Review: Zhong Hua Traditional Snacks

Image credit: Joël Reland and Katrine Tilgaard Petersen

Zhong Hua Traditional Snacks stakes a claim to be Cambridge’s most incongruous restaurant. From the outside it looks like any one of the city’s many nondescript Chinese eateries, yet what is served up inside is unique and delightful in equal measure.

The interior is Spartan; what brings this place to life is the bold, fresh, invigorating cuisine on offer, an enticing medley of Chinese street food. So we’ll jump straight to the food, as the idea of ‘frills’ doesn’t really register in the Zhong Hua vocabulary. ‘Dumplings’, by contrast, certainly does, to the extent of roughly half their menu. Yet this perfectly encapsulates their cuisine; from a limited repertoire, they create a brilliant array of diverse flavours.

We had 28 dumplings, and could have had more. The sweet steamed buns make a great starter, the shell perfectly spongy, against a well balanced amount of pork filling, they were perhaps a little dry but deeply aromatic. The sesame bun comes less recommended (“it tastes like a Snickers”).

It is the savoury, wonton dumplings however, which render this place jam-packed by 6.30pm on a weekday. The steamed shell is delicate and fresh, cleanly offsetting the astonishingly deep flavours released when bitten in to. For such unassuming little dumplings, each bite is intense and indulgent, the prawn tasted incredibly fresh, whilst the flavours from the lamb and coriander number were charmingly arresting.

At roughly £6 for 12 dumplings, this is a cheap way to have fun meal of unparalleled quality. Admittedly we went for rather safe options, pig ears and chicken feet are available, as well as noodle soups and cakes. Coupled with their BYOB policy, there is potential to develop the Zhong Hua experience.

However, in our humble opinion it is the bustling, fast-food feel which best suits it. A small venue, tables tightly packed, a frantic hubbub of conversation fills the little space remaining inside. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Pembroke Head Butler was sat at the table opposite us we could have thought ourselves in the heart of Beijing.

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