By Howaida Sorour-Roberts
It always amazes me that some of the best restaurants I find are hole-in-the-wall establishments that you either couldn’t find on your own or would just walk by without noticing. One such is Cha Tea House on St. Lawrence Street in Merrickville. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. Without the two red patio tables with chairs set on the sidewalk in the summer, you probably wouldn’t notice it at all.
Until you eat there.
What do they serve? Well it’s Chinese food, but this place is D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T. Seriously, this is Chinese food as I’ve never experienced before and believe me, I’ve consumed a LOT of Chinese food. Cha is in a class by itself.
The décor is simple west-meets-east in a tasteful and pleasant blend of dark wood tones, and lots of light. It’s a small cozy space that is kept spotless by hostess Sisi Tang, the daughter of the two chefs. Tang is a Carleton University graduate, a petite woman who looks no older than 17 but is married with two children of her own. She’s friendly, warm and infinitely polite.
The whole family is involved in the restaurant. Mom and Dad do the cooking and Sisi manages the place, serves and charms customers. The food is fresh, and utterly unlike traditional menus of limp stir fries and too hot and sour fair. Best of all, Cha has two different menus offered on different days depending on who is doing the cooking.
“My Mom is from Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, western China,” explains Tang.
Sichuan is known for its cuisine and Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and for good reason. The menu at Cha is small but every dish is so packed with flavour, it’s a gastronomic delight every time you visit.
There are some spicy hot dishes but on the whole it’s all manageable, whether it’s the chicken or beef rice noodle dish, or the steamed or grilled dumplings, or cold noodles (yes cold and YUM), every dish is so beautifully crafted my mouth is watering just writing about it.
Each ingredient in every dish stands out, retains its unique texture and flavour and is masterfully blended with selected spices. Best of all, Cha is affordable. Three full meals and two soft drinks: total $47.
Remember I said the menu changes, well on Fridays and Saturdays Mom takes a break and Dad takes over, but Dad has his own menu, he’s from Guangzhou (Canton) is southeastern China. While his menu is what we, in the west, associate with Chinese food – steamed and stir fried – his dishes are crisper, fresher with a more precise blending of spices and flavours.
Bear in mind, this little gem of a restaurant has a very small kitchen, and every dish is prepared to order. Sometime it takes a little longer for a meal to arrive, and large groups are not a great idea, but for one, two, three or four, it’s a treat you really don’t want to pass-up.
They do take-out and they even provide a comfortable, relaxing waiting area for customers to unwind as they wait for their meal to be prepared from scratch on the spot.
Don’t forget to try one of their selection of teas – loose leaf, steeped tea or ice cold Bubble teas. Hard to explain, but delicious to drink!
If really good food, in a friendly and relaxed setting is your thing check out Cha Tea House and enjoy! They’re open from Wednesday to Monday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Tuesday.
Photo by Howaida Sorour-Roberts: Family owned and run Cha Tea House in Merrickville is a delightful restaurant is a hidden gem that is well worth a visit.
Photo Credit: Howaida Sorour-Roberts