Chez Choi, named after its Macau-born owner Albert Choi, is testimony to his tenacity and good business acumen.
The restaurant is in its 20th year, but Albert has risen to the challenge and re-invented Chez Choi to stay ahead of the game during lean times. Other boarded-up places nearby have not stayed the course.
Albert, who also owns the Noble House on the opposite side of Southsea’s Osborne Road, has many types of Chinese provincial cuisine menus, including the extensive 155-choice main menu,.
There are several types of feast embracing his country’s rich regional heritage – Szechuan, Cantonese plus Emperor, Chez Choi and Vegetaria – plus a two-course set lunch, the regrettably named ‘Eat as Much as You Like’, and the Noodle Bar menu. Prices range from £7.95 per person for the set lunch, £18.95 for the ‘Eat’ one to the Emperor’s Seafood Feast at £50 for two. Naturally, crispy duck features in several menus but there’s more to Chinese food than pancakes, onions and plum sauce.
Four chefs cook up all these choices in the small kitchen at the back of the 50-cover, two-tiered restaurant with its modern prints and aquamarine walls. There is also a large wall TV, which was showing football the night I went.
But no-one was paying attention to the match. A large Chinese birthday party was in full swing and people were taking pictures of the feast presented to them. Piles of lobster on a revolving Lazy Susan on their round table were just one of the many courses.
Albert, a natural host and showman, went around with displays of seafood to entice diners. There was squid, clams, mussels, razor clams and other choices sourced from Viviers in nearby Camber Dock.
He guides diners through the gargantuan ‘Eat’ menu, an excellent way of introducing the more faint-hearted or those uneducated in Chinese dishes how to sample and enjoy a worthy, balanced dinner.
This admirable hands-on, hospitable approach is the norm in countries like Italy, Spain and France and in Asia but is rarely found in the UK. A definite feather in Albert’s cap.
I took to this approach with alacrity as some other Chinese restaurants have a tendency to play it safe and offer up dull, cardboard-type tried and tested dishes.
First up, some of that squid, salted and deep-fried with shards of chilli, peppers, garlic and onion. A fat temperature that was just a tad too low created a slightly greasy taste. These otherwise fresh, fishy chunks were followed by one of the best Chinese dishes I have enjoyed in the UK, clams with vermicelli noodles and chilli.
It was utterly wonderful, as was a bunch of Asian long-stemmed leaves, possibly water convulvulus (tung tsoi), stir-fried to perfection with added spices.
Razor clams were up next, the black bean sauce a little too strong.
But nevertheless it was a good example of what this kitchen produces with style and authenticity.
Eat everything with chopsticks as it adds to the pleasures of the table. I’m sure Albert or one of his excellent staff, mostly Asian bar one highly-skilled member from the Baltic states, will guide you.
The wine here, even the house one, is far superior to others found in ethnic restaurants. Albert demonstrates again his rounded mastery of a trade he’s been in for more than 30 years. Would I return? You bet. Can’t wait. My bill came to £20.85 for the food and £4 for wine, but not a well-deserved tip.
Chez Choi, 46 Osborne Road, Southsea PO5 3LT
(023) 9282 6900
Open: Mon-Sat Noon–2.30pm and 6.30pm–11.30 pm. Closed Suns.
Food: Four (out of Five)
Disabled access: Fine, one step up to more formal dining area.
How to get there: Osborne Road is off Clarence Parade, the restaurant halfway down. On-street parking or in Ashby Place car park.