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Based around the quirky concept of a Chinese family’s home in the 1980s, Chinese Laundry occupies a narrow, ramshackle space crammed with tables. We had to move our chair umpteen times to allow a waitress to reach a marooned corner table. Kitsch, slightly grubby pine wallpaper adorns the ceiling and walls, with vintage mirrors and light fittings, and old tin pots for chopsticks completing the look. The tightly edited menu of hot and cold small plates ranges from cold Szechuan ‘mouth-watering’ chicken, which arrives drowned in (albeit delicious) spicy sauce, to hot lamb skewers scattered with goats’ cheese, cumin seeds and chilli. Our sweet basil fried chicken was delightfully crisp and fragrant, strewn with fried basil flakes. In contrast, a ‘large’ vegetarian dish was an unappetising mix of undercooked pumpkin, overcooked broccoli and peas mixed in salted duck egg – and £11.50 seemed pricey given its size. However, a satisfyingly rich, flavoursome beef short-ribs stew in a tomato, broad-bean and Chinese-spice sauce was something to celebrate: the beef in tender, succulent strips. The cocktail list is also hit-and-miss, leaning heavily on concoctions made with the grain spirit, baijiu. If this is 1980s China, roll on the 21st century, say we.
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