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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 3rd December 2004

Feng Shang Princess

The question that kept coming up, as my companion and I worked our way through a mountain of Chinese food at the Feng Shang Princess, was: how on earth did Paul McCartney manage to spend £400 in here on a dinner for four? The Feng Shang Princess has a certain seedy charm, being located on a barge on the Regent's Park Canal, but it's essentially a floating Chinese takeaway. Indeed, it even has a takeaway menu. Heather McCartney is said to be fond of the Crispy Aromatic Vegetarian Duck, but that's only £9.50. Indeed, if you add up the cost of every vegetarian dish on the menu it still only comes to £143. Did the ex-Beatle get the chef to prepare some special chicken concoction called 'Wings'? Just how much food did Paul and Heather eat?

The £400 bill was particularly embarrassing for the McCartneys because they ran it up on the same night that Paul announced his intention to perform on the new Band Aid record. He explained to the press that he was still deeply concerned about the plight of the starving in Africa--and then whisked his wife, bodyguard and a friend off to consume a meal that, as far as I can work out, could have fed an entire Sudanese refugee camp for a week. I had no idea the 62-year-old pop star had such a prodigious appetite. Now we know what happened to the Frog Chorus. He ate them.

The Feng Shang Princess has been a Regent's Park fixture since the Eighties, but it's hardly a destination restaurant. Not included in either Harden's or Zagat's, it's more suitable for weddings and Christmas parties than a romantic dinner for two. My companion, the documentary maker Sean Langan, recalled going to a party at the restaurant two years ago that was given by a glamorous actress. "I was sitting next to Harry Enfield, but every time I tried to talk to him this guy on my left, who looked like a geography teacher, kept leaning over and butting in," he said. "It was only afterwards I discovered it was Richard Curtis."

We decided to go for a late lunch on a Tuesday afternoon and, not surprisingly, it was half empty. On our left there was an attractive couple in their mid-thirties who looked as though they might be having an affair, a middle-aged couple on our right and a group of local office workers celebrating a birthday in front of us. No sign of the McCartneys, but then they may still be digesting the last meal they had here. The décor was a notch up from my local Chinese takeaway in Shepherds Bush, but it had a slightly damp, musty air, which is inevitable, I suppose, given its location.

We told the waiter we were happy to place ourselves in the chef's hands, leaving it entirely to his discretion as to what he put before us, and we weren't disappointed. We started with a plate of mixed hors d'oeuvres that included excellent spring rolls, followed by crispy aromatic duck--the non-vegetarian variety - and then undid our top buttons to make way for sizzling beef with black pepper sauce and a whole sea bass. It was all pretty good, though at the takeaway end of the spectrum rather than the Hakkasan end. Nothing fancy, just well-cooked, traditional Chinese food. If I lived within a three-mile radius of the Feng Shang Princess, this is what I'd order for a Sunday night in front of the telly.

When the bill came we were stunned by how little it was, given how much the McCartneys were charged. Only £85.60, excluding service. Bear in mind that we're a couple of strapping young lads, too - well, 20 years younger than Paul, anyway--and had stuffed ourselves. We simply couldn't get our heads around the notion that a party that was only twice as large as ours could have eaten over four times as much. Perhaps McCartney will re-release his big hit of the Eighties and call it 'Bull of Kintyre'. (Or should that be 'Roll of Spare Tyre'?) It surely won't be long now before the ex-Beatle is known as 'Big Macca'.

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