SKEWERED scorpions fried in a vat of bubbling oil were one of the delicacies I politely declined while in China. Street food, the locals loved the crispy snack. Ate them like savoury lollipops.
That memory sprung to mind as I took up an invite to review Chop Chop ahead of a night at the theatre.
Now, it has to be said, if the myriad of restaurants conveniently located close by the Capital’s theatres relied on the likes of me to take advantage of their pre-show meal deals, they’d get slim pickings.
I’ve never understood the attraction of settling down to a slap-up dinner and then sitting through the best part of three hours... stuffed.
Apart from the obligatory post-snooze that a large meal demands, a packed theatre or cinema for that matter, can be uncomfortable at the best of times, let alone with a stomach of half-digested food.
Consequently until recently, the pre-curtain-up dinner was a tradition I had wholeheartedly eschewed. A meal afterwards, however, well, that’s a whole different ball game.
Anyway, helping me break the habit of a lifetime was photographer Bill Mackellar, a self-declared expert on Chinese dumplings - Chop Chop’s speciality.
Situated at the Haymarket end of Morrison Street, Chop Chop is a short walk - even shorter taxi ride - from the Lyceum, Traverse and King’s theatres and Odeon, Filmhouse and Cameo cinemas.
The blurb I’d been sent boasted it was the Capital’s ‘favourite Chinese restaurant’. Unassuming in appearance, it is certainly one of the city’s most authentic oriental eateries.
Specialising in Jiao Zi and Guo Tie, boiled and fried dumplings respectively, food is served ‘tapas-style’ - you order collectively with dishes arriving randomly at regular intervals. Everything is shared.
Our waiter recommended an average meal to be the equivalent of either four small dishes or one large dish and two small - the size is usually indicated on the menu but as a rule of thumb, any dish under £6 is a small portion.
We went for the Unlimited Banquet for Two at £20.25 each, but first, staff were on hand to show us how to prepare the vital sauce in which to dip the dumplings.
Adding some chilli to garlic, we poured three parts dark soy sauce to one part vinegar, stirred with the wooden chop sticks supplied and waited.
It wasn’t long before the first of the dishes arrived, delicious Crispy Shredded Potato, finely sliced and with a moreish kick, and a plate of perfectly seasoned Pork and Coriander Dumplings.
Delicate and light, the simplicity of the dumplings and, for that matter, the potatoes, were the perfect start to a relaxed meal.
And that’s the beauty of the service, it is relaxed and unrushed.
The evocative Sunset King Prawns came next. Battered prawns with marinated black beans and chilli oil, the dish proved a highlight, a perfectly fused explosion of flavours that was nicely offset a few moments later by the arrival of the less fiery Fried Chicken Dumpling.
All were accompanied by a side serving of aubergines cooked in garlic.
Even dumpling expert Bill admitted to being suitably impressed.
On discovering I had visited mainland China, owner Jian Wang had a couple of surprises in store.
Dispatching two unexpected dishes to the table, she explained that Spicy Beef and the Green Beans with Garlic, Ginger and Chilli, were two traditional favourites from northern China.
Cooked specially to remind me of my trip to her homeland.
Melt in the mouth, the beef was cooked to perfection while the garlic, ginger and chilli made these particular green beans something quite out of the ordinary. Delicious.
Of course, the big attraction of Chop Chop for me was being able to eat as little or as much as was comfortable before sitting through that evening’s play.
The ideal place to go for a bite before a visit to the cinema or theatre, especially if you enjoy the authentic taste of China... minus the scorpions.
The only danger is, you’ll have such a good time chatting over the meal, you might just miss the start of your show.
Chop Chop is celebrating its tenth anniversary at the moment. Here’s to the next decade.
Chop Chop, 248 Morrison Street, 0131-221 1155