Tao Tao Ju, Chinatown, London
A newish place on Lisle street, with a Chinese-Malaysian chef.
Excellent eel with XO sauce -- the texture of the eel is very well controlled, tender but with a pleasant shading of medium dense gelatinous chewiness (I've had a superior example year ago, but that was a chef who had helmed the Beijing Grand Hotel, so perhaps not a fair comparison). The eel pieces are lightly covered in crumbly batter, deep fried, but without a greasy sensation. Then a gloss of spiciness, along with the smoky savoury flavour of XO sauce, perhaps even bits of the the dried scallop flavour among bites; this is refreshingly contrasted with chopped green onions, the richness and the spice cut by the mild sharpness of the green onion. Deft work in the wok.
Also good were stir-fried jie4 lan2/gailan/Chinese broccoli.
Banana deep fried in kataifi shells were pleasant and the textural snaps from the ultracrispy shredded filo shell somewhat novel, compared to more generic batters. Somewhat undersweetened in parts where the powdered sugar did not reach.
Well made competent wan tan ho, but not as hearty as the version at C&R, where the egg is just barely and perfectly cooked by the hot gravy.
The assam stingray looked intriguing, would probably be back to try that.
The bunch of Cantonese dishes we tried were excellent - most from the Chinese menu, but they overlap with the regular bilingual menu:
Cubes of tender beef deftly stir fried with some pine mushrooms (if only they were matsutake, but that's a fantasy), onion, whole cloves of garlic browned on the wok, the sauce an uncommonly good balance of worchestershire sauce-like tanginess, and nuanced black pepper, along with julienned green onion and "micro" cress for contrast.
A basic but solid bai1 cai4 miao2/baby bak choy stir fried with garlic.
Egg whites with tofu and seafood -- snappy bites of sweet prawns and soft scallop -- was a beautiful dish, with the soft silky textures elegantly layered and lightly cloaked in a lightly savoury and starchy sauce.
A gentle but flavoursome black bean sauce perfectly coats bitter and chicken (made with the more flavourful thigh meat), combining mild sweetness, umami, salt and bitterness.
I think this is shaping up to be a good Cantonese place with hints of modern flair in the cooking that is backed by excellent technique.
A huge stingray wing - silky, moist but also fried to give the edges a very crispy finish, down to the crunchy bones, again excellent texture control. But the so called assam sauce on it was one-dimensional, seemed more of a generic Malay curry sauce, without the sourness from tamarind.
Sounded like they omitted the tamarind, limster. You should have brought that up to them. Anyway, what an interesting world we live in these days - a Chinese restaurant in London, staffed by at least a Thai (based upon my encounter with one of their waiters), serving Malay stingray curry!
I'm currently in India, had Thai "pad kaprow goong" (stir-fried prawns with chillies and basil) yesterday evening which turned out tasting like what Mumbai-based HindustanTimes editor and India's most prolific foodwriter, Vir Sanghvi, would call Sino-Ludhianvi-style "Manchurian prawns". I spoke to the restaurant chef and told him that his dish was not authentically Thai and he should re-visit his recipe. The chef's Nepali.
According to a waitress the chef is Malaysian, but many Chinese places have more than one chef. I suppose having only one Malay dish on the menu is probably a sign that there aren't economies of scale with respect to prep work and sauces. Will see what the other stuff is like. If the XO eel is any indication, might have better luck with the modern Cantonese items.
P.S. that reminds me that I should be trying the desi Chinese place that Howler had raved about. I think it's been over a year and I still haven't been to Dalchini Hakka.
Oh my, so they have Sino-Ludhianvi cuisine in London now as well? Don't miss the "Manchurian Chicken" then. It's so synonymous with Sino-Ludhianvi or Indian-style Chinese cuisine these days that even McDonalds India offered Manchurian Chicken:
Sob! Tao Tao Ju is standing on the very same spot where Fung Shing used to be. That venerable old restaurant was my family's go-to spot in Chinatown for more than 3 decades until it closed down a year ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/772002
Felt like a little part of me died with Fung Shing's passing.
Anyway, mini-mourning over - glad to hear that the new owners are at least competent. I passed it a few days ago, and was amazed by how bright & fresh the place looked (Fung Shing was so staid and, well, so retro 70s). The waiter who came to talk to me had a Thai accent!
Tao Tao Ju
15 Lisle St, London WC2H, GB