“ 125-127 Elm Grove, Southsea, PO5 1LJ.Tel: 023 9282 2722. Takeaway Tel: 023 9287 6000. „
I can't really explain why it took me more than two years to visit Tang's Chinese restaurant which is recommended by the Michelin Guide, especially as it is only about five minutes' walk from my home. Meeting my son and his partner early one Sunday evening, I suggested that it did look worth trying. We arrived at 6pm and found the restaurant to be completely empty. Two Chinese waitresses attended to us, and one showed us to a table on one side. The décor is typically Oriental, very elegant and stylish, with a pagoda-style bar. Our table was set with side plates, chop sticks with porcelain rests, and large linen napkins folded like a fan and arranged inside wine glasses. One tablecloth was set diagonally but was removed after the main course to reveal a second one underneath.
Menus were brought and we each ordered a glass of fruit juice - apple was £1.20 and pineapple £1.50. As a starter we confined ourselves to a basket of prawn crackers (£1.50) with sweet and sour sauce. While we were waiting, one of the waitresses came and unfolded the napkins, put them on our laps for us and then removed the wine glasses. The other waitress asked if we were happy using chop sticks and took them out of their paper bags when we said yes.
For the main course we agreed that if we each ordered something different we could have a taste of each other's dishes. Tang's offers Cantonese, Peking and Szechuan cuisine. I was eyeing up the duck mains when my son's partner announced he fancied the crispy roast duck with pineapple (£8.50). I then turned my attentions to chicken with cashew nuts (£6), but of course my son said he had decided on that. Having been twice thwarted, I thought I'd have a look at the vegetarian options. Mushrooms in oyster sauce sounded tempting, and as it was only £3.50 I felt I could splash out on the special fried rice with shrimps and roast pork as a more expensive accompaniment at £4. My son and his partner both ordered soft noodles with bean sprouts (£3.50).
At almost exactly 6.30pm two elderly ladies arrived and were seated at the front of the restaurant on the opposite side. Soon after two groups each of three arrived and were also seated on the other side. I expected the place to get busier still, but by the time we left no-one else had come. I would imagine the restaurant could get crowded on a Friday or Saturday, and there is a side section through an archway that could be used if necessary. As it was we were able to have a conversation without anyone else hearing what we were saying. There is in fact a reasonable space between one table and the next.
The first item of our main course to arrive was my special fried rice which came in a delightful earthenware pot whose lid had a partial blue glaze. The rest of the food was served on oval plates, and to eat from we were given small bowls on little plates. I was particularly pleased with the special fried rice which had a few vegetables as well as the prawns and roast duck. All of us felt that the food was of a very high standard. Nobody seemed very interested in my mushrooms in oyster sauce, but I certainly enjoyed them with the rice. I did try a little of the duck and the chicken so that I would know what I might like another time; both were delicious and very tender. The noodles were equally good, but not quite as special as the rice.
The waitresses didn't come to ask us if everything was all right with our food, but as soon as they spied an empty glass they asked if another drink was required. My son and his partner each ordered another fruit juice, but one was enough for me. When we had finished eating, one of the waitresses cleared away as much as she could in one go and then began strolling round the tables again. She soon realised that she hadn't finished clearing our table and came back to do so. I made the mistake of putting my serviette on the table; it was removed along with the tablecloth and I didn't get another!
We decided that we would have a look at the dessert menu. We had noticed that there was a minimum charge of £10 per person, and without the prawn crackers my total only came to £9 thus far so that seemed like a good excuse for a dessert. My son's partner went for his favourite lemon sorbet, which is served in a scooped-out lemon. I hadn't had lychees for years and decided on the toffee version which means the fruit is coated in caramelised sugar and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. My son had never tried lychees so he ordered the apple version of the same dessert. Both the toffee lychees and the toffee apple were £3.50. We were offered ice cream with them but we both declined; I don't know if there would have been an extra charge for this. When the desserts came my son and I swapped a toffee lychee for a piece of toffee apple. I cut the lychees open, but they were still so hot that I almost burnt my mouth with the first piece. We both agreed that the toffee apple was slightly the nicer of the two. The lemon sorbet was declared to be very refreshing.
Our total bill came to £49.50, to which we added a tip. We were able to pay by debit card (but cheques are not accepted). I would say that it was a reasonable price to pay for prawn crackers, main courses, desserts and drinks, but I would nevertheless quibble with the £10 minimum charge. A vegetarian who did not require a dessert could easily end up paying extra, unless they had several drinks.
Tang's does have an 'all you can eat' offer for £14 a head (£8.50 for under twelves), but I'm not sure if this is available on Fridays or Saturdays. I don't have a huge appetite so this kind of offer is not something I would be interested in. I noticed on their take-away menu that they now have a Thai section which I don't remember seeing on the restaurant menu, but I could be wrong about that. For those who are going with a group but don't like Oriental food there is a choice of omelettes and the take-away menu offers mini steaks with accompaniments.
Tang's is unfortunately not suitable for the disabled as there are about three steps up into the restaurant. The ladies is up a flight of red-carpeted stairs at the top of which you will suddenly see yourself in two full-length mirrors. The toilets are very pink and there is a high standard of cleanliness.
I would give Tang's five stars for food, service and stylish surroundings. I have, however, removed one star because of the minimum charge and also the fact that the restaurant is not disabled friendly. I certainly recommend it as the best Chinese restaurant I have experienced in Southsea. There is a very reasonably priced one on Albert Road that badly needs a face lift; the one on Osborne Road is good as a take-away according to my son and his partner, but they never see anyone in the restaurant. Tang's is a place I am sure I will return to. Elm Grove may not be the obvious choice for restaurants, but it has one or two gems. (Rosie's Vineyard is the other). It is only a stone's throw from Palmerston Road shopping precinct and roughly three-quarters of a mile from the sea front. Worth the walk.
The full menu can be seen at www.tangs-southsea.co.uk
Open Tuesday - Sunday 6pm - 11pm
Tang's Chinese Cuisine
127 Elm Grove
Telephone 023 9282 2722 (Restaurant)
023 9287 6000 (Take-Away)
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