Hidden between the YMCA and huge VQ diner just off Tottenham Court Road, it’s easy to look over London’s latest Asian-inspired noodle bar Tang. It is, however, worth seeking out: gluten-free restaurants are a rare find at the best of times – let alone ones as good as these.
The menu is divided into four sections: small-ish dishes, Bao buns, bigg-ish dishes and ‘something sweet’. Everything is gluten-free and while the big dishes get top billing (汤 tāng being the chinese character for soup), it’s the smaller dishes and starters that are the real star turn.
Gluten-free battered anything can only be good, and both the fried chicken and black soy bean tofu are up there with the very best: light crispy batter, perfectly casing the soft, tender fillings without any grease or fatty residue. We’d happily have eaten the black-bean-marinated chicken by the bucketful, while the vegan tofu version was also a surprise hit – particularly when paired with the ridiculously moreish white miso sauce with sesame seeds.
Vegetarians are similarly well catered for with Tang’s vegan Mushroom Dumplings. The soft, pleated bundles perfectly combine the textures and flavours of shitake mushrooms and turnip, while the accompanying sauce is again too good not to mention: a chilli vinegar dip that gives instant, punchy depth to the delicate stuffing.
London’s recent obsession with steamed buns has passed many of us with a gluten allergy or intolerance by – but at Tang that just won’t do. Chef Chen spent two weeks working on a secret recipe for gluten-free Bao buns and – while we wouldn’t know how well they compare to the real thing – one thing’s for sure: they taste great.
At £4.50 a plate they’re also surprisingly good value – we tried one of each of the Fried Chicken and Braised Beef and couldn’t pick a favourite between the melt-in-the-mouth braised beef with cucumber, coriander and black vinegar reduction or that delicious fried chicken again, garnished with pickled bok choi, spring onion and Tang’s homemade hot sauce and sesame seeds.
Onto the mains and the eponymous Tang, available in Prawn, Chicken, Salted Veg & Tofu and Chicken Curry.
The Prawn Tang is the hottest of the lot and while lighter than a typical ramen, it’s still a seriously gutsy soup with bags of fresh flavour and a creeping, background heat that will have you slurping every drop (and gasping with every mouthful). Each dish is available with glass, rice or wheat noodles and on our – incredibly friendly – waiter’s recommendation we went for the glass. It was the right choice: the rounded, slippery surface of the mung bean noodles provided the perfect backdrop to the fiery prawn and pork broth, with the fried shallots and beansprouts adding extra texture and crunch.
Soup-aside, the simply named Beef and Rice is another ‘bigg-ish’ dish with properly big flavour.
Described by our waiter, Jamie, as something of a ‘three-day love affair with beef’, soft braised beef shortribs and tendons sit on a bed of sticky jasmine rice, topped with fresh bok choi and coriander and drizzled with black vinegar reduction. The meat more than lives up to expectation, effortlessly and expertly backed up by a dark, sticky sauce that sinks into the rice, oozing richness against the fragrant greens.
Dessert is the one section of the menu that feels like an afterthought, and to be honest we’d have been happy to skip the only option: Sugarcane Shiso Sorbet. Made from sugarcane juice from Brixton and shiso leaves from Japan, it’s offered more as a palette cleanser than an indulgent end to your meal – and in all fairness you’ll be so full by this point it’s all you’ll have room for. Uniquely sweet and pleasantly refreshing.
The space itself is surprisingly intimate with a maximum capacity of 38 (at a squeeze), and is well-geared to communal eating, modelled on the tall tables and stool-style seating of Southeast Asian street markets. Would we go back? Absolutely. We’d even stand outside and encourage others in too. Because while we’d love to keep it as our own little central London secret, we really do want them to do well.
Tang London, 111 Great Russell St, WC1B
Tues – Fri: Midday -3pm & 5pm – 10pm
Saturday: Midday – 3pm & 5pm – 10pm