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Holly Acland clicks her chopsticks

There is an element of communist China meets conservative Chiswick about the newly opened Yellow River Cafe on Chiswick High Road. A giant red and yellow mural of Chairman Mao's face alongside the smiling face of Ken Hom greets you as you enter the restaurant and a closer inspection of the chopsticks reveal rousing slogans such as 'Unite and Eat!' and 'Strength through eating'.

But this is no communist enclave, rather a radical departure away from oriental sauces for Asia's greatest culinary export - Ken Hom. The result is an upbeat and modern Oriental restaurant which offers high quality food at extremely reasonable prices.

The first thing you notice about Yellow River Cafe - aside from the strong red and yellow branding which extends across every element of the interior - is the relaxed, informal atmosphere. Small tables topped with a bottle of hot chilli and soy sauce (the Oriental equivalent of tomato ketchup and vinegar) lend a take-away feel to the restaurant. And Ken Hom's enthusiasm for Asian cooking seems to have infected the staff who gave us the warmest welcome ever experienced in a London restaurant.

Service is speedy, and we were quickly sharing an Oriental mixed platter complete with all the essentials - prawn toast, spring rolls, spicy Thai fish cake, chicken and beef satay and crispy chicken wings. At 10.90 this was very reasonably priced and satisfied my desire to sample all the traditional Chinese nibbles.

But, as you move onto the main course, you realise that this menu is far from traditional. Many dishes are unique to Ken Hom including his rotisserie specials (orange peking duck, honey barbecued pork, five spice whole poussin and savoury Cantonese spare ribs). I bullied my eating partner into choosing the five spice option (8.95), as it was endorsed by Ken himself, while I opted for crispy sichuan aromatic duck (9.90). Not the most imaginative choice but my all time favourite.

As I lovingly smeared pancake after pancake with hoi sin sauce and loaded it with slices of cucumber and shredded duck, I remembered why. Maybe it's the ritual of preparing each pancake (and always stuffing it so full that it defies being rolled into anything that resembles a neat pancake) or the winning combination of the earthy sauce, crunchy cucumber and duck - but this dish did not disappoint. There was no shortage of duck although I did have to ask for extra sauce and greens.

My companion slightly resentfully ploughed though his whole poussin, served with stir-fried noodles and bean sprouts, grumbling that he couldn't taste one spice, except maybe Ginger Spice (sorry - bad joke but he insisted that I include it) He complained that the poussin was slightly dry and coveted our neighbour's choice.

What the neighbour had is definitely worth mentioning as it offers the best value. For 11.80, you can create your own Oriental meal box by choosing any one dish from options across three courses - starters, soups and main courses. This is served with a choice of steamed rice or stir-fried noodles, stir-fried mixed vegetables and prawn crackers. The different dishes arrive at the same time on a tray divided into separate boxes and the couple next to us raved about the classic wonton soup and Thai green chicken curry.

And if you've always suspected that oriental food is packed full of artificial colours and preservatives, a statement from Ken Hom at the beginning of the menu states to the contrary and the kitchen is reassuringly in full view.

Unlike most Chinese restaurants I have visited there is a good selection of red and white wines and we enjoyed a very good bottle of red for 14. Beer drinkers won't be disappointed though as the ubiquitous Tiger beer was also available.

I was also surprised to find an unusual selection of desserts, all at around the 3 mark. My companion chose a creamy mango pudding while I had crispy banana fritters with vanilla ice-cream and honey. Warm fruit compote with ice cream also sounded tempting but we restricted ourselves to one pudding each accompanied by fresh lemongrass and ginger tea.

As I have only ever experienced herbal teas in the tea-bag variety, I was not prepared to find large lumps of root ginger and lemon grass at the bottom of the teapot. To our unsophisticated palates, herbal teas have always smelt delicious but tasted much the same (and not dissimilar to hot water). This tea experience however was very different with the taste of ginger really coming through.

It's no exaggeration to say that Chinatown has come to Chiswick in a major way.

Holly Acland, December 1999

Yellow River Cafe
12 Chiswick High Road
London W4 1TH
Tel: 020 7715 9515

A take-away and delivery service is also available for people living within a five-mile radius Reader's comment:

Saturday night - closes at 9.30, last orders at 8.30. Only limited menu, we were told and only part of the restaurant is open. None of this mentioned in your review

Vicky Harvey

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Dine Online Copyright Clifton Media Associates December 1999, All rights reserved.

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