Tel: +44 (0)20 7727 9012
Address: 14-16 Queensway, W2 3RX
Cuisine Type: Chinese seafood
Queensway (CENTRAL), Bayswater (DISTRICT, CIRCLE)
In Hong Kong, many restaurants have fish tanks in the window to advertise just how fresh their fish is – what could be better than ordering fish that was still swimming around 20 minutes before you eat it? You can pick out the fish you want, though the cynic in me would argue that this is no guarantee the same fish will end up on your plate…
Mandarin Kitchen doesn’t have aquariums in the windows, but it does have the closest alternative: painted pictures of fish and other sealife on the windows themselves. You couldn’t mistake this restaurant’s speciality if you tried. And if you did, one glance at the menu would put that right. There is seafood galore, from the divine (lobster, Dover sole) to the interesting (steamed razor clams, pomfret fish) to the downright strange (braised sea cucumber with sliced abalone or jelly fish with smoked chicken and shredded duck, anyone?).
We started with the minced seafood lettuce wrap (£10.90 for 3 people), a stir fry of tiny prawns and vegetables which you roll up in lettuce leaves with a dollop of hoi sin sauce (I recommend leaving this out), a sort of aromatic duck pancakes for seafood lovers. On balance, the concept works better with duck (which, incidentally, is available here), and be warned – it can get messy if your lettuce leaf tears. Otherwise, there is plenty to tempt the tastebuds, including stuffed crab claws, king prawns with garlic and peppercorn salt and roasted baby squid.
Next, soft shell crab (£14) in a ginger and spring onion sauce (also available with black bean or dry shrimp chilli sauces), another dish that can’t be eaten elegantly, but is so finger-licking good, you won’t mind crunching your way through the shell with hands and pincers. Lobster also falls into this category and, from the number of tables ordering it, is obviously a popular choice.
For the main course, we shared pomfret fish in a mandarin sauce on a sizzling plate (£9.90), sautéed eel in a black bean and chilli sauce (£10.90) and asparagus in consommé (£6.90), with rice and bean sprout fried noodles. Despite the contrast in tastes and textures between the sweet and sour sauce of the fish, the pungent spiciness of the eel and the crisp delicacy of the asparagus, all dishes shared some common factors: freshness and quality of ingredients, perfectly timed cooking and bold, vivid flavours.
The wine is list is middling in length and encompasses reds and whites from round the world. We had a crisp, dry and cool rosé which was a perfect accompaniment for the food, but don’t rely on waiting staff for guidance – there is no sommelier, and on being asked whether a particular wine was dry or sweet, our waitress just shrugged her shoulders and said it was somewhere in between. In fact, service is not what you would call attentive or charming; the staff are far too busy.
Desserts are limited to ice cream, fritters, fruit and red bean pancakes; the latter were pleasant, but took a long time to come and weren’t quite good enough to justify the £5 price tag. That said, the meal for four with wine came to just under £90 excluding service and, judging from the queues that formed outside even on a Monday night, it’s not just me that thinks this is good value for money.