Tao Bar & Restaurant
A style bar blended with a contemporary Chinese restaurant aims to bring oriental cuisine into the 21st century. Donald Reid picks up his chopsticks
This is the Chinese century, and it will be ushered in by the Beijing Olympics. Our economy, foreign policy, environmental and even cultural agenda will all be profoundly influenced by the dominance of China over the coming decades.
Our cuisine? It seems unlikely. Yes, there’s a Chinese-ish option on every multinational mongrel menu served in countless pubs, hotels and pedestrian bistros, and the Chinese restaurant sector holds its own, yet of all our high-profile imported cuisines, it seems to have moved least into modern times. You can find snazzy Italians, imaginative Indians and stylish Thais, but very few Chinese that aren’t cliched, dated and predictable.
Clearly it’s a gap in the market waiting to be filled, and Tao is the latest contender. It comes from the same stable as Dragon-i, where over the past five years Raymond Man has established a smart and sophisticated restaurant which brings some dare and dash to standard Chinese and Asian cooking.
Take away the name and the menu, and Tao is a card-carrying style bar. Set in a large basement on Bath Street, you’ll find low ceilings, dim lighting, lounge music, plasma screens, beige suede banquettes, dark wood tables and floor, tall chrome beer fonts and ice buckets stocked up with display bottles of Mumm.
The bar and restaurant are kept separate, one each side of the red-carpeted entrance foyer, and one of the most appealing features of Tao is that it offers a bar menu of Chinese food: char siu with your cocktails, sweet and sour while you sup. The restaurant is a bit more formal and a bit smarter. Here there’s a wider choice of food, and swayed by the trendy setting you could be lulled into feeling it was all quite contemporary, but mostly it’s easy and familiar Chinese with a squeeze of lime here and there to lend a veneer of modernity. Chicken wings (which turn out to include meaty drumsticks) have a crispy, lightly curried coating and are served generously salted along with spring onions and mild but fresh chilli spears, while a ‘light’ bar meal of crispy noodles topped with wok-fried vegetables and beef identified as Scotch is a filling main-sized portion, the meat strips in a glossy soy-flavoured coating with peppers, onions, bamboo shoots and the odd mushroom. Fresh enough, pleasant enough, but hardly innovative or groundbreaking.
Tao will be a fine enough spot in which to view some of the Olympic action on the plasma screens, but that might be as close as you’ll get to the new Chinese century. In the end, Tao is as much about brash, brassy Glasgow as it is a glimpse of dynamic, downtown Shanghai.
203-205 Bath Street, Glasgow
0141 221 2488, www.taobars.com
Bar snacks £3–4.50; average two-course restaurant meal £17.50