The food and service at Tang Shian are excellent. It is very popular with Exeter's young Chinese population because of the ingenious 'two menu' system. There is the English-language menu, with all the 'classics' on it, the names of which most people are a little bored by these days, and then there is THE OTHER MENU, which comprises pictures with Chinese-character annotations, and prices marked with an 'f' instead of a '£'. Perhaps the '£' key wasn't working that day. Anyway, this menu is obviously aimed at the Chinese regulars, but the staff love it when you order from it as well. Some of the pictured options feature amusing and intriguing English translations, but if (like me) you don't read Chinese characters, you have to be a bit adventurous and go on what you see. If you don't like ordering with a point of the finger and the words "this one", and if you will only order foreign dishes if you can name and pronounce them authentically, then you just need to get over that -- and, perhaps, take yourself a little less seriously.
What I've called "the other menu" is the one to go for if you want to throw yourself in at the deep end, especially if it's your first visit. If you're in a group, order a tableful of mysterious dishes, don't worry about whether they'll go together, and try a bit of everything. Some of the stir-fry and noodle dishes are really, really great, though you may be politely advised that "this one is extremely hot" and then, even more delicately, asked whether you would like the chef to be told "less hot, please". The plate of duck's necks is a must: it's like pork ribs made of lean, slow-roasted duck; and the seafood custard is strangely more-ish if you like the flavour of sesame. (That's right: seafood custard.) There's one that appears to be made mostly of peanuts which I'm going for next time.
Other reviewers have already praised the service, so I won't waste time banging on about it too much. They're just so polite and attentive. I particularly like one of the waiters because he advises and (once, so far) overrules my orders according to what he thinks will complement the main dishes. He is always right, and has my taste in mind, rather than his profit margins. He won't do the up-sell that makes everything taste a little bitter.
If you become a regular, don't overlook the 'classics' menu. It may be full of safer, familiar-looking dishes, but here they are actually far better than you remember. Everything at Tang Shian seems to be made of fresh ingredients, including the spices. (They must get through mountains of whole and freshly-ground spices.) Even the familiar lurid orange sauce of Chinese sweet-and-sour is properly citrus, and quite unlike that stuff other local Chinese restaurants have been pumping out since the 70s.
If you order too much, they'll happily box the rest up for you to take home. If you eat too much, the lavs are nice and clean, and a safe distance from the dining area.
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