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Louise Elgin has her chopsticks poised for the attack at

Mao Tai in Fulham SW6

When I visited China quite a few years ago, I remember wandering around the food markets feeling quite staggered about what was destined for the kitchen wok. So I expected one or two surprises on the menu when I visited Mao Tai in Fulham! The very elegant and modern brassiere-styled decor created an informal and relaxed atmosphere, whilst subdued spotlights gave a feeling of intimacy to each table.

The extensive menu had us completely spoilt for choice. Should we go for the Mao Tai Feast? (£24.70 each); four mouth watering courses, including assorted house appetisers, crispy aromatic Szechwan duck, sizzling scallops & tiger prawns (to name just a few of the goodies on offer) or should we go a la carte? We could see what other people were eating and it all looked so good!

The menu was divided into several sections with twenty one different appetisers alone. All were ranging around the £5 to £7 mark, included hand torn bang bang chicken (£5.20) and crispy squid with sweet and sour sauce (£6.20). There were dumplings of all kinds, served steamed or grilled (6 for £6.40) and inventive salads with an Asian slant. (£9.60). The five soups, including my favourite hot & sour, were all priced at £5.50.

To follow there was a mouth-watering selection of fish, seafood, meat and poultry. Ranging from sirloin strips with lemon grass and cracked black pepper, (£12.00), prawns with ginger and flowering chives, (£9.60), sautéed 'sea spiced' chicken with chilli & peppers, (£8.50), and crispy lamb wrapped in lettuce, (£10.50). A refreshing array of vegetable dishes were all priced around the £6 mark and included double cooked French beans with pork & chilli (£6.20) whilst a variety of rice and noodles ranged from £3 for steamed rice, through to Mao Tai soft noodles at £6.85.

The restaurant was filling up fast and it became obvious that this was a really popular local. As we were still undecided about  what to eat, our waiter suggested we left our ordering to the kitchen, which certainly solved our culinary dilemmas! Turning my attentions to the wine list I found a large and varied choice. There were ten wines available by the glass, ranging from £3.70 for a French Merlot, through to £6.70 for a Hunters Sauvignon 2001 Marlborough, New Zealand. There was also an extensive list of white, rose and red wines by the bottle at all prices. I selected one of my favourites, a Gavi DI Gavi, 2001 La Giustiniana, Piemonte at £26.50. This was as it should be - light, crisp and so refreshing! The sort of wine one can just drink and drink!

We began our culinary adventure with something I would have never had the courage to order. Chicken and Jellyfish salad (£9.60). Hesitatingly, we took our first mouthfuls to our taste buds' surprise! It was very fresh, light in texture with a lovely peanut and coriander kick. The jellyfish and chicken was cold and crunchy, each bite was very refreshing, like a shower for the mouth. Moving on, we tried a couple of the appetisers. Salt and Pepper Squid (6.50) and Fresh Steamed Scallops with Garlic and Ginger, (2 for £7.85). The squid was very tender, with an excellent crisp and salty ultra light batter; this came served with an intense mango dipping sauce. The scallops, which were served in their shell, were perfectly tender and accompanied with a garlic and spring onion sauce.

For our main course we began with Lettuce Wrapped Rainbow Beef (£12.50) this was an Asian version of comfort food and was not unlike a cottage pie in flavour and consistency. Ideal for those of you who don't like their food too spicy. We continued our feast with Tianjin Steamed Turbot Served On The Bone (£15.50). This arrived with a ginger and onion garnish giving the delicate but meaty flavour of the fish a good spicy bite. Pork Shreds with Lemon Grass and Garlic (£8.50) completed our selection, which was tangy with clean and sharp flavours. Accompanying this we had some tasty Chinese Broccoli with a hint of ginger (£7.50) and some steamed rice (£3). This was the only thing that wasn't so good as it was bland and without flavour.

To follow, there were seven desserts ranging from chilled lychees (8 for £3.50) to poached pears with ginger (£6.50). There was also a good selection of sorbets (£3.50) and various ice creams (£3.50). We managed to find room for their mango pudding, (5.50) and a lime sorbet (3.50), both a good choice being refreshing and palate cleansing.

With a bill of about £120.00 for two, Mao Tai was a bit of a treat. That's why if you're watching the pennies at the moment or wanting to treat the kids, their new Family Dinner Menu could be just what you're after. Order the set three-course meal before 7.15pm and you can eat for an amazing £12.50 per head. Now that's what I call a bargain!

Mao Tai 58 New Kings Road London, Parson's Green, SW6 Tel: 020 7731-2520 

Louise Elgin. March 2003

See Clifford Mould's review of Mao Tai , 96 Draycott Avenue, Chelsea SW3 Tel: 020 7225 2500

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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