I am sitting at what is undoubtedly one of the most glamorous cocktail bars in Fulham. My son Ollie is with me, the night before he goes back to Oxford University, and above us are the most beautiful giant lampshades made of goose feathers.
This would definitely be one of those magic moments if only we weren’t both watching a grown man cry. Daniel, the bartender, simply can’t stop crying and try as I might to help nothing can stem the flow of his tears as they pour relentlessly down his cheeks.
Of course I feel terrible, as before me is the cause of his upset, a unique and delicious lemongrass ginger and chilli martini. I’m sure the next time he won’t rub his eyes after cutting fresh chillies.
We are in Mao Tai, a veritable Fulham institution which has been feeding Fulham for 26 years after it was opened in 1984 by husband and wife Mark and Patricia Barnett.
My son remembers coming here from a very young age, always to eat the Bang Bang Chicken and we are both so happy to see it still on this wide ranging Chinese fusion menu, the length and breath of which takes influence from the most exotic of countries of the world.
The bar also has an extensive menu of small eats, very difficult to choose from if you would prefer a lighter eat to go with a cocktail made by Daniel (when he is more dry-eyed), who previously worked at The Connaught in Mayfair.
Ollie opts for the dim sum basket, each piece beautifully handmade by a lady who comes in every day to craft them with her years of experience.
Every one is a small work of art, from the blue swimming crab to the pork shoulder with Granny Smith apple.
I try a selection of Vietnamese rolls, with the best being mooli radish mint, and prawn and crispy pork belly with Thai basil.
While a little on the large side, they are slightly challenging to eat and definitely could be a little smaller and therefore more manageable. Nevertheless they are still gorgeous.
Only when we are sure Daniel has recovered do we move into the restaurant, which is busy for this early part of January – a clear sign of good food that won’t disappoint. I’ve chosen a lovely glass of Yarra Valley pinot noir from the extensive wine list and Ollie has a Japanese Asahi Black beer, a true Guinness clone.
We nostalgically start with the Bang Bang Chicken which hasn’t changed over the years and is as moreish as always; shredded slivers of succulent chicken and cucumber matchsticks with an impossible-to-copy (believe me, I’ve tried) satay sauce.
Only because I love them we also have the rock shrimp tempura with togarashi dressing made with chilli, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed; quite outstandingly crisp and succulent.
For a main we share a red roast duck curry with egg-fried rice and a fascinating side of asparagus, lily bud and lotus root.
The curry is delicious.
We’ve been joined by Patricia who has an undisputed talent for the multiple refurbishments they have had to endure over the years.
Following a re-design a few years ago they immediately fell foul of a kitchen fire, so she did it all over again.
Apart from the bar and the restaurant, the upstairs dining room available for parties is fabulous. She bubbles with charm and simply won’t hear of us not having a desert so it’s onwards to the rambutan cheesecake (a close relation of the lychee this seemed pretty bland and uneventful for me) and a passion fruit crème brûlée. If I’m going to be picky the brûlée could have had a thicker crisper layer to crack open but the crème was pure passion fruit velvet.
After a cold January walk home across the icy pavements we’re feeling very contented.
It’s a rare evening when you are spoilt for choice and can traverse the countries of Asia with such an innovative menu and be so delighted with the dishes.
And Ollie sums it up in a simple description; the food is not the fusion which is so often muddled and confused. Mao Tai is ensible enough to ensure that all of its dishes genuinely deliver. We agree we are lucky enough to have our very own Nobu in Fulham.
Mao Tai, 58 New Kings Road, SW6.
Call 020 7731 2520