China Tang gets busier and busier. The basement room seats 200 at any one time and was completely packed tonight, with tables being turned. The tables are so tightly spaced now that it is difficult to get in and out, and there is barely room for waiters to get past between tables. The noise levels were high tonight despite the thick carpeting. There is a new chef from Hong Kong who cooked at the China Club there (run by David Tang, who has made his fortune with the Shanghai Tang fashion chain).
Scallop (£16) served in a scallop shell with black bean sauce was of decent quality, and cooked well enough, but was not prepared properly so that as I bit into tender sweet scallop I got a mouthful of the hard muscle that should have been removed prior to cooking; other than this pretty basic issue the scallop was fine (2/10). Crabmeat and sweetcorn soup (£10) was pleasant enough and did at least have some crab, while seasoning was OK (2/10).
The main courses were better. Steamed sea bass (£40) arrived as a whole fish but carefully filleted, and was nicely timed, served with a light stock flavoured with ginger (4/10). Szechuan prawns (£20) were tender, though I found the tomato-based sauce with them rather one-dimensional, and for me this needed more chilli bite (3/10). Singapore noodles had pleasant texture (3/10).
Gai lan (£12) was presented well and carefully steamed with garlic, the shoots young and tender, the texture excellent (4/10). Egg fried rice (£5) was above average, with carefully defined and well cooked rice grains (3/10).
The service was a shambles. Our sea bass arrived in glorious isolation from the rest of the main course dishes. We waited, waited some more, couldn’t see a waiter in sight so started eating rather than let the fish get cold. We were halfway through the fish before a waiter finally responded and promised to chase up the rest of the dishes, which duly appeared in short order. Although we were in a corner near a waiter station I found getting attention, such as for more beer (an important thing for me) very difficult: the waiting staff seemed rushed off their feet, and communication with some was difficult: “what is the fish of the day?” was met with the puzzling response: “well, we have gai lan, morning glory….”. The bill for two, with just four beers and tea, no dessert or other drinks of any kind, was £158.63, and in my book £79 a head is an awful lot of money for this level of cooking, and for service that would have not been out of place in Chinatown. The cooking was objectively fine, but the value for money factor was poor.
Below are notes from June 2010.
China Tang is in the basement of the Dorchester hotel, next to a very smart bar. The décor is suitable luxurious, with art deco style pillars, blue patterned carpet and glass panels with assorted pictures adorning the walls. The banquette seating is set unusually deep, so unless you have the physique of a basketball player it is difficult to sit comfortably (restaurant designers should always be forced to sit in their own chairs).
There is a lengthy wine list, with steep mark-ups. There are selections such as Rolly Gassmann Gewürztraminer 2007 at £58 compared to a retail price of around £14, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2008 at £100 for a wine that costs around £29, Didier Dagenau Silex 2007 at an absurd £280 (+ service of course) for a wine that you can buy for under £70, though Vega Sicilia Unico 1995 at £465 for a wine that costs £225 could be regarded as a relative bargain on this list given the other mark-ups.
The menu is a fairly standard set of Cantonese dishes, with a dim sum menu also available in the evening. Char sui buns were enjoyable, but lacked the ethereal lightness of the version at Yauatcha (3/10). Har gau (here called “har kau”) had tender prawns but a dumpling that was a little heavier in texture than ideal (3/10). A crab meat and sweet corn soup had pleasant taste but was almost devoid of seasoning (2/10).
Honey cha sui pork had taken on the honey glaze well, but the pork itself was a little chewy in places (2/10). Gai lan was very good, the vegetables steamed lightly with garlic, the individual shoots carefully chosen (5/10). Szechuan prawns were properly timed, cooked with a slightly sweet chilli sauce (3/10). Singapore noodles were lighter in texture than some, though also could have done with a bit more seasoning (3/10).
Service was attentive, with jasmine tea carefully topped up, though the tendency to try and up-sell dishes was a little grating (when I chose a relatively cheap main course, it was suggested that I might prefer a dish three times the price).
The bill, at £50 a head, was not vast, but this included just a beer apiece and some tea, and we chose quite inexpensive dishes; the bill could swiftly mount up here. Overall the experience was pleasant, but for me the cooking was not quite at the level of Royal China.