You’ve got to hand it to Bahrain City Centre. Not only have they created a shopping mall that makes pretty much every other shopping arcade in Bahrain look like a badly planned warehouse. But they have also managed to fill the mall, traditionally a hub of fast food and bad coffees, with restaurants that people actually want to eat in. And with more outlets opening every month, the place is fast becoming a formidable competitor to Adliya’s Block 338.
Chop Chop, a pan Asian chain that hogs one of the mall entrances, has a footfall that most restaurants in Bahrain could only dream of. Thousands of shoppers pour past the length of the restaurant every day, and with its comfy seats and plenty of room for a sit down, it naturally does a roaring trade. Which is great if it’s convenience you’re after. But if you are looking for a quiet spot and a moment’s to yourself, Chop Chop ain’t the place.
So it was with an audience of hundreds amid the noise of a fair few screaming children that I sat down to dine. The interior of Chop Chop is rather charming (we recommend you sit ‘inside’ the restaurant, as those tables set on the main concourse are within an arm’s length of passersby), and were it not for the fact that that it feels like a bit of a stage set would probably be a rather lovely place to spend an afternoon.
Pan Asian cuisine can be among the best cuisine in the world, but it is also one of the hardest acts to pull off. To traverse the nuances that make Japanese noodles distinct from Korean noodles and makes Thai fried rice distinct from the Chinese variety requires a chef with an iron grip on his kitchen and a vast knowledge of the entire continent.
I started with an oriental salad because in Bahrain is relatively easy to feel perpetually on the edge of scurvy, so scarce are fresh vegetables. My expectations weren’t particularly high, and I was expecting a few leaves of lettuce awash with soy sauce. Instead, a vast crown of frilly red lettuce appeared on the table, with thin strips of wakame seaweed and a spot-on sesame and soy dressing that enveloped the flavours and textures so that even those not particularly keen on raw vegetables would have wolfed this down.
My second course was Chinese style battered tofu and mushrooms. I’m a huge tofu fan, but trying to find it on the menu in the Middle East can be a trial. Because mushrooms are like a sponge in the presence of oil, don’t order this dish if you don’t want to bite into a mouthful of succulent grease. As it happened, that’s exactly what I wanted, and the umami weight of the Portobello mushrooms was paired nicely with the light silken tofu.
I often make the mistake of thinking that price equates to the size of the dish. Since the dishes at Chop Chop are comparatively cheap, I was convinced the portions would be tiny. In fact, the salad and tofu were both generous, and by the time my third starter came, I was ready to exit.
I’d ordered dumplings on a whim because I saw a steaming wicker basket ferry past when I was chatting to the waitress. Ordinarily, I can’t resist dim sum. When I opened the lid and found these to be fluorescent green I almost decided to pass them over. The Chinese love to colour their food in startling colours. I’m not a fan. But the smell won me over. They weren’t the best I’d ever tasted (I was probably thinking about the colour too much) but in consideration of the fact they come to your table toasty warm a minute after you’ve ordered them and for a song, they were quite alright.
By the time my main course came, I was starting to feel the impact of three large starters. I’d order the Indonesian dish, Nasi Goreng. It’s not the most exciting dish in the world (basically, fried rice topped with a couple of prawn crackers and a fried egg), but is a staple in Indonesia, and when done well (with caramelised onions and flavoured with tamarind) the dish really takes off. The dish that arrived was more of a Chinese fried rice than anything you’d find in Indonesia, which was mildly disappointing, though I was actually rather glad that I didn’t fancy scoffing all of it as I’m not sure my stomach could have taken it.
When the bill came, I couldn’t believe I’d grazed on so much for the price. Chop Chop is actually a great find. Sure, you feel like you are eating on a stage in the mall, but with food that’s good in both taste and value, it is probably worth it.
The bill (for one) Oriental salad BD2.500 Crispy tofu/mushroom BD2.600 Vegetable dumplings BD2.300 Nasi goreng BD3.600 Water BD0.700 Total (incl. service) BD12.870
Time Out Bahrain Staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com