The Queens Cantonese, Wolverhampton

Our undercover meal reviewer, The Insider, enjoys a feast at a Cantonese restaurant which has stood the test of time.

The Queens Cantonese, Wolverhampton
The Queens Cantonese, Wolverhampton

Our undercover meal reviewer, The Insider, enjoys a feast at a Cantonese restaurant which has stood the test of time.

I don't think I've ever wanted one of Betty's hotpots as much as I did this week. Wouldn't that have been just the perfect review?

"The Insider celebrates Coronation Street's 50th birthday by going undercover at the Rover's Return."

But while it would be a nice idea, there are a couple of obstacles that made this a bit tricky. First of all, this column is supposed to be a showcase of the different places you can eat and drink in the West Midlands, and given that the nation's favourite soap is supposed to be set in Lancashire (Greater Manchester if you must), some would probably say that is stretching the boundaries or our region a little too far.

Secondly, and we underestimate this at our peril, is that Coronation Street is a work of fiction, so The Rover's Return, and indeed Betty's Hotpot, do not actually exist, making it rather difficult to carry out a review. Sorry if I've shattered your illusions, but you know me, I always tell it like it is.

However, in these increasingly uncertain times, it is good to see that some things never change.

And while The Queen's Cantonese cannot yet rival Newton & Ridley's most popular pub in our consciousness, it's smoked glass frontage, and chocolate brown signs have been a reassuringly constant presence in Wolverhampton over the last 20 years.

Twenty years. It's hard to believe it's 20 years since 1990, does it? Twenty years since Margaret Thatcher made way for John Major. Twenty years since the reunification of East and West Germany. Two decades since Chris Tarrant fronted the Cluedo gameshow.

But while 20 years does not seem much in the passage of time, it sure is a long time in the restaurant trade. Think about those favourite haunts, the places you would have gone for a meal 20 years ago, and how many of them are still there, still run along the same lines, still under the same management?

Some will have survived, the best ones, but studies show that something like 20 per cent of restaurants close within their first 12 months, and only a minority survive beyond three years. So for a restaurant to celebrate its 20th birthday, particularly during the present harsh economic conditions, is an achievement indeed.

And never mind the economy, the conditions were pretty harsh when we arrived too. The snow had temporarily abated, but that seemed little consolation to the brass monkey shivering in the bus shelter across the road.

You have to say, the outside appearance of the building is a little low-key; smart and tidy, but there's little to make it stand out, a little drab even. The bright red panel work below the deep picture windows add a dash of colour, but otherwise it lies firmly in the shadow of the garish green Co-op supermarket next door.

Inside it is a totally different story, displaying a warm and stylish ambience hidden from the outside world by that dark, smoked shield of glass.

There is a mixture of small, square tables, finished in a dark wood, and larger, round tables decorated with brown and white tablecloths, which our group sat around. The tables are all stylishly laid, with smart cream napkins neatly folded, and the tapestry-backed chairs are both classy and comfortable. Tasteful Christmas decorations adorned the walls.

It was fairly quiet when we arrived at 7 o'clock on a Friday night, but it soon livened up as the evening wore on. A group of four couples took their places on a long table behind us, and a group of mature ladies gathered around a table in front of the bar. A youngish couple took one of the tables by the window, and by around 8.30 the place was buzzing.

Getting into the swing of the festive period, we took advantage of the special Christmas menu, where groups of six or more can sample a range of different dishes for £19.80 a head.

The crisp spring rolls had a gentle, spicy flavour, with a subtle herb seasoning making it an ideal choice for somebody new to Chinese food, and the barbecued spare ribs with Kung-do sauce were beautifully cooked and just fell off the bone. It was a pleasant change to see the Thai pork yuk shung served in a pancake rather than with lettuce.

I decided to deviate from the set menu for my main, and paid an extra £9.80 for strips of beef fillet served with fresh peppers and a black pepper sauce. The meat was excellent, extremely tender, the sauce and the peppers giving the dish as spicy tang. The duck was beautifully crisp, totally devoid of the stodgy rubbery texture it sometimes suffers from, and my friend - something a connoisseur - says the king prawns were something special, beautifully succulent and much better than the norm.

The meal was accompanied by a bottle of Quarry Road sauvignon blanc, and a couple of bottles of house red - shared between 10 of us, I hasten to add. The red was a soft, full-bodied affair, and reasonable value at £14.80 a bottle. The white, from the Marlborough in New Zealand, was superb, fully exhibiting the dry, fruity flavours which this region is noted for, although it wasn't cheap at £17.80.

For afters I had a simple vanilla ice cream, which seemed a fitting way to round off the meal, although by this time the majority of my friends found they could eat no more.

Altogether it worked out at about £25 a head, and while it's not the cheapest Chinese meal in town, we all agreed it had been a great night and was well worth the money. It is Christmas, after all.

Not convinced? Well don't just take my word for it. I decided to feature The Queens after getting a tip-off from former EastEnders star Leslie Grantham, who had a wonderful time here while performing at The Grand.

So while it's not quite the Rover's, it is a favourite of the Queen Vic's most famous landlord. That's what I call an endorsement.

ADDRESS

The Queens Cantonese, 41 Queen Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 3JW

Phone: 01902 713399

MENU SAMPLE

STARTERS

Deep fried squid £3.90; Steamed pork dumpling £3; Fried mussels with black bean sauce £8

MAIN COURSES

Fried Singapore rice and vermicelli noodles £6.40; Sizzling lamb in hot and spicy sauce £8.90; King prawns in birds nest of potato £9.80; Sliced chicken with black bean sauce and peppers £7.90; Pork chops and fruity Peking sauce £7.90

DESSERTS

Banana fritter with syrup; Ice cream; Fresh fruit salad

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