One thing that is bound to make you hungry is running a half marathon – especially when you haven’t run one for four years.
Lockdown can do some strange things to your head and I’ve had my fair share of mad thoughts during the last few months.
However, one idea that has actually gone down better than most is raising money for the John Taylor Hospice in Erdington, Birmingham, which looked after my dad so well.
The plan was to complete 11 months of challenges, leaving December free to relax, all while trying to get a bit fitter. I have now completed my first half marathon, having run 125 miles in February and nailing Dry January for the first time.
The fact the latter was the hardest one so far tells you all you need to know about how lockdown can quite easily get out of hand.
So, for a treat after the half marathon we decided to order in from a restaurant once again.
The go-to takeaway during lockdown seems to have been the chippy. That’s maybe because the one over the road from us in Netherton is so good.
Homemade curries have also taken off, which has put us off from ordering many in, so the other staple of any good household is Chinese. We also realised it had been months since we’d treated ourselves to a good Chinese, so that was the decision made.
And so our Saturday would go like this: get up; drive to the Express & Star office in Queen Street, Wolverhampton; run home via the A4123, Birchley roundabout, Whiteheath and Blackheath; soak the aching body in a bath; and finally all sit round the table celebrating a job well done.
And can you believe it, it all came together.
We’d been tipped off about the Rainbow Palace, in Stourbridge, by a friend. We’d also driven past it numerous times, mainly travelling to and from Mary Stevens Park, so it seemed the perfect time to give it a whirl.
Most of the research was done via the restaurant’s Facebook page, where the menu was fairly easy to find and read. We also asked some follow-up questions via Facebook, such as whether the menu was up-to-date, whether the full menu was on offer and also if they were still delivering.
The replies were very prompt and we were able to order everything and pay for the food the night before, all over the phone, which meant come Saturday all we had to do was wait until 5.30pm for the food to arrive.
As it was still Lent, it meant my wife Kelly and I were still practising pescetarians, so everything we ordered was either vegetable or fish based.
That completely refreshed how we looked at the menu and meant we had to branch out a bit, ordering dishes we probably would have completely overlooked in usual circumstances.
Staying pescetarian or even vegetarian for life just wouldn’t be for me because although the meat intake is pretty low, never having a Sunday roast or a burger on a barbecue fills me with dread.
However, for 40 days and 40 nights, it’s a good challenge especially when it comes to ordering from a Chinese menu.
So, for starters, we had crab and sweetcorn soup, as well as seafood combo and vegetable yuk shung.
Everything was shared – apart from my six-year-old daughter’s chicken fried rice, for obvious reasons – but the other mains consisted of sizzling scallops, seafood hotpot and then sides of egg fried rice, noodles and chips.
Personally, I’ve never understood having chips with a Chinese but each to their own.
Again, we laid the table out neatly, got the music ready – White Stripes greatest hits on this occasion – and settled down for a feast.
Chinese has to be shared, so all the dishes were placed in the middle of the table and we all got stuck in.
The first dish I tried was the crab meat and sweetcorn soup. Straight away it was clear the ‘meat’ was in fact shredded crab sticks but the consistency was still really nice, as were the flavours.
Then it was time to sample some of the seafood combo, which included spicy squid, battered scallops, grilled king prawns, crispy seaweed and deep-fried crab sticks.
It was clear straight away some of the texture, consistency and flavour had been lost during the delivery.
It’s hard to keep anything deep fried tasting fresh for too long so perhaps it was our fault for ordering such a dish as it meant the squid was rock-hard and quite flavourless.
However, the rest was still nice, particularly the seaweed which had a lovely crisp, sweet texture and went really well with the rest of the dish. The scallops had also been nicely cooked and all in all it was nice way to start the meal.
The star of show, when it came to the starters, was the yuk shung. That had been cooked perfectly and, on this occasion, even Annabelle wolfed it down. The veggie version was even better than meat one. Packed with flavour and coming with that nice bit of crunch, it was all served in some fresh lettuce leaves.
When it was time to move on to the mains, I dived straight into my seafood hotpot, which came with squid, scallops, prawns and the usual veg.
It was the first time I’d tried a seafood dish from a Chinese and again it was very tasty.
The prawns were huge and nicely cooked, as were the scallops. The squid was a little rubbery but I’ve had a lot worse in the past.
The sauce also accompanied the fish really nicely and had lovely, subtle flavour.
Kelly’s choice of mains was the sizzling scallops, which came with seasonal vegetables, ginger, spring onions and a choice of sauce. She opted for the black bean sauce.
For me, as we were all sharing, it was the stand-out dish. The scallops had been cooked really nicely and the sauce was powerful but not too overbearing.
The vegetables had been slightly overcooked for my liking, as I prefer a bit of crunch, but that’s just a personal preference. Kelly, however, thought the vegetables actually tasted really fresh and she particularly liked how the accompanying noodles were smaller and crispier than usual.
She also praised the vegetable yuk shung and said the scallops were a lot nicer in the main dishes compared with battered versions that came with the starters.
Annabelle also really enjoyed her chicken fried rice and what’s the best part of ordering a huge Chinese? There’s always enough for the next day, so we got to enjoy most of it all over again.
We agreed the meal probably lay somewhere in between a high-class takeaway and the sort of food provided by a quality restaurant which is not bad going at all.