I recently had the pleasure of eating at one of the best restaurants that I’ve been to in a long time, Tao in New York. It’s a true “modern pan-Asian” restaurant in everything from the décor to the dishes, and despite its wide-offering menu and un-intimate dining room, I loved absolutely everything about it. Even early on a Wednesday evening the large dining room was packed to the rafters and the well-curated playlist, low lighting and intense buzz emanating from its customers set the tone for the evening ahead, seeing as Tao is also one of New York’s hottest nightclubs.

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We were fortunate to be seated at one of the sloped tables which gave us the best possible view of the whole dining room, dare I say creating a slight “King of the Castle” experience, whilst we looked down upon our fellow diners. People watching gold. I would definitely recommend requesting one of these tables if you are able to do so.

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As for the food, we started with shrimp tempura ($12), crispy rice tuna, spicy mayo, kabayaki sauce ($22), satay of Chilean seabass, miso glaze ($23) and salmon tartare, cucumber, ponzu, rice cracker ($19). The shrimp tempura was very good, especially in terms of value for money, with the prawns large and succulent and the batter piping hot and grease-free. The crispy rice tuna was a firm table favourite, the textures utterly tantalizing on the palette. The satay of Chilean sea bass was another stunning dish, the fish moist and the glaze perfectly sweet. If you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll know that black cod is my die-for dish, and this was honestly on par for me (I wish we could get our hands more readily on Chilean sea bass here in London, though House of Ho does serve up their own equally exceptional version of it). The salmon tartare was good, my least favourite of the dishes, though there was nothing in particular to fault.

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Service was brilliant: crazy attentive, personable and generous. Having ordered a dry, crisp bottle of white wine to accompany our meal and there being only a few dribbles left at this stage in the evening, when our server accidentally (and incredibly apologetically) knocked over my glass of wine and brought us a new bottle on the house, we were all grateful and beyond impressed considering a replacement glass would have sufficed. {But this is exactly what I always bang on about in my reviews – service, service, service!; restaurants, especially reputable ones that are seriously overcharging you for that plate of two scallops, should always go the extra mile in circumstances such as this… or when bringing you extra gravy and not charging you £2 for it (I’m looking at you Bob Bob Ricard), in refreshing the bread basket, or providing a glass of Prosecco or free dessert to the birthday boy or girl (both Roka and Goodman are fantastic at this), and so on – for minimal profit damage such simple actions have the ability to completely elevate one’s experience and transform an average night into an excellent & memorable one, as opposed to leaving a somewhat sour taste in one’s mouth when faced with a £200-odd bill with only mediocre service, small portion sizes and penny-scrounging to show for it}. Sorry, as you might be able to tell I’m quite passionate about this one. Anyway, massive kudos to our wonderful server for reacting professionally and generously in the immediate moment, Tao would be proud (and the vast majority of other restaurants should take note).

Back to food. Still reveling in genuine joy from our first round we were eager to see if the second could match it: tuna sashimi with parmesan, tomato wasabi salsa, crispy sesame stick ($19), crispy quinoa crab roll, avocado, tempura asparagus, salmon roe ($23), King salmon roll, salmon tartare, asparagus, jalapeno, sweet miso ($21) and spicy Szechuan dumplings, pork, shrimp, peanut ($21). If you know me you know cheese is (very un-foodie-ly) not the key to my heart, and although I found the specials dish of tuna sashimi with parmesan intriguing and enjoyable, I’m still not quite sold on the whole cheese thing, especially when paired with raw fish, but hey, that could just be me. The crispy quinoa sushi roll was the biggest disappointment of the evening. I’ve decided quinoa sucks, and definitely has no place in sushi. BUT it wasn’t all doom & gloom since the King salmon roll was superb and the dim sum in particular was out of this world. Like knock out, 10/10, blow your socks off, eye-rollingly, orgasmicly good. I could eat that dish ten times over in one sitting and want nothing more. Truly outstanding.

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Our final dish of the evening was the Peking duck pancakes ($82). A seriously sizeable portion and oh my God so good. I feel like I’m entitled to have a view on the standard of Peking duck these days given my time living in Hong Kong, 3-michelin starred experience at Lung King Heen and crispy duck dreams at Hong Kong’s Hutong. The meat was succulent without being fatty, the skin crisp and polished, the sauce provided in abundance {extra, extra brownie points} and, most importantly for me when judging this dish now, the pancakes were faultless. I don’t know how to describe them without doing them a disservice: light & airy yet at the same time fresh & doughy. Just trust me, perfection.

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We were all nursing food babies by this point but how can you say no to dessert in an Asian restaurant with Western puddings? You can’t, as far as I’m concerned. One warm chocolate cake with salted caramel gelato ($14) for the table was the perfect sweet finish. I’m aware that there’s been a lot of gushing in this review (tempered with a few disappointments), however most of the dishes were truly exceptional, the chocolate cake included. The presentation was stunning, and the taste even better; basically a rich fondant with silky smooth, light, refreshing salted caramel gelato, with a little crushed buttery biscuit base for texture. THIS is what my chocolate dreams (of which I have many) are made of. With a big night ahead we got stuck into the espresso martinis ($17 each) and reveled in the lively atmosphere that surrounded us.

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Tao claimed itself a spot on my list of favourite restaurants with ease, and only a few short steps away from competing New York favourite Buddakan, it’s safe to say that I will hungrily be returning to both on my next visit.

What do you think of these kinds of vibey, pan-Asian restaurants {see Aqua, Roka, Zuma, Buddakan, Hakkasan, Yautcha}? I think it’s safe to say that I am in favour, but are you a fan or a die-hard traditionalist? Have you been to Tao before? Or do you have any other similar recommendations for me? I’d love to know! xo

9/10