WLC’s resident hedonist, Lucy Shaw, heads to The Bar at China Tang at The Dorchester hotel for exotic cocktails, jaunty jazz and delectable dim sum.
The concept: Walking through the lobby of The Dorchester is an event in itself. A place to see and be seen, everything about it evokes classical glamour, from the pink marble Corinthian columns and the towering palms to the jaunty string band who were entertaining a black tie cocktail party with Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell on our visit.
The glamour continues in the hotel’s basement at China Tang, the brainchild of the late Sir David Tang, a flamboyant Hong Kong-born, London-based businessman, philanthropist and socialite with a penchant for fine art.
The décor: Tang was known to be a stickler for detail. He chose the intricate weave of the carpet, designed the panelling in the restaurant and selected every objet d’art that prettifies the bar, which aims to evoke the romance of 1930s Shanghai.
With its lack of windows, abundance of varnished wood and Art Deco flourishes, on taking our seats at the bar it felt like we were aboard an elegant ocean liner.
Vintage soda syphons and classic cocktail shakers stand to attention, adding to the bar’s timeless feel. The walls are lined with traditional and contemporary Chinese artworks personally chosen by Tang, who was a trustee of the Royal Academy of Arts for 15 years.
One of the stranger works features a cartoonish depiction of Pablo Picasso dressed in a Breton top playing poker with a table of colourful characters.
Both the bar and restaurant have long been popular with a constellation of stars. Kate Moss is a regular, and on my last visit I got chatting to a sprightly, orange juice drinking Chris Eubank.
The drinks: The bar specialises in classic cocktails with an Asian twist made with exotic ingredients like yuzu, chrysanthemum, kaffir lime and oolong tea.
Seasonal sips are artfully presented on wooden fans prettified with a blue floral pattern. My Agave Libre apéritif blew away the cobwebs with its fiery blend of ginger, ginseng, citrus, apricot liqueur and Patrón Silver Tequila.
Those who aren’t keen on cocktails can order from the restaurant’s wine list, which boasts over 1,000 labels.
Signature sips: Among the stars of the current menu is the Suan Mei Tang, which blends Woodford Reserve with orange bitters, rhubarb bitters and plum soda. Served in a silver cup with a ribbon of tangy rhubarb, it had a wonderful tangy fruitiness to it, coupled with caramel sweetness from the Bourbon.
The Sushi Shannong is also one to look out for. A blend of Banks 5 Rum, cherry, citrus, and rice and coconut foam, the ruby-hued twist on a classic sour comes topped with gold leaf and offers an enticing marriage of sweet and sour flavours.
The bar snacks: The entire China Tang menu can be ordered at the bar – a trend I’m increasingly seeing in London that I wholeheartedly applaud, making a night at the bar the happy medium between a formal meal and casual drinks.
Those keen to tuck in will have their table laid for them complete with a pristine white tablecloth and weighty silver chopsticks.
The best way to enjoy the food offering at the bar is by exploring its extensive dim sum menu. Meaning “touch the heart” in Cantonese, while dim sum is traditionally ordered at lunchtime in China, the 30 dishes at the bar can be ordered until midnight.
Among the highlights that we tried were the fluffy char siu bao buns rammed with glistening chunks of sweet, perfectly marinated, barbecued pork. Also on point were the pork, prawn and Chinese mushroom siu mai – piping hot little parcels of juicy, savoury goodness.
From the main menu we’d highly recommend the crunchy shards of salt and pepper squid served in a generous golden mound, and the classic E-fu noodles with barbecue pork and a welcome hint of aromatic spice from shavings of ginger.
Who to know: Venetian bartender Leonardo will guide you through the cocktail list with signature Italian charm. He knows every drop of what goes into them.
Don’t leave without: If you visit on a Tuesday night it’s worth sticking around until 9pm when jazz singer Kitty La Roar starts her set.
Last word: There’s a wonderful relaxed confidence about the bar, which was buzzing on our Thursday night visit with a diverse mix of quirky characters.
An ideal place for both a pre-dinner sharpener or a decadent nightcap, it’s also possible to spend an entire evening at the bar working your way through the exotic cocktails and nibbling delectable dim sum.
Tang had an eye for art but also a knack for how to create a glamourous yet relaxed atmosphere, which is no mean feat. It’s this secret ingredient that gives the bar its signature charm and enduring appeal.
The Bar at China Tang, The Dorchester, 3 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA; Tel: +44 (0)20 7629 9988