When invited to review relatively new restaurant Greenleaf, it was described to me as "a lovely Chinese restaurant […serving] really lovely food, very different from the greasy little restaurants in Chinatown". I can't say I've found the food in Chinatown restaurants particularly greasy but evening menus are certainly formulaic and most offer little to excite. (I visit most often for dim sum lunch.)
I checked out Greenleaf's menu before accepting the invitation, and certainly there were a few dishes that caught my eye; things I'd be tempted to order, as they weren't your run-of-the-mill chicken in black bean sauce or sweet and sour chicken, though certainly there are familiar classics on the menu too.
Certainly, the interior was a nice change; modern and attractive in white and shades of warm grey with a simple circle motif wall pattern, bonsai trees in the alcoves and modern white light shades.
From the tea menu I ordered a pot of Tie Guan Yin Blue Tea (£2.50), listed as a "lightly-fermented blue tea with mild scent but strong tea taste […] refreshing and stimulating". I drink a lot of oolong, and when my tea first arrived and a cup was poured for me, I was sure I'd accidentally been given the Dan Cong Jasmine instead, so heady was the floral jasmine aroma but so lacking the normal oolong taste. I was assured that it was tie guan yin, so decided to let it brew a little longer. Of course, the waiter was correct, after a longer steep, the distinctive flavours of oolong revealed themselves and I began to realise this was an absolutely fantastic example. Much paler than the tie guan yins I have previously tried, but with a complex and full bodied taste, I felt this tea boded well for the meal to come. The waiter was proud to tell me that this tea is from very near where he grew up.
When my friend finally arrived, we tucked into a selection of starters from the a la carte menu.
Softshell crab in salt and pepper (£5.50) was crunchy, well seasoned and with lots of flavour.
Grilled scallops with Japanese BBQ sauce (£6.80) were delicious, though the cherry tomatoes distracted from the taste – we decided they must be for garnish. I love miso paste, so these were always going to be a winner for me.
Grilled minced pork dumplings served with vinegar (£4.50) are fairly ubiquitous so these had to live up. They did: generously sized, so juicy inside that they spurted as we bit into them and with wrappings which had a lovely balance between soft, chewy and crunchy. The flavours were spot on.
So far so good but we had picked up on one thing neither of us liked at all; every dish we'd been served so far was garnished with out-of-season fruits. Plump raspberries appeared on all three dishes, not to mention those cherry tomatoes…
Time for some mains…
First out were the Stir-fried tiger prawns with garlic, chilli and sesame in breadcrumbs (£8.80). Yes, that's two more out-of-season raspberries! Although the prawns were large, there were only two in the serving, which is a little steep for just under £9. The breadcrumb coating was delicious, with lots of salt, chilli and richness of flavour. This made up for the prawns which, whilst well cooked to the right texture, lacked any real flavour of their own. Really good fresh prawns have their own sweetness which would have been noticeable even through the strongly flavoured coating. We enjoyed these but they didn't blow us away.
The next dish did, though! Described as Stir-fried ground beef fillets with mushroom in red wine sauce (£11.80), I was expecting minced beef, but what came out were generous chunks of silky soft beef and mushrooms in a delicious sauce. Both of us were mesmerised with this fusion of a European red wine and mushroom sauce with the Chinese flavours of ginger and spring onion. I'd never have expected it to work but we both really loved this dish, to our surprise. (And yes, that's more raspberries you can see nestled in the greenery, there!)
Our waiter suggested we try a clay pot dish when I asked him what he felt was unmissable from the menu. We chose the Stewed tofu with prawns, chicken, scallops and pork (£13.80) and it was marvellous! Even with big fat prawns, chicken, pork and scallops, the tofu was still the star of the show. These circles of fried tofu were so meltingly soft inside, they almost felt like liquid balls bursting in the mouth. I was amazed by the braised bean curd at Pearl Liang last year; this tofu clay pot dish was even better!
We finished off with more tea and macarons. You guessed it, they too were served with out-of-season fruit. In fact, the only dishes to escape this obsession of presentation were the tofu hot pot and the steamed rice. The macarons were decent enough.
Although I usually take PR claims for new restaurants with a pinch of "they would say that wouldn't they" salt, I have to concede that this one was right on the money with her "really lovely food" recommendation. Everything was good, much of it was excellent.
With the exception of the tiger prawns, I thought prices were very reasonable. Our bill, including two glasses of wine, came to £65 plus service. And of course, we ordered 3 starters and 3 mains between two of us; you could knock a third off that bill by being less greedy!
A lunch menu of dishes served with rice or noodles is also available. Most dishes between £6.50 and £7.80, with one at £8.80.
After our meal we popped downstairs to view the two karaoke rooms. Both spacious, with comfortable banquette seating, they hold a maximum of 12 and 15 people respectively; I recommend you visit and check how many you think is optimum for each room as I'd probably go with 8 and 10. Rather than a separate room charge, they are rented out with a minimum spend requirement (£200 and £220) which is less than £25 per person for the group sizes I'd book; very easy to eat and drink that much during an evening. Guests can eat in the main dining room or down in the karaoke rooms, as they prefer.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Greenleaf.