Clothes maketh the man. It's true - naked men have never had much influence on society. Which is The Cafeteria in New York decided to dress their staff in designer outfits. They went for the Victor Alfaro jumpsuits, with wild flared trousers. A safety hazard, admittedly, but such is the peril of hip. It was only a matter of time before we started to see the same thing over here.
Well, it's happened. The staff at Taman Gang, London's newest Balinese restaurant, have been kitted out in Ozwald Boateng and Ghost, and some crazy-mother loon pants. But adding a fashion credit to the restaurant meal is part of Taman Gang's fine-dining experience. And they want the experience to be completely curated, from beginning to end.
But something has gone wrong. The place has got a B&Q feel about it - think Balinese Temple, with supermarket pot plants. The tiles were, apparently, hand-crafted in limestone, but only a Balinese tile crafter would know it. And the rather rough clientele looked like they had stumbled upon the place on their way from the Marriott to the Aberdeen Steakhouse.
I was excited to see the menu. With volcanoes scattering their land with fertile ash, and rivers watering their rice fields, the farmers of Bali are a lucky breed. So I expected a dining table groaning with jackfruit, water spinach and yam. The menu was certainly an adventure (would I have the pi pa duck or the prawn shu mai?) but not what I understood to be Balinese. Let's just call it Pan Asian.
My guest for the evening was Dr Stuart - an old school friend who was at home with the idea of Taman Gang's "sharing style" menu. We liked the spirit of the commune. But, like Communism, it only worked in theory. The food arrived separately. Or, in the case of our mixed vegetables (and consumer goods during the Five Year Plans) not at all.
The master dim sum chef is Choi Wan Chew, who hails from the Ritz Carlton in Singapore. His dim sum platter (£8) arrived fresh and hot, not limp and damp like it had been sitting on a cart all day. The silky egg white dough was stuffed with thick gobs of prawn and snow crab. Sharing or no sharing, it was better than anything I've eaten at Hakkasan.
My seafood toban takemura style (£15.50) was disappointingly one-note. And a bit, well, brown. The fish was brown, the sauce was brown - even the banana leaf under the hotplate was brown. There was an unidentifiable something in the middle of it all that was more beige. It looked like something that might have fallen off the waiter's crazy-mother loon pants.
However good the waiters may look at Taman Gang, they don't know their onions. That's not true. They know their onions. But they didn't know their bamboo (which was what was in our toban). They had the same problem identifying a vegetable in our merlot black pepper beef with crispy noodles (£16). "Can you pull it about a bit so I can see? Nah. No idea." It was a chrysanthemum leaf. The noodles seemed stale to us anyway.
The grilled hokkaido king crab with creamy fondant egg (£17) was colourful. It's possible to lay out an array of roes like a painter's palate: cranberry red capelin, orange marmalade trout, and golden yellow whitefish. The flourescent roe of the flying-fish looked beautiful. But it tasted like dessicated carrot. I'm used to it as the crunchy garnish on rolled sushi. I had never eaten it on its own. Now I know why.
The dish also served to illustrate the limitations of the chopstick. I had to run my tongue round the plate to finish off my creamy fondant egg. I was just too embarrassed to ask the waiter for a spoon. I had already bothered him too many times. Besides, I could hear his reply when I asked for a spoon. "Spoon? Now don't tell me. Spoon? I know this one. I'm going to go and look at my loons in the mirror."
A spoon wasn't much use for the tropical fruit selection (£12). To cut up a baby pineapple, you would be as well using a chopstick. But the best they could bring me was a blunt butter knife. There was an unusual fruit in the selection that made me want to clean my teeth. But, needless to say, the waiter couldn't identify it. He guessed it was a member of the passion fruit family, but I had lost interest.
I wouldn't want to see Taman Gang in the daylight. Like a film set, it appeared to be held together with gaffer tape and stage lighting. The women were much the same. It was Footballers Wives' territory. But that's a natural constituency when you're asking inflated prices for Park Lane food. The place was just tacky. Maybe, at midnight, it turned into something else. But we didn't hang round to find out. E
INDONESIA & MALAYSIA
By Caroline Stacey
No longer an improbable discovery after 20-odd years, this pan-Indonesian restaurant offers dishes from Bali and Sumatra as well as Java where the popular beef rendang comes from.
75 Wharf Street, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorks (01422 831654)
Like its sister restaurant Raffles in Kenilworth, this plays up the colonial theme with fancy table settings. Draws on the Indian, Chinese and Malay elements that make Malaysian cooking so diverse.
23 Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon (01789 204445)
Cosy, little alternative to Thai in Oxford - and elsewhere. A simple selection of satays and such like doesn't cover Indonesia's full gamut, but the tropical fish are pretty (not to eat).
124 Walton Street, Oxford (01865 511668)
Vivid, attractive and innovative - a lot of pleasure in a small space, and seasonal dishes like water buffalo rendang with Malay wedding rice and steamed okra take Malaysian cooking to new levels.
62 Weston Street, London SE1 (020-7403 4600)Reuse content