This is an archive review. China China has now closed down and is replaced by the Lu Shan.
Somebody once said that the average age of the Isle of Wight’s population could be significantly altered by the flooding of the east and west yar rivers; making the county the Isles of Wight as the legendary elderly residents of Bembridge and Freshwater float off into the sunset. An interesting proposal and probably a useful one for gerrymandering too.
Talking about sea level rise one evening, reminded Matt and Cat of this ludicrous proposal and they decided to take a visit to Bembridge to check that it was still there. Fortunately Cat’s car did not need its amphibious modifications to make the short trip along the Embankment. Arriving dry and hungry in the heart of this popular village, Matt and Cat were drawn to the canopies of Fultons. Oh, hang on, the canopies were a remnant of the venue’s previous incumbent. This restaurant is now China China.
Stepping up to the wall of glass that is the front of the establishment, the door was opened and Matt and Cat passed through it into the warm and friendly interior. Unlike its cavernous namesake in Cowes, China China in Bembridge is a far more intimate venue. The trappings may be similar – etched glass-topped tables, Oriental wall hangings and starched napkins – but the atmosphere was far cosier.
Coats were taken, complimentary prawn crackers were delivered and menus proffered. The food is helpfully categorised by its primary ingredient, e.g. king prawn, chicken, duck, scallop dishes – you get the idea. Also, in the tradition of Asian food, some of the dishes are ranked by according to their spiciness with little pictures of chillies and the quaint description “mild attack on the taste buds”. And, if that graphic wasn’t enough, dishes containing nuts have a little nut picture next to them. Nice and simple for the hard of thinking. The menu in China China, as well as containing all the usual Chinese dishes, is notable for its inclusion of quite a few more exotic (and sometimes more expensive) dishes. Matt steered Cat away from the anticipated delights of chicken chow mein and suggested that she might like to fill up on fillet – beef steak being a most unexpected choice for a Chinese restaurant. Matt decided to strike out for unknown territory with something he’d never tried: chose scallops with sugar-snap peas.
During the brief wait for their food, Matt and Cat were blasted by the conversation of the rambunctious, deckshoe-wearing occupants of a nearby table. Actually, just one of the party was broadcasting, his bellowing voice ricochetting around the room whilst his companions tried feebly to shush him as he spouted forth his jolly cod-wisdom. “You only live once”, he pontificated at full volume, “so go for it”. Whether he was referring to some perilous high seas adventure or the prospect of eating ‘squid Szechuan style’ is unclear.
To that oral ‘fanfare’ from Bembridge’s answer to Brian Blessed, the motorcade for the dinner arrived in the form of a very hot plate warmer, a tiny bowl for Matt and a big plate for Cat. To continue the rather laboured metaphor, the VIP in the limousine – the main courses – arrived shortly afterwards. Cat’s fillet steak sizzled on its scorchingly-hot griddle and Matthew’s scallops peeped more demurely from under their blanket of peapods and shredded carrot.
Cat normally manipulates chopsticks with a reasonable amount of success – one mouthful for The Cat, one for Mr Floor. However, given the size of the slices of fillet steak, she decided to do battle using the pre-laid spoon and fork. It is a testament to how delicious and soft the fillet steak was as it could be cut with ease with a spoon! No need for flesh-ripping steak knives with this prime cut. The slivers of ginger gave the dish just the right amount of tang and the spring onions were soft and aromatic. The nicely presented egg-fried rice and the remaining prawn crackers helped soak up the delicately flavoured juices.
Matt’s scallops were an interesting choice and he was glad he broke his scallop duck. he’d been offered the choice of a bowl of a plate, and so, having chosen the tiny bowl, he ate the meal with chopsticks for authenticity. An interesting challenge with the slippery morsels of shellfish. However, they were not as tasty as he was expecting – in fact they were almost bland. The accompanying sauce was very subtle indeed, and the peas were crunchy and fresh and their texture complimented the soft molluscs. Nonetheless, Matt prefers something a bit spicier and was slightly disappointed. Perhaps he should have heeded the menu and chosen a dish with a jaunty chilli next to it? Cat quite liked her taste of the fishy scallops but soon turned her attention back to the beef.
By now the restaurant was really filling up. This did not take long as there was already a fair crowd of waiting staff – it was like being in the lighting department of Hursts, solicitous acolytes everywhere. This led to a discussion about when does attentive become intrusive? Certainly it seemed that there was always someone standing to attention at the end of Matt and Cat’s table which made photographing the food and using the podcaster a bit conspicuous. Still, Cat snapped readily under the watchful eye of their ever-present waiter.
Still, if the only complaint about the place is the keenness of the staff, it can’t be too bad. Matt and Cat preferred this village-sized version of China China to the Cowes behemoth, although eating in is not particularly cheap. The service was quick and polite and the food extraordinarily fresh. Go there now before you have to take a ferry to the East Isle of Wight!