It takes just the mere whiff of a chill to have me craving the cathartic comfort of Chinese cooking; so the recent cold snap in London presented just the occasion to return to an old-favourite – China Tang.
Channelling an Art Deco feel of 1930’s Shanghai, the restaurant is a seductively-inviting lair hidden away within the depths of The Dorchester hotel.
The stylised bar here is a destination in itself. The sort you’ll pop into for a cocktail and chinwag with a chum, only to stay on for a few more rounds of the same – with a side of spring rolls and dim sum.
On this evening, I have a reservation in the main dining room – a sumptuous space packed to its seams. There are couples and couples with children, guests from the hotel, interspersed with regulars and larger gatherings celebrating the New Year. While the first week of January might be a quiet time for most restaurants, it’s the very opposite here at China Tang where the Cantonese style of cuisine can always be relied upon to feed our seasonal proclivity for comfort food.
This being the first week of January in 2018, there’s also a widespread inclination towards going meat-free for the month with all-vegan / all-vegetarian menus popping up across the city. There’s no need for any such re-haul here, with China Tang having harmoniously always catered well for my veggie lot.
We start with the classics – sweetcorn soup and salt & pepper tofu. Speckled with red chillies, the crispy little bites of tofu are surprisingly soft – and almost gooey – on the inside, despite having been fried to a golden-crisp on the outside (a subtle but sure sign of the good quality tofu used).
The seasoned kitchen is also adept at delivering off-menu classics, sending out lettuce wraps on request. We bundle finely-diced, minced and steamed veggies within the crunchy lettuce leaves and generously dollop on hoisin sauce, tempering the salt and spice with a touch of sweetness. It gets a bit messy yes, but then the most pleasurable dishes always are!
The main event centres on a sizzling ‘Yu Xiang Aubergine Hotpot’ laced with beancurd (an addition the kitchen happily acquiesces to). The slivers of aubergine are achingly-tender, yet gloriously juicy – bathed in a gravy that is searingly-restorative on this blustery evening. Crispy fried noodles are a devilishly-good accompaniment, sheathed by an assortment of fungus and mushrooms that are a joy to work our way through.
Seeing as we can’t decide on which greens to go with – Pak Choi or Gai Lan – Paul, the affable manager has the kitchen throw together a mix of both. Dressed with just a subtle hint of soy and vinegar, the freshness of the Chinese leaf vegetables really shines through!
Of course the cocktails at China Tang are always a glorious proposition too, particularly when choosing from their tea-pot based “scroll menu.”
But on this evening, my father and I are clearly determined not to do anything by the book; and so we find ourselves sipping off-menu creations crafted to fit our mood in-the-moment. In his case – Beluga vodka and Campari are combined with a hint of orange, bitters and mint to evoke a summery sensation; whilst I relish the pronounced fruitiness of my bone-dry Bellini.
As for our afters, well the desserts provide reason alone for our nth revisit in the future.
The Traditional Toffee Temptation is a real triumph, with the warm toffee sauce soaking all the way through the steamed date sponge – it’s moist richness offset by a high-grade Madagascar vanilla ice cream.
The peanut butter shortbread comes highly recommended by the affable manager, Paul. Although it’s another unlikely option at a Chinese restaurant – it’s a richly-rewarding one, revealing a fondant-like gush of warm chocolate at its centre. And there’s no resisting the fabulously lush sorbets (coconut and guava), nor a creamily-bittersweet scoop of green tea ice cream!
We leave on a gloriously-satiated note – the stellar service having gone that few steps further to ensure that our evening delivered everything we would have expected at China Tang… and more. Needless to say, we’re already looking forward to pencilling in our next evening here.
China Tang at The Dorchester, 53 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA
For more on the dim sum & cocktails at The China Tang Bar, do have a read here.