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Review

Phoenix Palace

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3-5 Glentworth St London NW1 Tel: 020 7486 3515
Cost – about £60 for two

Chinese New Year is a bit like Christmas. Of course, there are presents, parties and lots of food, but it’s also one of those holidays that defines a whole season and goes on long after the actual day has passed. So early in February, the menu celebrating the Year of the Golden Snake was still on at Phoenix Palace. This is a time of year when chefs become poets, devising dishes with ingredients whose pictograms also spell out fortuitous-sounding names. Lo-Hon vegetables wrapped in a bean curd parcel also spells goodness, fortune and riches, for example, and pan-fried golden oyster in a honey port wine sauce also spells brightness and beauty. Working under the dual constraints of producing dishes that taste good and sound propitious is a real test for a Chinese kitchen and this one did especially well.

The site used to be the Viceroy of India and – re-born phoenix or not – many elements of the Viceroy’s décor live on in the site’s Chinese re-incarnation. This amounts to a small talking point before getting stuck into menu reading, because this is a food-driven restaurant. There are over 200 dishes on offer, as well as dim sum every lunchtime. Some very clever work with bean curd is part of the vegetarian hors d’oeuvres, but these are intended to fill the time it takes to get more substantial dishes to the table, like a particularly good baked lobster with prime stock, well garnished with ginger and spring onion-flecked vermicelli. The kitchen’s good way with seafood continued with an admirable whole steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onion.

Selections from the New Year’s vegetarian menu had exciting tastes and textures. Fresh lily and yellow fungi with mushrooms comes mound-wrapped in a thin skin of bean curd, the meaty-textured mushrooms enhanced by a rich stock. Fried asparagus with mushroom and bamboo shoot uses thick stalks of tempura-battered asparagus, whole, meaty Chinese mushrooms and fresh, firm-textured, very decorative bamboo shoots.

There were too many tempting dishes for just one visit. Abalone (fresh from Guernsey) will certainly want trying next time, as will steamed eel with black bean sauce, oyster with roast belly pork, braised roast belly pork with eel in hot pot, salt-baked chicken – the list could go on and on. This is one phoenix that is definitely going to rise above the flames.