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Restaurant review: Baptism and fire

Lew Baxter and christening party adjourn to the Tai Pan for dim sum and other afternoon delights

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Baptism and fire

In an endearing kind of way, the day was already unravelling as we gathered around the font for the baptism of wee Hamish.

Deacon Peter Deary managed a world-weary smile as he pondered aloud where the energetic subject of the christening might be. Actually, he had done a runner. I was despatched to search the pews, conscious that such ceremonies hold neither fear nor favour for folk at four years of age; they are merely an adjunct to hurtling around waving one’s beloved sonic screwdriver. Carefully corralled, Hamish was bound over to keep the peace, so to speak. The deed was eventually done - Deacon Peter and God appeased, and we sallied forth to do the same to our hunger.

Squads of young waiters were trawling dim sum around the room, as wafts of steam, like the snorts of baby dragons, trailed in their wake

Our motley bunch comprised Hamish and his brother, Conaill, his shattered parents, a couple of their friends and myself.

I had almost forgotten how children instantly conjure up delight but more usually drama and incident as we clattered up the marble stairs of the Tai Pan restaurant over the WH Lung Supermarket, one of the most family friendly joints outside of a creche. Our eyes scanned the bustling room where, as usual on a Sunday afternoon, almost every table was full, and where the hundreds - it can seat 400 comfortably - of furiously chomping clientele ranged from toddlers to grannies.

Even as we uncloaked, plates and containers of delicious dim sum grub were laid on the accessible round table: giant prawns in a light tempura batter, curried squid, those delectable dumplings of cabbage, pork and prawn (siu mai) and lip-smacking chop suey rolls, amongst numerous others.

These titbits were precursors to the main courses. Squads of young waiters were trawling them around the room, as wafts of steam like the snorts of baby dragons trailed in their wake. One proffered a plate of custard tarts and I felt a lurch of desire as I glanced their way. Sadly they were declined by another of our number. It isn’t a British custom to combine such sweet pastry delights with savouries but I spent a number of years in China where this is the norm. As I mournfully held my counsel in the Tai Pan, I slipped into a reverie where I recalled a most splendid shop just off Beijing’s thrilling Wanfujing thoroughfare, close to the night market, where one had to queue to purchase a box of the most delicate freshly baked tarts imaginable. The pastry would melt on the tongue and the custard filling caressed the palate like velvet.

I shook myself out of this daydream to soak up the atmosphere and the cacophony in the Tai Pan as folk fell upon the myriad - often mysterious but always delicious - Oriental offerings that crowded their tables. We shared several dishes - bearing in mind that Jeanette doesn’t hanker after fish; ones that the two young chaps wouldn’t gag over, although neither is finicky and Conaill was soon happily engaged with the chicken. Meanwhile, Hamish was gleefully flicking twirls of soft noodles around his head with chopsticks.

What larks, I mused as he suddenly spurted off through the tables to chum up with a couple of Chinese kids way across the vast dining hall. As we chattered and bantered we adults laid waste to the dishes that were being stacked up before us: broccoli with garlic, sweet and sour pork, chilli prawns with crisp vegetables, sliced beef doused in black bean sauce and a delectable diced chicken in oyster sauce; and two big lashings of boiled rice and of course noodles – a feast for the belly and the eyes.

There is a requirement in the Tai Pan to let rip vocally to communicate over the general hubbub and zest for life that permeates the place.

Across the room several birthday parties were being serenaded by loudspeakered singing, meanwhile hysterics erupted as a Chinese lad tried vainly to wrench Hamish’s sonic screwdriver out of his grasp. Now and then the brothers shuffled back to the table for a morsel and later gorged on cake and ice cream while gaggles of other kiddies scuttled around yelling and screeching. It was memorable and joyous bedlam.

Forget Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach - the Tai Pan is without doubt the only place to scoff, squabble and play.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: The Tai Pan Restaurant,
W H Lung Building,
Great Howard Street,
L5 9TZ.
Bill for seven: £95

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Tricky wooFebruary 1st 2008.

They don't let the so-called gwailo have the Chinese menu in there. I've asked.

Rusty SpikeFebruary 1st 2008.

Good to see that the Times On LIne has just listed the Tai Pan amongst its top twenty best Chinese eating gaffs in the UK, which must have the dim sum platter spinning in Liverpool's China Town, especially in joints like The Far East in Berry Street which used to be a big draw and can still turn up a grand duck noodle soup etc., whilst its sibling down the road, the newcomer Mei Mei can easily hold its head up high. But three cheers for the Tai Pan, even if the name is a throwback to the bad old days of colonial imperialism....

Andy MeliaFebruary 1st 2008.

Next time go 'off piste' and ask for something off the Chinese menu that the Chinese themselves choose from. Interesting, to say the least.

Lin ChungFebruary 1st 2008.

"Forget Chinatown"! - Recant or you will bring down upon yourself the wrath of the Outlaws from the water margin of Lian Shan Po!

Andy MeliaFebruary 1st 2008.

Next time go 'off piste' and ask for something off the Chinese menu that the Chinese themselves choose from. Interesting, to say the least.

JaneFebruary 1st 2008.

I have never failed to be impressed by the sheer number of people who eat at the Tai Pan. Forget Chinatown. This place is an absolute gem, it's amazingly cheap and you can park there too. Love it!

A. E. ScousemanFebruary 1st 2008.

(Collapse of stout party)

Ronnie BarkerFebruary 1st 2008.

Was it a dachshund?

Charles HawtreyFebruary 1st 2008.

I had something long and sausage like in a Chinese restaurant once.

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