PUBLISHED: 16:12 05 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:56 20 February 2013
'It was the Lyons Corner House of Cirencester; the perfect place to meet and eat for everyone from American tourists searching for an Olde Worlde Cotswolde eatery to agricultural students dining with their parents'
Cotswold Life's Adam Edwards raises a prawn toast to Tatyan's in Cirencester.
It was the Lyons Corner House of Cirencester; the perfect place to meet and eat for everyone from American tourists searching for an Olde Worlde Cotswolde eatery to agricultural students dining with their parents
It is to Cotswold District Councils credit that the downmarket fast food joints have mostly been kept out of our small towns and villages, although I am tempted to apply for planning permission to open a Burger King in Tetbury. The market town is, after all, at the centre of the royal triangle.
Be that as it may, you dont have to be Prince Charles to know that while KFC and the Slaughters are certainly suited in name, a fried chicken outlet in that collection of hamlets would not necessarily be in keeping with the surroundings.
Meanwhile one must applaud the capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester, for consistently managing to keep McDonalds and its big yellow M out of its centre.
And yet ironically while these symbols of American cultural imperialism have been held at bay, the Chinese have slipped in unnoticed. A specimen of oriental calligraphy, occasionally in neon, advertising the Chinese is as much part of the fabric of our towns as the limestone buildings, Norman church and market place.
Quite what these hieroglyphics mean is anyones guess (I was once told that the literal translation of the Chinese sign outside my old takeaway, the Green Lotus, was, for example, Congratulations, son, for passing your civil service exams) but the signs have been twinkling away in our area of outstanding natural beauty for the best part of 40 years. The Chinese restaurant or chinky is now as much part of the new Cotswolds heritage as Arkells beer, knick knack shops and Alexcars charabancs.
I was reminded of this when I heard the news that Tatyans had closed. Tatyans was a Cirencester institution. It opened a quarter of a century ago (it was always rumoured that it had been won on the turn of a card) and was the Lyons Corner House of the town. By that I mean that it was the perfect place to meet and eat for everyone from American tourists searching for an Olde Worlde Cotswolde eatery to agricultural students dining with their parents. It was where local professionals slid out for a business lunch and office girls held their birthday parties and where I would take my daughter for a treat on high days and holidays.
Some customers had tears in their eyes when I told them I was closing, said owner Tatyan Cheung. Theyve been brilliant over the years and weve received a lot of great support from the community. I can understand why they got upset. It brought a tear to my eye too.
And yet it has to be said that Tatyans was no elBulli. While it could, like most Chinese restaurants, do a mean Singapore fried noodles, its mixed starters for two, for example, almost certainly came from the same hypermarket that every other Chinese restaurant uses (I know this not necessarily because of my acute tastebuds but because my old office used to be directly above Tatyans).
And furthermore it was clear that Nicky Haslam had not been involved in the interior decoration of Tatyans. For like every other Chinese restaurant in the land it had reproduction Tang dynasty calligraphy, a bamboo-style watercolour painting, geometrical wooden lattice work , paper tablecloths, red paper napkins and a table setting with both cutlery and chopsticks (in a paper sleeve).
Unlike the Indian restaurants, which in a cutting edge revolution in the eighties chucked out the red flock wallpaper and sitar music, the Chinese have carried on in much the same way as they have since 1958 when the first takeaway opened in Londons Queensway and was then adopted by Billy Butlin for his holiday camps. Crispy shredded duck may have replaced chop suey as our favourite dish, but your basic chinky is as unchanging as a pint of lager and a packet of cheese and onion crisps.
Many years ago, when I was an editor, I sent a reporter to Peking with a menu from a restaurant in Londons Chinatown (one of those menus with the dish written in both English and Chinese) to see if their crispy duck was as good as ours.
In the Chinese capital she found a restaurant, duly pointed to the Chinese translation and was brought a dish that was, she said, both unrecognisable as poultry and completely inedible. And perhaps that is the secret to the English chinky. The grub, the decoration and its incomprehensible calligraphy in the middle of our picturesque high streets is as traditional as our Gloucester Old Spot, dry stone walls and pub signs. I shall miss Tatyans.