Tian Tian: at last, a decent Chinese restaurant in the East End
Good Chinese food is hard to come by in East London. Despite living in the East End for the the past 7 years, I still haven’t found that go-to neighbourhood Chinese restaurant I can depend on. In the past, we used to frequent sister restaurants Gourmet San in Bethnal Green & ‘Lau Ti Fang‘ (My Old Place) near Liverpool Street. Sadly though, I feel that standards at these two ever popular Szechuanese haunts just aren’t what they once were anymore… especially at the latter where a recent unsatisfactory meal has put us off ever going back for good.
On a more cheerful note, this brings me to the topic of Tian Tian. Located on a rather spartan stretch of Mile End Road between Whitechapel and Stepney Green, Tian Tian has the look of that typical neighbourhood Chinese takeaway joint that you’ve walked past time and time again, completely oblivious to its existence. In truth, if I hadn’t been taken there by a friend of ours who recently moved into the area, I would never have given it a second look. A closer inspection of its extensive menu however reveals a mashup of much-loved Szechuan staples like Fried Lamb with Cumin and Fish fillets in Chilli Oil with Singaporean specialities like Cereal Prawns and Coffee Spare Ribs thrown into the mix. I hear that the proprietor of Tian Tian has spent some time in Singapore hence the touch of South-East Asia in the menu.
We ordered a spread of both their Szechuanese and Singaporean dishes to sample. Their Xinjiang BBQ lamb skewers, bursting with cumin and Szechuan peppercorns was some of the most succulent I’ve had in London. At £1.50 per skewer, it’s a complete steal for the generous amount of lamb you get per serving as well. Even more impressive was their Deep-fried Brinjal (Aubergine) with Pork floss. The bite-sized chunks of brinjal were coated in a surprisingly greaseless batter and topped with a heap of moreish, melt-in-the-mouth pork floss.
The rest of the dishes didn’t disappoint either. Beef brisket, braised till tender then deep-fried in a light batter with sweet green peppers, red chillies and Szechuan peppercorns was the perfect balance of savoury, sweet and spicy. Cereal Prawns, albeit a tad over-seasoned, was still a nostalgic taste of the Malaysian-Chinese restaurants of home. I found myself eating spoonful after spoonful of the crispy, spiced cereal topping on it’s own with white rice. Even our vegetable dish was completely on the money – the generous portion of leafy spinach was cooked in a rich, comforting, stock with plenty of century egg and salted egg throughout. If you are dining here with a few other companions, do also order the ‘Dry Braised Fish’ to share – this dish of crispy deep-fried sea bass, served whole and topped with an aromatic Szechuan sauce is just delectable.
Braised Dry Fish
All in all, I can’t remember the last time I had such a satisfying Chinese meal within walking distance of my place. Don’t expect the trendiest of settings or Michelin-star level service to go with your food though. We were one of only two tables that Sunday evening and we still struggled at times to get the waiter’s attention from our corner table. The encyclopaedia-long menu can also be a minefield – some dishes excellent… others more average. Order the right dishes however and what you will get is some of the tastiest Chinese food East London has to offer at fair prices. The bill for 5 shared dishes, steamed rice and a round of beers came to a very modest £60 in total for our group of 3. East London could definitely use more of the likes of Tian Tian and less of the overpriced, overhyped type if you ask me.
166 Mile End Rd, Stepney, E1 3LJ, London | www.londontiantian.com | Sun Nov 30th 2014