The Glasgow counterpart of the already beloved Edinburgh institution that is Chop Chop has been open for a good four months now, so I was surprised to see how quiet it was at peak time on a Sunday night: when Stringer and I arrived there were two busy family tables tucking into big platefuls of “jiao zi” boiled dumplings, and another group perusing the menu. The trouble is that, despite its fairly central location, being tucked away off the main thoroughfare gives Chop Chop the feel of a need-to-know secret.
But let’s get one thing straight: you definitely need to know about Chop Chop.
The chain’s founder, Jian Wang, arrived in Edinburgh from Changchun in north eastern China in 1997, and quickly found her calling when she discovered that she couldn’t buy the boiled dumplings her region was famous for anywhere. She opened a factory from which she sold jiao zi to Chinese supermarkets across the UK, eventually winning a contract to supply P & O’s cruise liners. The first Chop Chop restaurant opened in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh in 2006, and by 2008 had been voted best Chinese restaurant in Scotland.
While Glasgow boasts loads of Chinese restaurants, particularly in the ubiquitous buffet style, there’s definitely a gap in the market for a more gourmet experience and it’s one that Chop Chop has covered. Stepping into the Mitchell Street restaurant, with its soft lighting and mock cherry tree decor, feels like stepping into a fairytale and we gawped as we were shown to our seats by the lovely restaurant manager – whose name I wish I had asked!
Probably the easiest way to describe the Chop Chop concept is like Chinese tapas: you order a selection of small dishes from the menu and share them as they emerge. With so much to choose from, Stringer and I decided to take the easy option and went for the “Unlimited Banquet“: an option which, for £20.95 per person, gives you unlimited plates full of a selection of the restaurant’s best sellers.
I say “unlimited”… that really implies you have any space left after the first round.
Our banquet featured two kinds of dumpling: the boiled jiao zi with a minced pork and coriander filling, and chicken guo tie which are fried on one side. They are fairly plain, with the idea being that you create your own dipping sauce of soy, minced garlic and chilli – as my assistant so ably demonstrates above. The jiao zi are more delicate, with the guo tie perhaps better suited to our Scottish/adopted Scottish palates – but there are plenty of options on the menu should you wish to experiment.
To balance the subtler flavour of the dumplings – and you could tell a lot of thought had gone into it – we were served tasty crispy northern beef with boiled rice, spicy chicken wings and the most incredible spicy fried potato dish – which probably had a lot to do with how I ended up so full so quickly. I was less of a fan of the aubergine dish: it arrived cooked in an incredible garlic and spring onion combination, but it wasn’t enough to hide a texture I just couldn’t get behind. I’d never make it as a vegetarian.
As I’m sure you all know by now, I can always squeeze in dessert no matter how full I am and the sugar string apple sounded too fun to pass up. Cooked apple slices coated in caramelised sugar, they’re designed to be dipped in the bowl of ice water you are served at the same time – with the idea being that the sugar coating will solidify into string. It was a technique I couldn’t quite master, whether because of my own ineptitude with chopsticks or because the dish was already starting to cool by the time our iced water arrived – but I had plenty of fun trying!
The £20.95 price point on the unlimited banquet may sound a little steep, particularly before you factor in drinks (they serve local brands like WEST St Mungo and Makar Glasgow gin, as well as the usual spirits and a selection of Chinese beers) – but when you consider the amount of food you get for that it’s well worth it as a special treat. It’s also allowed Stringer and I to sample a number of different dishes we maybe wouldn’t have otherwise – so we know what we’ll be honing in on when we make our inevitable next visit…
Have you been to this hidden gem?
DISCLAIMER: I was invited for a complementary meal for two at Chop Chop in exchange for a review; but I was under no obligation to do so positively. See my full disclosure policy.