The high-end Chinese chain Tattu, with homes in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, has arrived close to Tottenham Court Road station in London just as the scaffolding, cranes and general upheaval that has tormented the area for more than a decade begins to subside. The making of the new Elizabeth line has hampered Denmark Street, AKA Tin Pan Alley, and its environs for a very long time. Such a long time, in fact, that many of the 400,000 people a day who are expected to pass by the all-new, space-age Outernet building will have no memory of this neighbourhood’s former reassuringly shabby loveliness. Outernet is a £1bn music venue, office space, luxury hotel and lifestyle mothership that has gobbled up an entire block between New Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, and its entrance is marked by badly dressed door persons in ill-fitting, steampunk-style frock coats.
I could devote this whole column to the plethora of jaw-dropping, state-of-the art solutions Outernet will be providing for central London – it has the world’s largest high-resolution wraparound screens, everyone! – but I came here for the food and, by golly, Tattu has got it, albeit in very small portions of wagyu fillet carpaccio at £34.90 a throw. Or, say, four pretty chicken truffle shumai dim sum at £12.90, or wok-fired “angry bird” chicken (sweet-and-sour chicken with a few floating chillies to you and me) at £24.90 and only just enough to feed one.
Tattu, much like Outernet itself, is big and bolshie in every sense. It is less of a restaurant and more of an Instagram content fulfilment hub with added £9 broccoli and £36.50 char siu monkfish. It is impossible to take a bad photo in here. The lighting is beautiful and several plates have pure novelty aspect, billowing smoke, cloches and/or googly eyes. This is a lavish, fake blossom-strewn, luxury amusement park ride imagining of, according to the PR spiel, a traditional Chinese courtyard house. Tattu is the perfect place to be photographed under a blossom chandelier while sipping a smoking skull cocktail or poking a plate of colourful, £14.50 royal koi fish gau dim sum.
Readers, I actually did this myself, posing, then posting a story of me watching a server unveil a chocolate “dragon egg” from under a smoking cloche, because living the ’gram life is pernicious. Ask yourself, if a woman eats shiitake bao (£11.50) on a rooftop in a fake Chinese courtyard, but there is nothing on Instagram to prove it, did it really happen? It’s lovely to see, once, but there are a hundred small Chinese places less than a mile down the road in, ahem, Chinatown that serve far more delicious food for a fraction of the price.
Tattu is divided into four separate residences, themed around phoenix, koi, dragon and tiger, which means the dining room is confusing to navigate around, although, on the day I ate there, it was staffed plentifully with the sort of people who let you wander about for ages looking for your table, the bathroom or the lifts without quite realising it’s their job to steer you. Oh, how I miss the days when places were staffed by folk who had worked in a restaurant before, but, alas, here we are.
The menu is brief and sort-of Chinese by way of Great Britain with South American and pan-European flourishes; it’s also littered with words and phrases such as “XO scallops”, “salmon caviar” and “wagyu” that make you feel you’re somewhere the Kardashians would enjoy. There’s a handful of dim sum options, 10 “raw” or “hot” small plates and 10 “large” plates. Spoiler: they are not large and prices hover around the £30-40 mark for lemon salt and black pepper lamb cutlets or Chilean sea bass with shaoxing wine and smoked bacon, before rocketing off into la-la land with £80 for green pepper lobster with jalapeños and crisp shallots.
The cost is vastly offputting. I could almost tolerate giving Tattu £12 for dim sum, and that shiitake bao turned out to be nicely wobbly and moist, but had largely unmemorable innards. Delicate chicken truffle shumai were prettily puckered like little cats’ bums topped with a scattering of truffle. The best thing we ate was seven-spiced seared tuna from the raw small-plates section, featuring fine-quality tuna with some smoke from the grill, truffle and citrus ponzu and enough caviar to cover a Barbie doll’s forehead.
At the main courses, my eyes danced around the page, rebelling about handing Tattu just north of £36 for a piece of honey-glazed monkfish. It arrived, just as I’d dreaded, overcooked to the point of dry, in a sweet caramel orange puddle. The “angry bird” chicken was a bowl of vivid red, sugary sauce concealing cashews, red pepper and a few bits of chicken garnished with past-its-best coriander. Entry level steamed jasmine rice is £6.50 on top, while candy rice with beetroot and ginger is a laughable £9. Pudding of “wood-smoked dragon egg” came under a cloche of steam, to reveal something that Thorntons would sell off after Easter for 88p and that tasted of almost nothing. Tattu as a restaurant and a bill will live on in my mind for ever. The memory is indelible.
Tattu The Now Building Rooftop, Outernet, Denmark Place, London WC2, 020-3778 1985. Open all week, noon-10.30pm. From about £65 a head à la carte; tasting menus £80 or £120, all plus drinks and service.
Season three of Comfort Eating with Grace Dent, supported by Ocado, launches on Tuesday 17 May. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts. On Wednesday 25 May, Comfort Eating goes live for the first time at the Podcast Show in London, when Grace’s special guest is TV personality Jamie Laing. Book your tickets here.