Like an unstoppable train, the Matt and Cat eating out guide is garnering recommendations for new places to try on a daily basis. Happy to respond to the metaphorical gauntlet thrown down by their readers, M and C ventured to darkest Sandown, specifically to Lee’s Chinese Kitchen – their sixth eating out place to be reviewed since the beginning of December. Far from grumbling about their expanding waistlines and rapidly emptying purses, M and C boldly went in to Lee’s…
…and, after a short wait, were greeted by a very friendly waiter who, quite frankly, seemed surprised to see them. He was even more surprised when they motioned to the dining area of the establishment and requested a table. There was no difficulty in finding one; the place was empty. However, it was early on a windy mid-week evening and, judging by the glittering lost sequin on the floor, Lee’s is sometimes buzzing with party-goers in their twinkly finery. A fact confirmed by the waiter. It was also notable that the takeaway side of the business was working briskly, with many satisfied customers coming and going through the separate entrance whilst Matt and Cat sat in solitary glory in the restaurant.
Apparently Lee’s restaurant is a new addition to the long-established and adjoining take-away “serving the community since 1984”, as it claimed. Certainly the place bristled with newness, with furniture, carpet and blinds seeming pretty fresh and the tables laid with pleasingly-designed paper placemats and small vases of fresh bright chrysanthemums.
The appearance of newness was slightly marred by the dog-eared menus. None-the-less, the waiter was very enthusiastic and even helped Matt choose the perfect rice to accompany his chicken and mushroom dish.
Nibbling on a complimentary serving of prawn crackers whilst they waited for their starters to arrive, Matt was entertained by the view of a pipe-smoking butcher in a shop on the other side of the road. Sandown… it’s like a trip back in time – an experience previously felt on a visit to Kate Cottage.
Cat’s crispy seaweed starter was beautifully presented in what looked like a hand-thrown bowl. The foliage was sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with seafood powder. Intriguingly it was served with a teaspoon which made eating it a stringy adventure. It proved to be very tasty.
Matt, feeling daring, had spicy squid – deep fried tentacles with a potent batter, served piping hot with fresh spring onion. The waiter was quite concerned about Matt’s choice and voluntarily bought a jug of water to the table in case Matt’s Tiger beer was not up to the job of cooling his mouth. Matt, however, is made of asbestos and was able to not only eat, but very much enjoy, his squid. It was a delicious and unusual dish.
A short wait ensued. The main course arrived. Again, like Cat’s seaweed, the food was nicely presented; the waiter exposing the rice from under a lid with a flourish. Cat went for a rather safe mushroom chow mein. Alas, it was a bit too safe. The menu described it as mushrooms with noodles and bean sprouts – this was more like the recipe as that is all the ingredients the dish contained. The three ingredients had been swirled around a light sauce of some sort and also quite a lot of grease. It was tasty but a bit too slippery and boring. Perhaps a hint of finely chopped spring onion or the suggestion of egg would have added a bit of interest? However, in its favour, the mushrooms were nice and chunky.
Matt enjoyed his chicken and mushrooms with fried rice – at the recommendation of the solicitous waiter he had chosen a dish featuring a variety of mushrooms, but, rather as Cat found, the well-cooked meal was a little bland.
The waiter optimistically returned with the sweet menu but Matt and Cat declined. A rather long wait ensued without any amusing passers-by to gawp at. Matt eventually attracted the attention of the waiter who was flitting between the restaurant and the take-away. The bill arrived. It was paid for. They left. Cat experienced a curious after-taste from her chow mein and they stopped at the Co-op to buy pudding.
Lee’s is a very popular takeaway, and the new venture into sit-down dining is a commendable effort. Matt and Cat hope that the new restaurant settles in and becomes as popular as the rest of Lee’s Kitchen clearly is.