Surreptitiously tucked away within the depths of the Dorchester, the China Tang Bar has long since been one of my favourite spots to spend a long and languid evening – the sort I might pop into for a quick cocktail, only to be all-too-easily compelled into staying on for another round, with a side of dim-sum and hot-pots too.
It’s a behavioural pattern which recently repeated itself, with the cryptic promise of a new scroll-based cocktail menu (inspired by Chinese Mythology, no less) luring me back to this clandestine drinking den…
Although China Tang possesses its own entrance on Park Lane, I usually prefer the slightly longer route – striding past the ornate hotel lobby and gilded promenade, pausing momentarily to appreciate the lilting notes softly played by the pianist, before pushing my way through an imposing set of doors and descending a short flight of stairs, to finally arrive at this art deco gem!
Partitioned off from the main dining room, there’s an almost cinematic quality to the lacquered bar, which exudes the stylised spirit of 1930’s Shanghai. Under the direction of the dapper bar manager Giulio, the same attention to detail – so evidently discernible in the interiors – manifest in the cocktails too.
Inscribed within a scroll, his new cocktail menu unravels to mysteriously reveal an ethereal twist on iconic cocktails inspired by the Eight Immortals.
For the un-initiated, the legendary group of Xian “immortals” in Chinese mythology – are believed to have been born into the Tang or Song dynasties, with each Immortal possessing a supernatural power or skill. Now symbolic of prosperity and longevity, they have been immortalised in ancient and medieval art and are associated with the timeless concept of Yin and Yang, which is a key inspiration behind the new menu.
Each of the eight cocktails features a fragrant twist on a classic, delicately infused with tea and fittingly poured out from bespoke handmade glass teapots.
My summer tipple of choice for instance – a French 75 – is mellowed by soft lavender tones, while the vivid intensity of hibiscus and red berries tea is a fruity foil to the lingering hints of oak and spice in a Sharon Manhattan…
Steamed dim sum, and tender chicken satay are a perfect pairing with our drinks, invariably raising the bar for bar-food. Unsurprisingly we give into another round and stay on for a proper supper, happily settled within our cosy corner as we take our pick from the full-fledged restaurant menu.
Rooted in Cantonese cuisine, the natural flavours of our veggie dishes are showcased through a light cooking style. Chewy mouthfuls of pak choi have a subtle yet sprightly flavour, while plump stems of asparagus have been fried just long enough to be sheathed by a thin coating of batter imparting a crisp crunch without overpowering the soft, almost juicy texture within.
An aubergine hot pot is the main event. It’s bold and meaty, with soft strips of beancurd deftly added to offset the slick oiliness of the gravy. Combined with a simple side of steamed rice, this is as comforting as it gets on a rainy night in London!
The Hazelnut and Chocolate Delight is a delectable way to finish – a crunchy hazelnut-praline base topped off with an irresistibly smooth milk-chocolate mousse and a scattering of homemade toffee popcorn. But it’s the nostalgia-inducing malted milk ice cream on the side, which is my favourite bit! There’s no passing up on a selection of other ice cream and sorbets either…
As a food writer, I don’t always have the luxury of often revisiting my favourite bars and restaurants – so when I do, it’s all the more gratifying to be reassured of all the reasons why I termed it a favourite to begin with, from the ambience (well-catered to a mix of groups – both intimately small or boisterously large) and stellar service, to the comfort-laden cooking.
Of course, it’s also lovely to find new reasons to revisit, the enchanting cocktails in this case presenting a particularly compelling case!
China Tang, 53 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA
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