Open Mon and Wed–Fri midday–2.30pm and 6pm–11.30pm; Tue 6pm–11.30pm; Sat midday–11.30pm and Sun midday–10pm
Malaysian: the original fusion cuisine, it’s food that reflects that multiethnic diversity of the Malaysian population and general culture. This also means it’s not necessarily an easy sell in a restaurant—used to foodie cross-pollination as we are now, there’s still an occasional snobbery about a menu that tries to do ‘too much’, no matter how long a history there is of it.
Called after 15th century Chinese Admiral Zheng He, whose explorations established the Malacca Empire (modern Malaysia) as the preeminent Southeast Asian trading hub, Zheng is the fruit of the resulting exchange of goods, ideas—and food. The melting pot of culture that formed is the cauldron that created the uniquely diverse flavours and combinations of Malaysian cooking.
Sleekly sophisticated yet comfortable, with hand-printed wallpaper and velvet alcoves, Zheng feels utterly removed from the bustle of the road outside.
It was quiet on the night we were in—there were other groups in, but the calming atmosphere and plentiful space between tables encourages a feeling of having the place to yourself.
With variety such a selling point of the menu at Zheng, it makes sense to try a wide selection of plates—an aspiration we took to heart. Starting with a relatively modest initial nibble at some satay chicken skewers (£8.90) and seaweed egg drop soup (£5.90)—both authentic and well flavoured—we moved on in rather more ambitious (read: greedy) style to the mains, ordering an item from, well, pretty much every section of the menu.
A classic Malay dish, the Rendang beef (£14.90), slow-cooked in a coconut-based spiced sauce, was the (nevertheless perfectly tasty) low point of the meal, comparatively bland as it was compared to the other items. It says a lot that this was the worst we could say about the food, and it was all up from here. The crispy mango chicken (£13.90) in the chef’s ‘special mango sauce’ was particularly fantastic—crisp and toothsome without the mango making it too sweet.
In fact every fried dish was spectacular, with the salted duck egg king prawns (£16.90) my guest’s favourite item of all, their yolky, umami saltiness a perfect unguent for the crunch of the prawns. Meanwhile, the texture of the chilli-stewed aubergine (£8.90) was out-of-this-world moreish, and the choy sum (£8.90) was perfectly on point.
Desserts were, as all the offerings, ideally balanced for sweetness without becoming cloying; the black rice pudding particularly deserves a mention as having a beautiful consistency. In fact let’s not forget the coconut rice (£3.90) that accompanied the mains either, the scent of which was astonishingly fresh and strong.
After a glass each of Chapel Down sparkling wine (£8.90 a glass)—a tastebud-stimulating aperitif—we moved on to a bottle of elegant Chablis from Burgundy (£38), which harmonised well with our food overall and was an enjoyable, mineral-fresh drink.
In a nutshell
Mixing Malay spice, Chinese sauce and Indian heat, Zheng is a multilayered feast that crosses borders and appeals to all the senses.
Not only is the food authentic in flavour and beautifully considered in both execution and presentation, but prices are unexpectedly low for the upmarket setting and part of town. Go before they realise their mistake!