Chinese fine dining, hey? We at thecattylife are not unfamiliar with this topic. We’ve been to Kai Mayfair and well, yes, we’ve been to Kai Mayfair. We are not unfamiliar with the topic but we are still much confused. Although we were bedazzled by Kai Mayfair’s superb service and quality food, we are still concerned about having to spend more than say £20 a head for Chinese (and that is already a lot). We don’t understand where our moneyz is going and still think that Chinese food is really just that. Chinese food.

We are especially confused by that restaurant in Chinatown, Plum Valley, who calls themselves “Chinese fine dining” but they don’t even have a website. What the heck fine dining restaurant doesn’t have a website?

And yes, we’re doing this post in third person. And plural.

This post was written last Friday afternoon while thecattylife was twiddling away the minutes before meeting up with some dudes of the bloggersphere for dinner. We realised we went to Plum Valley the previous week and hadn’t posted about it yet so we dug up some photos and started pondering the mysteriousness that is Chinese fine dining.

Really, what the f*** is it?

Well, Plum Valley seems to think that “dark” = mysterious = fine dining. The interior is dimly lit and these here photos had the camera reaching its light capturing tendrils for as much luminance as photographically possible.  It did pretty good. Plum valley also thinks that leather couches = fine dining. This, we like. Because you ain’t gonna find no leather couch at Four Seasons, yo.

But, not that we want to repeat ourselves, they don’t have a website. We remain thoroughly confuzzled.

Anyway, thecattylife has friends and once in a while, we all go out for dinner. Toptable enticed us to this place, this Plum Valley with no website, with its generous offer of 50% off the food. Because we ain’t gonna go any other way.

And the honest truth? We didn’t mind Plum Valley so much, given we received over £50 off the total bill and we are still, in essence, cheapskates.

We had a bunch of starters, the winners being jasmine tea smoked baby pork ribs and roasted mango duck breast with lemon sauce. The others were not bad, but not nearly in the stratosphere of “fine dining”. Not even exceptional. Just ok. The baby pork ribs and duck though sparkled in comparison but shhh, here at thecattylife, we are a little biased towards duck and all things mango. And all things baby pork ribs.

Two mains stood out for us also ~ pan grilled black cod with champagne and honey because can you say Champagne And Honey oh yes you can, and did you feel that tingle down your spine? Oh yes you did. The black cod was divine! Tender as any black cod should be, you really could taste the champers and the honey and look at those fried slices of radish. So purty!

The other stand out main was the Mongolian fillet steak. We’d heard this was good, and yes it was. Tender steak oozing with the delicious Mongolian sauce, whatever that is.

We didn’t so much rate the other mains. Well, they weren’t bad, and at 50% off actually maybe they were actually really good! But not super-tacular and certainly not fine dining.

The hand-pulled noodles were a little too salty, the claypot was soso and the garlic shoots ~ *sigh* ~ we at thecattylife really like garlic shoots! But some of these were so chewy we had to um, spit. Shhhhh.

Dessert! Always a favourite part of our meal 🙂

Fellow bloggers had been to Plum Valley and had themselves quite a little ordeal with the dessert, the willow dew cream to be precisely precise. Holes in our brain prevents us from remembering the details but there was something about not having any sago in the sago dessert and um, being dealt with rather unprofessionally.

We, for one (or two or more), couldn’t wait to see if we were going to get some sago in our willow dew cream, which really, is just a schmancy name for mango soup with pomelo and sago. Well, we did. Mixed in the the droplets of pomelo were surely little globules of sago goodness. We were much happy.

The willow dew cream had a delightful bite, a bitterness probably produced by the pomelo. This paired very nicely with the sweet mango pudding which was…. sweeeeeeeeeeeeet.

After all of that, we are still terribly confused about what constitutes “Chinese fine dining”. The food was pretty good and ok, they don’t rush you out but fine dining? Really????

With the Toptable 50% off, we at thecattylife would actually recommend Plum Valley, but at full price, na-ah, no-wayz, not for £50. For that you could go to Kai Mayfair, which is also part of this mysterious posse of “Chinese fine dining” but hey, they have a Michelin Star!

And we are now exhausted from talking in third person. And plural. Ciao.

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown, W1D 6JQ
0207 494 4366
no website! GAH!

Plum Valley on Urbanspoon

15 Thoughts on “Plum Valley: the mystery that is Chinese fine dining. And yes, it’s still a mystery.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Plum Valley: the mystery that is Chinese fine dining. And yes, it’s still a mystery. « thecattylife – up close and personal to all things… edible --

  2. “….we are still concerned about having to spend more than say £20 a head for Chinese (and that is already a lot). We don’t understand where our moneyz is going and still think that Chinese food is really just that. Chinese food”

    I’m going to have to fall out with you but in a nice way as Chinese food is NEVER really just that. IMHO, I think fine dining is a English term that doesn’t really sit well with Chinese food. That said I very much disagree with your view that Chinese food somehow has to be cheap. Whenever I have dinner at a Chinese restaurant (I mean proper dinner and not a bowl of noodles), I find it very easy to drop £20/head+ (without booze) especially if you order fish or seafood.

    Personally, I wouldn’t go to the likes of Plum Valley or Kai but you can go for a Chinese version of fine dining that whilst might not be fine dining is a very special experience on its own terms. I’m thinking about Chinese banquets and places like Pearl Liang or Phoenix Palace will rustle one up for you if you get a big enough table. Course after course of expensive ingredients, well prepared and showing wizard kitchencraft the equal of any poncy French-trained chef.

    Sorry for being ranty but Chinese food is never just that and I just wanted to get my message across.

  3. Interesting, the ribs do look nice. Haozhan also does a fish dish with champagne, wonder which came first…? I kind of agree with you on the whole Chinese ‘fine dining’ thing – never had a ‘fine dining’ Chinese meal that was even close to worth the price paid. At least you had the 50% off the food!



  4. Hi! I stumbled upon your blog recently and I’m always drooling at the food as I sit in front of my computer staring at your photos. I really enjoy reading your posts! In regards to this post, I guess “fine dining” doesn’t translate well in most Chinese restaurants, unless you’re having shark fin or abalone etc. Perhaps “fine dining” isn’t the way to describe good Chinese food, good Chinese food just has to be authentic and I think that’s usually hard to find – unless you’re in Hong Kong or China.

    I agree with “Mr Noodles” above, that Chinese food doesn’t necessarily have to always be cheap, that being said, I do not ever pay for overpriced Chinese food abroad. Really good Chinese food can be expensive but I can’t say I’ve found a “real” Chinese restaurant in New York – Mr. Chows? Chin Chin? That’s usually what I call a rip off. And fusion restaurants just don’t do it for me either. So unless I’m back home in Hong Kong, Chinese food is just Chinese food.

  5. Mr Noodles: Oh rants are ok, in fact rants are good! I totally see what you mean about banquets. We dropped almost £50pp on banquets over Chinese New Year and they were pretty good (suckling pig and all that!) but I guess what I meant was a regular Chinese meal. I can get a lovely roast duck and veg and hot pot for under £20pp easily in Chinatown. Also I think when we talk about Chinese fine dining, you’re right, it should be “banquets”… fine dining, and “westernising” the food is just kinda wrong.

    Laissez Fare: Absolutely, 50% off the food helped a lot otherwise this wouldn’t have been a pleasant post 🙂

    Saturday Nights: Ah, I was in HK recently and had a LOT of great food! But yes – see fusion is not Chinese and I think some of these restaurants almost border on fusion, in which case it’s not really Chinese fine dining, is it? I tend to agree with Mr Noodles too – Chinese food doesn’t have to be cheap but it really refers to banquets, no? Not the regular two-three dish meal.

  6. simon b. on May 12, 2010 at 9:33 pm said:

    I see what Mr Noodles and Saturday Night are saying but I also sort of agree with you Catty – there’s so much great Chinese food out there for relatively cheap that when you pay a lot you expect something phenomenal, and when it’s not, it’s a let down. I like just the local Chinese in Chinatown here in Melbourne and wouldn’t pay more than AU$20 a head!

  7. Hi! It never crossed my mind that Plum Valley would be considered fine dining – by themselves or anyone else. Sure, the interior is quite modern/trendy/dark, but so is Ping Pong’s.

    That said, I only ever go for dimsum, which is pretty decent – and it isn’t astronomically pricier than other places, and I quite like the slightly-upmarket decor…

    Black cod in general rocks =) Can’t wait to try cooking it, after learning a miso-marinade recipe a few months ago…

  8. simon b: Yes I think that’s the thing – when there’s so much good Chinese food out there for a reasonable price, for it to justify being more than double the cost, it has to be amazing like a banquet with shark fin soup, fresh whole fish and abalone (even though I don’t like abalone!). If it’s just normal Chinese dishes, it’s hard to justify the cost.

    JenJen: I didn’t make it up! 😀 There’s a plaque outside the restaurant that says “Chinese fine dining”. Please tell me you don’t go to Ping Pong for dimsum! I’ve been twice and both times I died of blandness. Black cod does rock, especially the miso recipe! Can’t wait to see your post when you’ve done it!

  9. I’ve never really paid to eat out for chinese meals, we tend to go as a family. The only reason I think it would cost us more than 20+ pp is because we order seafood.

    Otherwise I agree with you catty that chinese food, compared to other cuisines, is cheaper and you can get alot for your money!

    I’ve never associated fine dining with chinese….just banquets with chinese! Fine chinese dinging, still a weird concept for me.


    p.s Am sososo excited to visit tim yee yee soonn!!! (Less than a month away! YAYS!) we had durian the other night too and was yummm. Had that firmer, crunch outer then soft and sweet in the middle. =D

  10. If Plum Valley was not located in Chinatown, maybe it’d have a better shot at being fine dining. I always think that any visit to Chinatown does not deserve more than 10-15pounds out of my pocket.. unless it’s EXTRAORDINARY!

  11. vivi: when are you going to Tim Yee Yee?! OMG I am greeeeeeen with envy! You’re having the ultimate durian dessert right? Please send me a little love when you do, imma need it! 😀

    Dana: That’s an interesting idea! Perhaps you’re right – it’s located right next to some other good Chinese restaurants, like my favourite Four Seasons!! where we can get a meal for under £20. Good thinking 99.

  12. Good post and interesting comments. I have an issue with the whole idea of fine dining. One thing is clear though, it’s not just the food, it also encompasses the decor, the place (often a hotel), the (often overbearing) service, linen, napkins, etc etc. And, it almost always means something related to, or derived from French cuisine.

    Is El Bulli fine dining? Is the Fat Duck? Can you have fine dining with tapas, South Asian, Meze? Not really sure where I’m going with this except maybe just to say I’m not sure there is an issue with Chinese food and fine dining so much as the whole concept of fine dining itself. Or maybe its just me.

    What you can get is very high quality Chinese food – the equal of anything Italy, France, Spain, India, Japan, USA, Thailand can produce – insofar as you can compare very different cuisines and traditions.

    Uh-oh, i’m rambling. Time to stop. Whatever. Plum Valley sounds like it does fine dining as in, “well, that was…fine, okay, kinda nice even”.

    • Hehe nice comment 🙂 Yeah I dunno, I think someone (not me!) should blog about what constitutes fine dining. But it is funny that Plum Valley has a plaque outside their restaurant self-declaring “Chinese fine dining”. Because El Bulli and Fat Duck they most certainly are not and the food is just fine 😉

  13. Good post, but seems like you don’t like ‘chinese fine dining’ as a category, I can concur but thats a person who prefer home cooked ragoût over michelin starred French nouvelle cuisine.

    in defence for the owner of plum valley though (never met him, but I heard he is second generation that owned Chinese restaurant), it is a good first effort to try to bring something different to now still small but sometimes bland China Town in London?

    Some might argue that we need more of them experimenting, and keep on running the place, rather than run, flip and create a new chain model of alan Yau? (nothing wrong with that either!)

    just some thoughts..


    • Thanks for the comment, Gareth! I guess I’m still getting used to the idea of Chinese fine dining, because I think regular Chinese food is already brilliant! But you’re right, I give kudos to the owner for bringing something different to Chinatown but that it certainly is. For one, there’s no roast meat hanging in its window 🙂

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