Food review: Taste of the Orient at China Lodge
Food writer Andy Richardson enjoys a feast of the Orient served by polite and charming staff at a restaurant that will continue to please.
The first thing you notice is the Covid-19 precautions. While there are plenty of restaurants who roll the dice, playing fast and loose with Government regulations, China Lodge takes no such risks.
Those entering the restaurant are given a temperature check before being shown to their seat.
Staff wear masks, to guard against cross infection, while the bottles of sanitiser and tubs of wipes are stacked higher than the jars of soy sauce.
There are too many restaurants who’ve imposed a minimum-requirement standard, risking the health of their patrons as well as their staff.
China Lodge is the antidote; it takes a belt-and-braces approach and makes sure risks are minimal.
That policy, however, doesn’t intrude on dinner in one of Kidderminster’s best-established and most fondly-regarded restaurants.
It doesn’t feel too Covid-y. Staff are simply keeping themselves and their guests safe.
Isn’t that what all establishments are supposed to be doing?
The last time I looked, we were still in the middle of a pandemic without a vaccine in circulation.
The Government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme provided money in empty tills throughout August, but the real tests start now. Furlough is coming to an end and we are heading into leaner autumn months, when people tend to spend less.
Restaurants that are well supported by their local communities will be fine, others may fall by the wayside.
China Lodge has an impressive reputation.
Its owners formerly ran premises in Bridgnorth before relocating around five years ago.
I’m guessing the banner on their website saying ‘Worcestershire’s newest contemporary Chinese & Asian restaurant’ shows it’s not been updated since then.
It is, however, highly regarded in the area and despite the pandemic is among the businesses that can be relied upon to come through this most challenging of times.
The team who made the successful transition from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster remain, save for a new face here and there.
Little wonder, therefore, that the team runs like clockwork.
When my partner and I visited for a Sunday dinner, orders were quickly taken, staff made numerous visits to the table to ensure everything was fine, dishes were promptly brought to the table and the evening ran swimmingly.
Efficient, engaged and polished, front of house was of a high standard throughout.
Waiters and waitresses were polite and charming, engaging in conversations with a number of guests.
The restaurant is light and airy. Styled with modernity in mind, it remains in good condition with clean, sleek lines and plenty of Asian-inspired artworks.
With dashes of colour here and there, it’s a pleasant space in which to eat where tables are sensibly spaced and guests kept apart so as to remain safe.
The menu is colossal, isn’t it at most Chinese restaurants?
This specialises in Sichuan, Cantonese and Thai cuisine with detailed menus catering to fans of all three.
My partner and I were in the mood for spice and opted for a Sichuan feast, featuring dishes from the province in south Western China that are notable for their bold flavours and the liberal use of garlic and chilli peppers, as well as Sichuan pepper.
It was disappointing, therefore, that such depth of flavour was notable only by its absence.
The expected hit of sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty was not evident.
Instead, the food was pleasant but indistinct.
We started with a shared plate of starters. Sesame prawn toast was generously topped and fried until golden brown and crunch.
Crispy seaweed was sweet and had great texture. Chicken skewers with satay sauce were a highlight. The satay was the most vibrant and compelling sauce of the evening, punching above its weight and offering a hit of chilli-infused flavour. Delicious.
A BBQ rib, by contrast, was fabulously bland. The ribs had been well cooked, with crunchy ends, though the sauce was a mediocre streak of red with little flavour.
A crispy spring roll completed the starter; it was fine.
The next course was a crispy aromatic duck with steamed, wafer-thin pancakes, spring onion, cucumber and hoi sin sauce.
The duck was exceptional. Ridiculously well cooked, the meat was tender while the extremities were fabulously crisp.
Intensely flavoursome and with great texture, it was a highlight.
The cucumber and spring onion were generously proportioned and neatly cut, the pancakes hot-to-touch, though the sauce lacked depth or sophistication.
And then it was time for three sharing courses, which purported a celebration of China’s tastiest region. Sichuan shredded crispy beef was anything but spicy. In a two-horse race, it came a distant second to the earlier chicken satay.
The beef had been well cooked and had plenty of crunch, it’s dancing partner, however, had two left feet. Stir-fried kung po chicken was the pick of the three, though the sauce was again a little too oily and sweet, rather than hot.
The dish had plenty of fresh vegetables and cashew nuts while the chicken was tender and had been well cooked.
A final dish, stir-fried king prawns with seasoned greens in garlic, wine and soya sauce, was decent, if not a little underwhelming.
All of the elements had been nicely cooked, though the sauce was again the weak link.
It lacked substance, a so-so component of an otherwise enjoyable plate.
We skipped dessert. The idea of fried stuff and ice cream was unnecessary after such a generous and economically-priced main.
Our abiding impressions were simple to relate: the staff were excellent, they always are.
Bristling with efficiency and a willingness to please, they were outstanding throughout.
The Covid regulations and restaurant interior were also high scoring.
It’s important that guests feel safe in uncertain times and management had gone the extra mile to ensure that.
The food was all neatly cooked, though the sauces lacked punch.
They were fine but not great, acceptable but not impressive, okay but nothing special.
Nonetheless, China Lodge remains a Chinese restaurant that’s better than most in the region. Fairly priced, hygienic and clean, working hard to cater to all, it’s pleased many over the years and no doubt will continue to do so.
Salt and pepper soft shell crabs (two), £10.80
BBQ spare ribs, £7.90
Sesame prawn on toast, £7.80
Sizzling fillet steak in black pepper sauce, £18.80
Grilled salmon fillet with spicy black bean and soy sauce, £15.80
Stir fried king prawns in satay sauce, £11.80
Special fried rice, £8.50
Prawn crackers, £2.50
21 Bewdley Road, Kidderminster, DY11 6RS
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