicken in a garlic and honey sauce was another hit. The chicken was tender and the batter light enough that it didn’t feel too unhealthy, while the sauce had the perfect balance of sweetness and chilli heat.
For main course, we simply had to try Cah-Chi’s specialty of Korean barbecue meat, cooked at the table and served with marinated spring onions, pickled radish and soybean paste, all wrapped in a large lettuce leaf and eaten with your hands. The cooker was a gas powered burner topped with a large steel contraption that looked slightly like a wheel hubcap. Two of our party went for pork belly (one portion marinated in sesame oil and sea salt, the other in chilli and garlic) while the other two opted for sirloin steak in Cah-Chi sauce, which we were told was a spiced soy sauce. The meat was sliced very thinly, so it sizzled at lightning speed on our table-top barbecue, and was deftly turned by our chopstick-wielding waiter to ensure that all the pieces were evenly cooked. Building the lettuce wraps was a test of our own chopstick technique, but it was worth the effort as the combination of flavours and the tenderness of the meat was absolutely stunning, and the feeling of being able to just pick the whole thing up and eat it with your hands was one of joyous simplicity. We were a little surprised when, just as we thought we had finished, our waiter came dashing over with another plate of steak – apparently we had only been served one portion so far. The speed of cooking on the table-top barbecue meant that we didn’t feel our meal had been unduly prolonged, but we did have to order an extra plate of lettuce leaves as we had already munched through the first lot.
Whilst the starter portions were generous, the main courses were more delicately sized and my dining partner and I decided to share a dessert while our friends had coffee. The dessert menu was fairly limited, but I was intrigued by the prospect of a green tea tiramisu. In fact, what we got looked and tasted nothing like a tiramisu and I struggled to detect any green tea flavour despite the vibrant green colour of the dessert’s crumbled sponge topping. It was actually a very tasty treat, and reminded me ever so slightly of a European layered cream cake, with soft light sponge sandwiching fluffy green-tinted cream. The accompanying dark chocolate sauce and thin, crispy buckwheat noodle sticks gave it that extra edge, so I wasn’t at all disappointed, despite the mis-description.
Drinks-wise, Cah-Chi offers one variety of Korean wine or allows you to bring your own. It also serves Korean beer in bottles, which went down well with our dining party. I enjoyed a small glass of Korean plum wine, which to my delight came with a rather tipsy plum sitting in the bottom of the glass – the perfect treat to end on. It’s not bad value either, at around £27 per head all-in, though by the time we came to pay the restaurant was closing up and the staff were so busy with their various duties that it took a little while to get their attention and request our bill. The only other downside is that they don’t take cards, so two of our party had to dash to the cash machine down the road before we could actually settle up. Overall though, we rate Cah-Chi highly, with a big four Forks-Up.Cah-Chi 394 Garratt Lane Earlsfield London SW18 4HP W: http://www.cahchi.com (at the time of posting the article Cah Chi’s website was unavailable, we will check back to see if this issue is resolved in the near future)