Posted by: mikeydude | August 19, 2009

Shanghai Nights Bristol Review (6/10)

Friends of mine have mentioned this new all-you-can-eat restaurant in Bristol called Shanghai Nights for a few months now. Now I cannot emphasise enough how unenthusiastic I am when it comes to these buffets. This is because I can never overcome the temptation to literally stuff myself to the edge of explosion in order to get the most value for money. This has resulted in many a nauseous experience after the meal. However I was told this one is different. You don’t go up to get the food yourself. You order a few items off a huge menu and once you’ve finished those you order more. The only catch is that you may be charged for leaving any leftovers… So, on one tired evening on a drive back from London along the cursed M4 we decided to give it a try.

The place was easy enough to find. It’s conveniently located not far off the M32 which is just off the M4. It probably takes around 5-10 mins once you get off the M4. There’s no restaurant parking space so you have to find an NCP. The place itself is an attempt of ‘modern oriental decor’ which all new chinese restaurants are characteristic of since the success of London’s Hakkasan. The place itself has the restaurant on the 1st floor, and the club “Funky Buddha Bar” on the top floor.

On entering the place I had to go and find a waiter. The place was pretty full, and yet I could only see a handful of struggling waiters. When we were finally seated we were handed the menu. Hmmm… quite an extensive menu as I was told. Items ranged from Dim Sum (?) which had items such as Siu Mai and steamed pork buns, to aromatic crispy duck. I was particularly impressed by the presence of cantonese roast duck with roast pork, as well as braised pork belly and yam. Even more surprising was the presence of scallops and even sea bass fillets! Not bad I thought, and all this for £12.80 per head. I was going to order as much as I could to get the best snapshot of the chef’s abilities here.

I was immediately annoyed by the waiter who told me that it was mandatory to order drinks. I was going to order a beer anyway, but this could have been mentioned in the pricing information for courtesy if anything. After all, the Mrs just wanted iced tap water. She ordered apple juice in the end. The drinks took a while to arrive but we were quite impressed with the freshly squeezed apple juice. Definitely not from a carton.

The terribly understaffed establishment became evident once more when I had to gesture to waiters a few times before I could finally list our first set of orders. You’re allowed to order a maximum of 4 dishes per person in each round of ordering… so naturally we ordered 8 dishes to start with. As expected they took a while to come out, but here’s what I thought of what we ordered….

Cantonese Roast Duck with Roast Pork, Hunan Prawns, and Scallop & Mango Spring Rolls

Impressive. The Hunan prawns were a generous portion of well cooked chilli prawns stir-fried with peppers and black beans. The roast pork had a wonderful crispy skin. However there was hardly any actual meat…. mostly fat. Seemed more like roast lardons than pork belly. Nevertheless I was impressed with the chef’s ability to produce that crispy skin, which is no simple task. The duck was less impressive as expected. The skin was soggy and the meat overcooked. The best chinese roast duck I’ve had in this country is a place in Paddington called Pearl Liang. Beautifully crispy duck skin with moist meat underneath. A portion of that costs around £13, so I really wasn’t expecting too much from the roast duck. I was still happy that they attempted it regardless as these dishes are rare in buffets in this part of the world. The spring rolls were the weakest link of these 3. They were crispy enough, but all I could taste inside was mango. Where was the scallop? Cost-cutting dish this one.

Singapore Fried Noodles and Pei Pa Tofu

Pei Pa Tofu is one of my favourite tofu dishes. It is essentially balls of tofu mixed with a small amount of ?meat, deep-fried, and finished off with a lovely glaze of some sort. I was very happy indeed to see this on the menu as it’s another one of those typical A La Carte items I order at authentic chinese restaurants. This attempt was not bad. Again it lacked the crispiness of the tofu, but you must be realistic relating to how much you’re paying. The Singaporean fried noodles were not as good as my local takeaway version, but the portion was generous and some toasted sesame seed gave it a nice aroma.

Braised Aubergine & Tofu Seafood Hot Pot

Lots of aubergine in this little pot. I’m a big fan of aubergine and I think this was a nice generous pot of tender braised aubergine. The seafood tofu was a let-down as it was just mainly vegetables with a few chunks of tofu. The “seafood” was barely a few minuscule strips of rubbery squid. Not really impressed with this one.

Salt Roasted Chicken

Done properly this dish along with Hainanese Chicken Rice are my favourite oriental chicken dishes ever. This attempt however was badly lacking. Unfortunately it’s very difficult when you’ve tasted a dish in all its authentic glory to be presented with a really toned down version in chinese buffets. Again I must say it’s great to have such a classic dish on the menu. It’s just the chicken was dry and overdone, and the skin was not smooth and delicate as my memory tells me it should be. This was more like braised chicken with a bit of sauce slapped on top afterwards.

That was our first round of 8 dishes. I must admit I was fairly full by this point, but my chinese instincts told me to carry on. We could no way manage another 8, so here’s what I thought of the remainder…

Prawns and 3 types of mushroom

As you can see from the image this dish was totally covered with mushrooms (mainly button I think), with a handful of prawns. I wasn’t that keen on the mushrooms, which were probably simply sauteed, but the prawns were cooked well enough I suppose. Another fairly ordinary dish.

Bak Choy with 3 types of mushroom

bak choy 4 mushrooms

Ahh… the dreaded “3 types of mushroom” again. As you can see from the pics, the mushrooms are cooked in a similar manner except with a few chillis thrown on top. The bak choy gave us at least some of our vegetable intake for the day, simply stir fried with garlic.

Prawn and Scallops fried with Vegetables

prawn and scallop

Now this dish did have scallops, although mainly thinly sliced sections of scallop stir fried with quite a number of prawns. Nicely cooked and well seasoned. Of course it cannot compare with pan-seared whole scallops. Again, it’s about what you’re getting for the amount you pay.

Braised Pork Belly and Yam Hotpot

This has to be one of the dishes of the evening. It’s a shame my abdomen was bursting at this point! Wonderfully soft pieces of belly pork with tender strips of yam. Mmmmmm… it was very tasty and texture was almost perfect. This is probably the only dish we had that could be considered authentically done. I would be pleased with this A La Carte.

Steamed Sea Bass fillets wrapped with vegetables and mushrooms, and Deep Fried Custard Buns

I was quite disappointed in the sea bass, as I thought (rather foolishly might I add) that we were going to get real fillets of steamed sea-bass. In reality it was just a wrap of thumb sized sea bass fillet (or maybe little finger sized) with some mushrooms and veg. It was rather tasteless. The deep fried custard buns were adequate. The custard ‘yoke’ wasn’t as liquidy as I would like, but this was as expected. It was basically a custard filled doughnut. Who would say no to that? 😀

Right so we were completely stuffed at the end of this meal. Seriously could eat no more! And in all honesty the food I received was far far far superior than the food I expected, and at that price I think it’s seriously good value for money. Yes the dishes themselves were mostly very average, but then there were some like the braised pork belly and the crispy skin of the roast pork which really showed glimpses of a chef that knows what he’s doing. I think the place could do with some more staff, but then again I don’t think they’re making much profit from the price that they’re charging.

Anyway the final bombshell was the bill. They charged an extra £1 per head than what was written on the menu. When quizzed about this they said it’s because it’s the weekend. I was not impressed with this as this was not stated on the menu. I reluctantly paid the extra being particularly annoyed about the lack of principles as opposed to the cost. Despite this however, I would still heartily recommended this place to anyone with an empty stomach in search of a glimpse of what real chinese cuisine can potentially offer (and on a budget!!!).

Unit C
Nelson Street
0117 9450505


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