The southernmost reaches of Kentish Town Road are seemingly never more than a week away from a new takeaway business opening up, or another closing down. For years, short-lived kebab emporia, dubious khat cafes or indenti-fried chicken joints have bloomed, then faded through an all too predictable lifecycle.
But with Arancini Brothers café plus a rejuvenated Bintang and Guanabana Cafe all brightening up the strip, the time is certainly right for something a little more interesting and permanent. And seizing this opportunity come a bunch of guys hell bent on a foodie mission: to be the best Chinese takeaway experience in the UK.
Zing Zing have been serving Highbury, Holloway, Stoke Newington and Finsbury Park from their Blackstock Rd base for a while now, and this expansion to a site in Kentish Town sees them able to whisk food from wok to doorstep in a whole new swathe of north London.
The branch is tiny, with not so much as a single table to perch at for eat-in option. It has nevertheless been fitted out in fetching minimal/industrial style for those that prefer to swing by to collect their meal. Steel-meets-stripped pine, wall-length menus, a busy kitchen tucked behind.
Zing Zing sent us a home delivery last Tuesday lunchtime, and we gingerly plucked the trays from stylish branded bags, the attention to detail across all the packaging a good first sign. No soggy clingfilm horrors here, instead neat heat-sealed thermo-trays, all gift-wrapped in tidy greaseproof paper. Anything crispy came without a lid too, preserving its crunch. And rice was in those New York-style tall card boxes too. A touch theatrical, and rather exciting.
As soon as the covers were off, we plunged chopsticks into a selection of starters. Salt and pepper squid (£5) highlighted the good sense of that paper wrapping: crisp, light and tender, as if just served, with a sweet chilli and lime dip. Sticky ribs (£5) proved very tender, if too sweet.
Delving into the mains, skinny ginger chicken (£6) was does-what-it-says heavy on the root, the thigh meat succulent. This is the type of Chinese takeaway dish that can often arrive featuring indeterminate poultry lumps in a gloopy orange sauce, so it was a welcome, altogether more grown-up version.
Drunken Prawns (£7.50) had a nicely smokey tang and we loved the vegetarian chilli green beans (£5.50), with bountiful garlic and a restrained black bean sauce.
Despite being Chinese in concept, the menu’s peppered with Pan-Asian and fusion dishes. A Japanese-inspired breadcrumbed duck katsu (£7.50) served in a floral curry sauce was intriguing, rather than more-ish, but less successful was the beef rendang (£6.50), whose chunks of somewhat fatty meat took the place of the sublime slow-cooked pulp when this Indonesian classic is at its best. Having said that, after a night in the fridge and with a bit of chopping up, it made for basis of a very decent leftovers meal the following day, the spicy, lemongrass-heavy sauce seemingly improving the meat with a bit more age.Best of all? Prawn toast (£4.50), a true showstopper. A dish that can so often involve a sad triangle of oil-saturated Mother’s Pride was instead a hunk of deeply filled baguette bursting with freshly minced prawn and herbs. Inventive and gorgeous.
The strength of pretty much all these dishes is that they have been specifically designed for the takeaway experience. They are not local restaurant food shoved limply into containers, or ladlefuls straight from boiling pans of ready-for-delivery cornstarch and sugar sauce.
Witty touches, such as the successful Nutella and banana spring rolls (£4) dessert, served with dipping custard, all convinced us that the Zing Zing mission is on course for bling bling success.
Despite such ridiculous consumption for a weekday lunch in January, we still had the capacity to remain genuinely excited at the prospect of placing a follow-up order. As takeaway spreads go, this is up there with the Holy Cows and other premium lazy home dinner options.
In short? A giant leap from out-the-bottle flavours, MSG and questionable animal-based cubes that blight a fair few Chinese deliveries. On our next Big Night In, the only junk will be served up by Netflix.