By Sarah Fitzpatrick of The Field
Monday, 04 January 2010
Pheasant shooting is a passion for Sir David Tang, KBE. He talks to The Field about shooting, pheasant shooting and being more British than the Brits
How funny to be interviewed by The Field in a Chinky restaurant," chuckles international businessman and restaurateur Sir David Tang. A Chinese restaurant yes, but China Tang could hardly be described as a "Chinky". Even if it weren't beautifully appointed in art deco, this fashionable eaterie is in the Dorchester, after all. This mixture of modesty and levity illustrates David Tang exquisitely. Delightful humour, carefully packaged with all the control a Chinese government could hope for.
The hold music when one telephones his London branch is the Monty Python song I Like Chinese and the theme continues in private dining-rooms called Ping, Pang and Pong à la the Turandot characters. But do not be fooled into thinking he takes this enterprise lightly. Tang bowls into his London bar and immediately his gimlet eye finds any slight fault. There is nothing amiss that customers would notice, unless testing their gin and tonics with a thermometer. Tang likes his drinks served at the perfect temperature and makes a point of examining the fridge. Only after this and some picture straightening has been addressed can we get down to business. He will not countenance "ordinary", insisting that his bars be "exceptional... unique".
Trying to coax a smile for the camera reveals Tang's true obsession, though. When asked to imagine he's just shot a right-and-left he admits proudly that when shooting he once brought down three sandgrouse with one shot in Kenya: "It was the grandest day of my life... with Masai warriors picking-up."
This African pinnacle is a long way from his first shooting experience in China. "The birds didn't really fly and the cartridges were poor. I told them the first thing they need to improve is to provide stronger cartridges," he recalls. Tang understands the importance of having the right kit and has changed to 32in barrels, the better to tumble high birds: "That's what I love, the challenge." He appreciates the workmanlike reliability of good Italian guns.
"I have never been seduced by spending 100 grand on a pair of guns. I have a perfectly good pair of Berettas and others," he says. "It is much more important to be a good shot than to have a pair of guns that make you think you can shoot better than you can. It's like turning up in a red Ferrari," although he concedes, "it's different if you have inherited a pair of guns."
Tang appreciates a degree of snobbery however. In his first job as an articled clerk at a "very snooty firm" he was asked what he was doing at the weekend and replied, rather proudly, that he was shooting. The response was cutting: "Gentlemen don't shoot at weekends." But he laughs as he repeats the story.
As you would expect from the creator of the luxury brand Shanghai Tang a little flash is to be delighted in. Tang mourns the passing of what he terms "the eccentric gun" and is doing what he can to bring it back with a cape from the Papal tailors. "I thought it would be very good on a wet day. It's a ridiculous colour - purple - and worn over a Chinese robe, of course. It's so much more fun than the same old plus-fours with Viyella shirt and tie."
Tang's passion for shooting seems to have been a slow burn. After 25 years in the shooting field, "I suddenly became an addict about five years ago and went mad. I love it now," he enthuses. As a resident of Hong Kong Tang can spend only 90 days in this country and last year saw him shooting on 40 of them - "It's almost grounds for divorce." Like many shooting widows, Lady Tang underestimated the amount of travel involved. "There are wonderful shoots around the country and wonderful places to stay," her husband rhapsodises. He talks about cutting down, "but I don't want to".
It is a familiar complaint, and not remotely surprising. This well-known technophobe produces his paper diary to show me "all the shooting days marked in red". The season would appear to be entirely scarlet and reads like a list of the best shoots in Britain.
Although Tang does visit Spain he prefers his birds higher than their more traditional partridges and to have dogs picking-up rather than men. "If I lived in England, I'd love to take a dog," says Tang, who does have a labrador in Hong Kong. "If I'm hosting, I encourage all the guns to bring dogs. Some of them are very disobedient," he grins.
Unfortunately, Tang's passion for game does not extend to the menu in his restaurants. Strangely, considering that the pheasant is indigenous to China, game on a Chinese menu is restricted to pigeon. Tang relishes a darting pigeon at the start of a drive. "The great thing is that people expect you to miss and occasionally you get one. I saw Archie Stirling shoot two be-fore a drive absolutely dead on. I was very impressed but it was really ir-ritating; what a show-off to shoot two dramatic pigeons," he says with good humour.
Like the rest of us he has a healthy fear of the "sneaky" lone pheasant cruising towards you in full view of the line when pheasant shooting. "It's sod's law that you miss - that is the most embarrassing thing." More embarrassing even than shooting a pheasant from 60yd or 70yd on to Peter Baxendale's Range Rover while enjoying the Viaduct drive at Castle Hill. "Peter looked very sorrowful and when he went inside the whole roof had collapsed," remembers Tang.
Tang is accompanied shooting - and indeed everywhere - by his driver-cum-loader-cum-valet. "My factotum, my Jeeves," he says. His delight in Wodehouse, and all things British, is that special appreciation that can only really be achieved after a foreign birth and a certain kind of English education. It makes him spark-ling company, despite the perfectionist side.
On leaving the Dorchester I hurry home to check the temperature of my fridge.
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