A Star is (re)born in Steyne Road

Stuart is pleased this revamped Chinese has converted his Mrs

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Blue Star, 51-53 Steyne Road, Acton W3 9NU. 020 8993 7977. Open 7 days a week, 5-11.30pm. Takeaway also available: free delivery within 3-mile radius for orders over £10

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It’s a handsome old Acton landmark, the Blue Star on Steyne Road. Starting life as a pub in the mid 19th century, it’s now a hotel and home to an independently run restaurant that occupies nearly the whole ground floor of this impressive Victorian building. Until recently, however, visitors hoping for an equally impressive dining experience here were often disappointed.

Not any more, I’m pleased to report. There’s a completely new team at the helm (and in the kitchen) of the Blue Star and they’re setting about making it a local landmark in its own right, for great Chinese food.

It’s tricky inheriting a tarnished reputation along with a restaurant lease. New owners Ricky Lad and Ruby Fu proved themselves up to the challenge by winning back lost local custom even within the first weeks of opening. They’re obviously made of tough stuff so I figured they could cope with the greatest challenge of all: my wife, who for years has viewed Chinese cuisine with deep suspicion and so deprived me of one of my greatest foodie pleasures…

Whatever your conception of ‘Chinese restaurant décor’, forget it. The Blue Star is swish and contemporary, with its neon-lit chrome bar and funky chandelier-style lighting, gleaming checkerboard floor, crisp white table linen and plushly comfortable high-backed chairs. It’s bigger than you imagine – the restaurant can handle functions of 45-60 with ease – and the ground floor position means perfect disabled access too.

For Ricky and Ruby, the Blue Star is an opportunity to fulfil a dream. Ruby grew up in China where her family cultivated its own fresh vegetables and where she learned her culinary skills, including traditional ways of blending flavours and modulating levels of spice and heat. After her formal training she moved to the UK to gain experience in the British restaurant industry and worked her way up the ladder to head chef.

You’re probably expecting me to tell you a similar tale about Ricky, but on the contrary. Ricky has spent many years in banking and it’s this dissimilar background that I think gives them their special ingredient for success.

Ricky is naturally charming and gregarious and makes a great ‘front of house’. Ruby is shy (we had to coax her out of the kitchen, to give her our thanks in person for a delicious meal) but her passion for her craft is evident. Together their energy and enthusiasm is, in my opinion, not only a winning formula but also a breath of fresh air.

When we visited, the menu was a work in progress; Ricky and Ruby were gently tweaking it to make sure they offered the best combination of customers’ favourites with some interesting regional specialities, plus the ever-popular Dim Sum (a £10-£12 set lunchtime menu is planned). We particularly liked the wealth of vegetarian choice and great value set menus – feasts of well-chosen, contrasting dishes starting from £16 a head for two or more. Our party of four had the best of both worlds, mixing and matching across set and main menus, thus sneakily forcing my unadventurous wife into trying something new…

Spring rolls, prawn toast and crispy aromatic duck with pancakes were textbook delicious, nicely light in texture. The unexpected stars of the starters were undoubtedly the dumplings, available with or without meat. None of us had ever tried Chinese dumplings before, but I knew things were going well when I found myself fighting the missus for the last one.

Presentation was as smart as the restaurant décor, even down to the extremely natty black chopsticks, which at least two of us wielded with aplomb.

Chicken with green peppers in black bean sauce and Mongolian-style lamb (its spicy heat gently toned down exactly as requested) were the standouts of the main courses. The sauces were noticeably light, so different to the glutinous quality of many a Chinese takeaway in the UK. However, be warned: portions are generous and, even with Ricky’s advice on quantities, we simply couldn’t clear every plate. Not for want of trying, though.

There’s a nice range of specialist Oriental beers on offer – the chilled Tsingtao I found particularly refreshing – while the wine-drinkers in the party gave thumbs up to the house white, a perky Sauvignon Blanc that didn’t bust the bank.

This is an establishment run by people who really care, and it shows. Good luck to Ricky and Ruby and my profound thanks for their achieving a small miracle – the wife wants to go back and I’m delighted to oblige!

Stuart Webb

10th August 2011