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Just Oriental, St James's, London SW1

Louise Elgin liked the seductive atmosphere - and the menu!

The place where I dined last night, just off St. James, transported me straight into a fantasy Daliesque setting, complete with comfy velvet booths, oversized surreal sculptures, low lighting, lounge music and fab, funky cutlery. However, Just Oriental's huge bar cum-restaurant is so dimly lit, that it crossed my mind a torch might have come in handy! Yet this all added to the atmosphere that we found so seductive, making it a great place to unwind over drinks after the working day. The cocktail list spanned the globe, listing several exotic and powerful concoctions from both Westerly and Easterly influences, with wonderful names such as 'Pretty brown eyes' and 'X Man'. Whilst the menu is a culmination of dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China and Japan with the idea that if you fancy a feast, or just a quick snack, there is something for every appetite.

We began with a selection of Dim Sum, choosing three from a selection of ten. Steamed cod and coriander wontons were, disappointingly, a little on the bland side, whilst the accompanying pineapple dipping sauce was rather heavy on the salt. We then tried the honey chilli chicken morsels served with a very hot chilli sauce whose powerful kick nearly blew my mouth off! My guest, however, loved it. Our final selection, king prawns served in a crispy wrap with a sweet and sour sauce, had good flavours, if a little on the insipid side.

To drink, we tried a glass of 2003 Babich Sauvignon Blanc from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. It had a light bouquet and a honied, vanilla nose - the sort of stuff that is easy to drink…and just keep on drinking! We also tried a glass of white Spanish Rioja, which had a strong flavour and was almost syrupy like a dessert wine. Although its potent taste was a good match for the food, I did not find I could finish it, and moved on, at our waiter's recommendation, to a far superior choice, an Australian Rocky Gully Riesling. This had depth and body, with honeyed; floral overtones - all round quite superb and a great partner for Oriental cuisine.

While we lapped up Just Oriental's unique atmosphere, with its attentive staff and generally relaxed ambience, we ordered some more substantial dishes. Firstly, a very rich and surprisingly sweet and coconutty Massaman lamb curry with southern Thai spices, which is apparently, their best seller. Then, some wonderful crispy fried cod served with spiced banana - the best thing we ate all evening. It was crisp and moist, with a very lightly batter, and came served with an exquisite lime tartar sauce, the spiced banana was a superb addition to all the wonderful flavours. We also tried some fabulously aromatic and tender lemon chicken, whilst our side orders of jasmine rice and stir-fried mix vegetables were well cooked.

To finish, we had some wonderful, palate cleansing, 10/10 passion fruit sorbet. This delectable concoction cut through the complexity of spices and flavours we had consumed earlier, leaving us feeling well balanced, after our substantial meal.

Although Just Oriental is reasonably priced, there is the potential to clock up an expensive evening. Equally, with a little care, it would be just as easy to have a great night whilst enjoying the unique atmosphere without blowing the budget.

Louise Elgin. January 2005

Just Oriental 19 King Street London SW1 020 7930 9292

Dim Sum Dishes all priced around £5.50 - Larger dishes all priced around £9.00 - 10.00 
Desserts from £6.00 
Dishes to Share (for two or more people) from £15.00

Just Oriental's' Quick Bite' - two course set menu £12.50 per person 
Set lunch menu - two courses £9.95 per person 
Cocktails from £6.50 - Wine by the glass from £4.00 - Wines by the bottle from £14.00

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