China Tang at The Dorchester – restaurant review

China Tang I am indeed an unashamed supporter of The Dorchester. Not that they exactly need my patronage but I want to nail my colours to their mast. It’s quality writ large and it never disappoints. If you are looking for classic service and charm then you will appreciate its every plush cushion and impressive vase. There is also the celebrated China Tang with its own striking charcter.

The Dorchester dates back to 1931 and is a vision of polished good Deco taste with a hint of Victoriana. There is more evocative décor in the basement. No, it’s not a storage room for discarded furniture – it’s the very classy China Tang, The Dorchester’s iconic Chinese restaurant (yes, the name does give a clue to its ethnicity).

Sir David Tang, KBE, is a successful Hong Kong businessman and socialite best known as the founder of the Shanghai Tang fashion chain, which he sold in 2006, as well as China Clubs in Hong Kong, Peking and Singapore.

China Tang restaurant Sir David is obviously a “hands-on” owner. He has been at the forefront of the restaurant design as well as taking a passionate interest in the most important area – the kitchen. He has not only selected the best chefs from Hong Kong for his eponymous restaurant, he has also composed a menu to reflect the finest of Cantonese cooking.

I know it’s just a matter of taste, visual and culinary, but I consider China Tang to be one of the most remarkable restaurants in London. One is wafted back to the China of the 20s and 30s, when armies of modern “bright young things” sipped cocktails and listened to daring jazz. Shanghai and other Chinese cities were magnets for the jet set, well, OK, in the days before jets.

Sir David has ensured that every guest has a multi-sensory experience. China Tang is striking and eclectic and gives the air of one of those refined restaurants of a bygone age. One can feast one’s eyes on objets d’art and admire the gold-embroidered table linen and metal chopsticks; everything carefully chosen for impact but also practicality. The low ceilings create a cosy ambiance and the buzz of animated conversation adds to the general excitement.

Every Tuesday, China Tang offers an evening of very live jazz in the main dining room, featuring the celebrated duo Kitty La Roar and Nick of Time performing music that will add still more to the sensation of being transported back in time. “Slow Boat to China” and “A Little Street in Singapore” are just so right for China Tang, and Kitty is stunning in a tight black Chinese Cheongsam which has the male diners riveted before she even warbles a word …and what a voice!

lChina Tang duck China Tang is said to offer some of the most authentic Cantonese food outside China. I was expecting something special: The Dorchester would not tolerate a naff version of your local high-street “Happy San-Pan”. China Tang doesn’t fiddle with food. No mounds of rice moulded into the two doves of Willow Pattern fame here. No miniature junks ploughing the waves of one’s Hot and Sour soup. Each dish is simply presented and served sans elaborate garnish. The chef doesn’t need to distract you. Fresh ingredients are cooked to perfection.

The menu offers Cantonese classics so you will find many dishes that sound familiar but I can guarantee that they will be the best examples of those dishes you will ever taste. Try some steamers of dim sum. The dough will be thin and delicate and the fillings aromatic and refined. I particularly enjoyed the pork dumplings, the meat bathed in flavourful broth. A must-try starter is Taro Cakes. These are light and crunchy and thoroughly moreish. I have had them before but these at China Tang are addictive. They look like they are made of that finely-shredded pastry often found topping Middle-Eastern patisserie.

Peking Duck is a signature dish. It’s a delicious extravaganza of glossy mahogany skin (the exact hue of the wooden chairs: how did Sir David manage that?) and moist meat. Then there is the theatre of watching your deft waitress carve the bird: slivers of lacquered skin and then slices of succulent meat. The remainder of the duck will be minced with seasonings and a few other ingredients and served with lettuce for wraps. This is just as much an event as a dish.

China Tang dessert China Tang is famous, and rightly so, for its Stir-fried Beef in Black Pepper. This dish was a rich triumph of glazed cubes of meat flecked with black. The flavour was agreeably pungent from the pepper and the texture was melting. This needed no garnish other than some rice, and they have bamboo pots of that, of various sorts.

Fukien Rice is a traditional dish but seldom seen on menus of lesser restaurants. It’s a rich seafood stew atop rice, a meal in itself and well worth saving some space for. I would suggest trying dishes that you might not find elsewhere. They will be faithful and authentic examples.

Desserts are usually a bit thin on the ground in Chinese restaurants but China Tang has some delightful, Asian inspired sweets. Their Chocolate Steamed Dumplings are legendary, they shine and tempt; while the Green Tea Mousse was light and perfumed. The Black Tea Ice Cream was refreshing with still a pleasant touch of tannin. Balls of fresh papaya completed this quartet of miniature desserts.

I’ll grant you, China Tang isn’t the cheapest restaurant around but it’s still good value for money. One is paying not only for delectable food but also for an exceptional experience. We will return to have a meal in the bar – it offers the same menu as the main restaurant – and try some signature cocktails. This is on my list of favourite restaurants visited in 2011.
China Tang logo
China Tang opening hours
Monday to Friday: 11:00 am to 3:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 am to 4:00 pm

Monday to Sunday: 5:30 pm to 12:00 midnight

Bookings for Lunch and Dinner are strongly recommended; to reserve a table call:
+44 (0) 20 7629 9988

China Tang at The Dorchester,
Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA
Phone: 0871 971 3579
Visit China Tang here


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018