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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 25th November 2005

China Tang


As I approached the maitre 'd at China Tang my heart soared. No, it wasn't on account of the fact that she was drop dead gorgeous, but because she was engaged in a stand-up row with two disgruntled customers. They'd booked a table for six at 9pm and were understandably upset that their party still hadn't been seated at 9.35pm. Further investigation confirmed that the bar was full of angry punters nursing similar grievances. From a restaurant critic's point of view, such chaotic scenes are a godsend. What could provide better copy than a highly fashionable restaurant in a state of total meltdown?

Alas, I was destined to be disappointed since, in most other respects, this new restaurant in the basement of the Dorchester is pretty impressive. As the name implies, China Tang is the latest venture from David Tang, the entrepreneur and socialite behind the Shanghai Tang clothing empire and one of the backers of Cipriani, currently the hottest restaurant in Mayfair. I'd actually been to China Tang once before, but that was on a Tuesday lunchtime and it was almost completely deserted. This time round it was heaving, giving the impression that David Tang has a bona fide hit on his hands.

I ended up waiting 20 minutes, which is fairly normal for a hot restaurant, and the bar area is quite a pleasant place to hang out. With its sumptuous leather seats and teak wood panelling, it's almost like being ensconced in a Roll's Royce. There are plenty of people-watching opportunities, too, the typical customer being a louche, fortysomething playboy with a pretty young girl on his arm. If Prince Andrew ever manages to persuade Keira Knightley to go out on a date, this is where he'll take her.

The dining room itself is a bit more ostentatious. As we walked in, my companion said she felt as if she was entering one of Saddam Hussein's palaces and, even if that was a little harsh, the interior certainly wouldn't have looked out of place in Dictators' Homes, Peter York's new coffee table book. The main dining area is dominated by four mirrored pillars and the walls are decorated with large, garish paintings. If I had to sum it up, I'd say it looked like the grandest Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, rather than an authentic slice of Cantonese culture.

On my first visit, I had a two-course meal that consisted entirely of Peking duck, but this time round I was more adventurous, starting with an assortment of dim sum and following up with fried chicken, minced pigeon and wok fried prawns. It was all above average, if not quite up to the standards of Hakkasan and Yauatcha, currently the two best Chinese restaurants in London. My only real complaint concerns the price, which was extortionately high. For instance, my dish of wok fried prawns was £22, which, given that it only included five prawns, works out at £4.40 per mouthful. They were good, but not that good.

My favourite member of staff was the sommelier. I'm a connoisseur of snotty French waiters, but this man deserves a Chevalier Medal. He first corrected by pronunciation of "Pinot Blanc", then my pronunciation of "Hugel"--not bad for a conversation that lasted only 10 seconds. He didn't merely correct it, either, but feigned not to understand what I was saying, as if sounding the "c" in "Blanc" made the word utterly incomprehensible. I take my hat off to David Tang, who must have had to trawl the grandest restaurants in Paris to find such a prize specimen of the breed.

All in all, then, not a bad new addition to the ranks of London's plutocratic eating houses, though anyone interested in checking it out should avoid the second sitting in the evening if they don't want to be kept waiting for 45 minutes.

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