Plum Valley Restaurant, Chinatown

I’m a creature of habit. I not only frequent the same restaurants, but I also order the exact same thing most of the time. Unsurprisingly, I have my list of favourite Chinese/dim sum restaurants in London. In fact, I don’t think I have tried dim sum at any place that isn’t on that list in recent years.

Having said that, I do like discovering other good restaurants, and had the opportunity to do so recently, courtesy of Cox and Kings. Cox and Kings are one of the world’s oldest travel companies, and pride themselves on specialising in high quality cultural (both group and private) holidays all over the world. In particular, they have a wonderful selection of holidays to China (a country I am yet to explore!). In line with the whole “China” theme, they invited a group of bloggers to review a selection of restaurants in Chinatown – with the aim of showcasing the range and standard of Chinatown eateries.

So this is how I ended up at Plum Valley.

Plum Valley offer both an a la carte and dim sum menu, but we chose the latter as it would allow us to sample a wider variety of their dishes. It also enabled me to perform a fairer assessment of the food, as dim sum offerings tend to be fairly standard (with a few exceptions, naturally!)

plum valley har kau

Prawn dumplings (Har kau). These steamed dumplings are a dim sum staple, and are personally a must order for me, especially in a new restaurant. These were good, with thin skins and a succulent prawn filling.

plum valley siu mai

Pork & prawn dumplings (Siu mai). Whilst the prawn dumplings were good, the siu mai unfortunately fell a little short. The pork used for the dumpling fillings seemed a tad too gelatinous, which resulted in a rather chewy texture.

plum valley black cod dumpling

Black cod dumplings. I was intrigued by these, as it was something that’s not seen commonly on dim sum menus. I was rather excited when they came to the table, as they looked rather intricate and pretty! Unfortunately they did not taste as good as they looked – the dumpling skin was very doughy, which led to a rather sandy texture. The black cod filling also seemed to be slightly overcooked. A shame, because this held much promise.

plum valley crispy eel cheung fun

Crispy eel cheung fun. I am a huge fan of contrasting textures, and this certainly delivered. The crispy fried eel worked well with the soft cheung fun – although it admittedly tasted a little more Japanese than Chinese!

plum valley scallop dumpling

Scallop dumplings. I was surprised to see them using some gold leaf on the top of these – pretty yes, but rather un-Chinese really. These tasted fine, but I would have preferred a larger piece of scallop – I suspect a whole scallop had been sliced into three to top these, which is a little stingy. I would prefer to pay more and get a whole scallop, but perhaps that is just my greed talking.

plum valley chicken feet in black bean sauce

Chicken feet in black bean sauce. This was cooked well, and had good flavour.

plum valley venison yam puff

Venison yam puffs. A slight tweak on the classic yam puffs. The ‘yam puff’ bit was rather well executed, but the venison filling lacked that ‘oomph’ I was hoping for.

plum valley xo fried rice

XO fried rice. The humble fried rice, which should be easy to whip up, is in reality quite a hard dish to get right. One of the most important aspects of any wok-fried dish is something called ‘wok hei’, which not-so-literally translates to “breath of the wok”. This dish had plenty of this, and was something I’d order again. Doesn’t look like much, but it delivered on taste.

A quick note on other aspects of the restaurant: Service (which is often poor or non-existent in many Chinatown restaurants) was actually pretty good – the food arrived in good time, and all requests were promptly dealt with.

Lastly, decor was fairly modern, with a decent amount of space between the tables. A little too posh perhaps, but in all fairness they market themselves as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. I would have preferred it if the dining area was slightly better lit though – this is purely a personal preference stemming from the fact that I never saw a dimly lit Chinese restaurant growing up!

pplum valley dim sum

So yes – there were highs and lows of the meal. I cannot say I would rush back to dine here, but I would not rule out returning to try other offerings on their menu. At the end of it all, I feel that the quality of food is similar to the other Chinatown restaurants I have tried – but I maintain that better dim sum can be found outside Chinatown itself.

plum valley

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown
London W1D 6JQ

Disclaimer: I dined at Plum Valley courtesy of Cox and Kings, and also received a wine voucher as a token of appreciation. However, all views expressed above are my own. This review will also be published in ‘Compass’, their in-house travel magazine.

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Chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls)

Anyone who enjoys dim sum usually knows what chee cheong fun is. Chee cheong fun is essentially steamed rice rolls (either filled or unfilled), served with a sweet/savoury sauce. The ‘Cantonese’ version of chee cheong fun is usually filled, be it with prawns, char siu (Chinese BBQ pork), fish, or yu tiao (fried dough sticks). It is usually served with a simple soy sauce. On the other hand, the ‘Malaysian’ version is usually unfilled, and is served with sesame seeds and a slightly sweet sauce that is made from hae kor (prawn paste).

When I was growing up, I always preferred the ‘Cantonese’ prawn filled chee cheong fun, simply because they were harder to find where I lived. Do bear in mind that this was in the 1990s/early 2000’s, and things might well have changed now. But since coming to England, I now prefer the unfilled chee cheong fun – partly because it is now the more ‘elusive’ version. I really do seem to enjoy making life difficult for myself, don’t I?

I’d seen a number of recipes for chee cheong fun on other blogs, and bookmarked them knowing that I’d have to try to making them at home, because I was curious about how they’d turn out. I’d heard that it was notoriously difficult to get thin sheets of the rice mixture, but as they say, you don’t know till you’ve tried it.

And now, having attempted making homemade chee cheong fun, I can concur and say that yes, it is really difficult to get thin rice sheets. I steamed my rice mixture on a plate, and although I thought that I was using a very minute amount of mixture… I was wrong. My chee cheong fun turned out at least double (if not triple) the normal thickness of chee cheong fun! Having said that, it was still delicious. Just a little on the thick side though, which as any dim sum loving person will tell you, just doesn’t cut it.

Restaurants normally steam their chee cheong fun on large pieces of muslin cloth placed on a special tray with holes, which helps to achieve the ‘barely there’ paper thin rice rolls. I presume that one should be able to replicate this by using a muslin cloth placed on a pizza tray (which has holes in it), but unfortunately my pan isn’t large enough to accomodate my pizza tray, so I guess I’ll never know!

I made my chee cheong fun sauce from a very ‘estimated’/’agak-agak’ recipe. This essentially means I added in ingredients as I tasted the mixture, trying to get the sauce as close as possible to the version I grew up eating. The recipe below is a rough estimate of ingredient quantities, I suggest that you taste the sauce as you go along to adapt it to your preference.

Chee cheong fun
Based on this recipe on Baking Mum

For the chee cheong fun (rice rolls):

  • 150g rice flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp wheat starch
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp corn oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the sauce:

  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp kicap manis (alternatively you may use dark soya sauce + a pinch of sugar)
  • 2 tbsp hae kor (prawn paste)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tbsp sesame oil

For garnishing:

  • Sesame seeds

1. Sift the rice flour, wheat starch, and cornflour into a large bowl.
2. Slowly add the water to the flour mixture, whilst stirring the mixture with a spatula.
3. Add the oil and salt, and mix until it forms a smooth mixture. I sieved my mixture to ensure there were no lumps. Leave batter to rest for an hour.
4. Make the sauce for your chee cheong fun whilst the batter is resting. To make the sauce, mix the soy sauce, kicap manis, hae kor, water and sesame oil together, till it forms a smooth paste.
5. Prepare your steamer.
6. Grease a pan/tray/plate with oil, and pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter into the pan/tray/plate. (I used a 20cm plate – you may need more or less batter depending on the size of your pan/tray/plate.) You are aiming for a very thin layer of batter, and you should be able to see the surface of the pan/tray/plate through the batter. Steam for 3-4 minutes.
7. Remove the steamed rice roll sheet from the pan/tray/plate, and roll it up to form a ‘swiss roll’. Repeat with the remaining batter.
8. Serve your chee cheong fun with its accompanying sauce, topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.