Tian Fu W12

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Tian Fu W12

Tuesday April 6, 2010

Say Chinese food and it immediately conjures thoughts of the glutinous MSG offerings usually found in tourist traps.

It's something of a challenge finding good and memorable Chinese food in the capital without paying through the nose for the privilege.

Tian Fu in Bulwer Street is a good start. Abbreviated from 'Tian Fu Buyi', roughly translating as the 'promised land for the everyman', the restaurant offers the best food possible for a reasonable price that 'everyman' can afford.

Inside, there are none of the glossy lacquered tables and fish tanks synonymous with Chinese cuisine. Instead, there are hotel buffet-style chairs and tables and simple paper tablecloths.

Don't let the inelegance fool you. A swift glance round the restaurant will show you virtually every table is taken by a group of Chinese people.

This bodes well for the new four-month-old restaurant, serving food from the spicy Szechuan province of China.

According to our enthusiastic restaurant manager, Yu Guan, the style of cooking is extremely trendy among the Chinese at the moment.

He hands my dining partner and I menus which have big coloured pictures of the food to make it easier to decide.

He recommends a selection of dishes he feels capture the unique flavours of the region's cooking, and says they will arrive at the table in no particular order, so we can enjoy them in the typical Chinese fashion of eating together and sharing the food.

Although the menu offers the stereotypical crispy duck fare, for the unadventurous, we're encouraged to go out on a limb and experiment with some of Szechuan's more unusual flavours.

First up was a dish of corn-fed chicken (£6.50) over which the waitress poured a spicy peanut and sesame sauce.

The skin was purposefully left on the chicken, imbuing a fatty and smooth taste, which glided straight down the gullet.

Heatwise, it was zingy rather than blowyour- tonsils- out hot. Before a real dent could be made in that, a mound of sweet and sour spare ribs (£6.50) had arrived.

To my surprise, they were little chunks of tender meat, falling strait of the bone, and coated a delicious gooey but not gelatinous coating.

Soon my partner and I were clashing chopsticks over some of the most exquisite pork dumplings (£6.50) I've ever tried.

Soft, but not sloppy, large, but not awkward, my partner commented on my delighted 'dumpling face' as I popped one into my mouth.

Our main event was something that the restaurant doesn't usually recommend to uninitiated westerners.

But seeing as we were forewarned against its mouth-numbing spiciness we obviously felt compelled to give it a go.

When the sizzling pot arrived, a mass of thinly sliced boiled white fish (£12) served in a bowl of oil and foreign peppers, I wondered what I'd let myself in for.

The waitress scooped away a vast amount of the dried red peppers which we were told weren't to be eaten.

Made with specially imported Chinese green pepper corns, the dish had an almost medicinal fragrance.

When I sampled a piece of the succulent white fish, not dissimilar to cod, the flavour was delicate, but lip-tinglingly strong.

Thankfully my soothing aloe vera juice (£3) was the perfect accompaniment to the strength of the spices, making them more than palatable.

I then turned my attention to the more modestly spiced dishes of Gong-Bao prawns with cashews (£6.50), dry-fried green beans, (£4.50) both of which were excellent.

Another item is the Chinese hot pot buffet (£18), where you pick meats and vegetables from a buffet and boil them in a spicy broth right on your table.

This seemed the most popular option for the Chinese punters. If you're brave with spices, Tian Fu is an exciting addition to Chinese cuisine.

Be prepared to take your palate on an adventure into a realm of interesting new flavours and textures.

Tian Fu, 37-90 Bulwer Street, Shepherds Bush. Call 020 8740 4546.

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