Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Restaurant Review: Champor Champor

Here's a slice of unashamed Asian fusion in the form of a review of Champor Champor at London Bridge, written for my Sou th London Press column.

Dubbed as serving creative Malay-Asian cuisine, Champor Champor sounds very much like a fusion food restaurant that doesn’t want to called as such. This is understandable given the bad rap the dreaded f-word has had of late, but visiting with an open mind and off the back of having heard good things about the venture, I’m not perturbed by a bit of boundary crossing.

Perseverance is needed to get through the ever-so-slightly unnerving railway tunnels that connect Tooley Street with the dull backstreets behind Guy’s hospital where Champor Champor sits. The reward of the trek comes as the door to the restaurant opens and you are hit by an intoxicating blend of incense, bright red walls, candles, draped fabric and all manner of exotic wooden masks and sculptures. The room isn’t large, with just 38 covers, but feels even more intimate for the many alcoves and tucked away tables. The over-riding atmosphere is one of decadent eccentricity that merges the luxury of fine-dining with the fun and friendliness of the owners’ experimentation.
As we browse the menu, roasted tofu skin, banana bread, and an olive oil and soy dip are brought our way. Bemusement passes upon trying the nutty skin and dipping the bread in the oil and discovering that the flavours really do work. Taking the Mediterranean oil dipping and adding an Asian twist is also a fun nod to the abstract feast that awaits us. Our 3 course menu comes in at 31.50, and is also available at £27.50 for two courses.

A seabass ceviche kicks things off with a hit of citrus tang and large chunks of tender, flaky fish plus some slices of sweet red pepper. A pigeon broth with noodles and large chunks of meat comes with a lightly spiced lamb meatball suspended over it on a piece of lemongrass, the presentation combining with the elaborate bowls and dishes to add a sense of theatre to the proceedings. The broth is intensely meaty, like a reduced stock, and goes down well, even if it’s a little tricky to eat.

Before the main courses, we’re presented with a couple of palate cleansing granitas (£3 supplement). What is effectively a carrot, ginger and yoghurt ice-cream is smooth and creamy, whilst a lemongrass and green apple granita is much more refreshing. Both would be fine stand-alone puddings.

For main courses we try a dish of king prawns in a green curry sauce, which is gloriously hot, sour, salty and sweet, whilst the sheer generosity of prawns wins it extra points. A more unusual offering of ostrich in a tangy satay-style sauce is equally well received, the meat just cooked so that it’s slightly charred on the edges, but juicy and full of flavour in the middle.

In keeping with the theme developing, desserts don’t hold back. A smoked banana parfait has a rich hickory flavour (though the bananas are apparently smoked in Malaysia over coconut shells), and goes well with the accompanying coffee. A second option of avocado tiramisu has to be tried to be believed. Chunkily mashed avocado is layered with mascarpone and sponge, and though it’s in no way unpleasant, we’re left unconvinced and wondering if, for the first time in the whole bizarre meal, the dish may be gimmick over substance.

The accompanying wine list is as off-the-wall as the menu. We have an Eastern European Cabernet Sauvignon for around the £18 mark, and it matches the red meat perfectly, whilst the spicing of the prawns mean they too can hold their own. Dessert options of plum wine and a sticky black rice liqueur that isn’t too far off a pedro ximenez sherry also slip down a treat. A preceding star anise martini is less successful as the recipe has gone substantially overboard on the aniseed making finishing a full sticky glass a bit of a challenge. Still, Champor Champor is not pretending to be somewhere that does anything by halves – it’s outlandish and proud of it, and the vast majority of it works very, very well.

Champor Champor, 62-64 Weston Street, SE1 3QJ.

>> originally published in South London Press

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