The global recession seems to be passing the Isle of Wight’s high streets by. Apart from the sad demise of Woolworth’s, the Island’s town...

The global recession seems to be passing the Isle of Wight’s high streets by. Apart from the sad demise of Woolworth’s, the Island’s town centres seem to be bucking the national trend, with new restaurants, at least, opening weekly.

Ming Garden

On their regular stroll to Farmhouse Fayre to buy their weekly ration of veg, Matt and Cat have been watching with anticipation as the windows of the long-abandoned St James Street bathroom shop were covered over. After a couple of months pupating under oriental newspaper, a new Chinese restaurant emerged fully formed and blinking into the unusually clement winter sunlight.

So it came to pass that Newport had another Asian restaurant. There’s already a trio of Indians (Nabab, Bengal Palace and Tamarind), a brace of oriental eateries – Hong Kong Express and the unreviewed Mems (which is always closed when M and C try to eat there). Can the county town sustain another eatery or has it reached saturation point?

Matt and Cat were girding up their laughing gear for the giggle-fest that is the Quay Arts Centre Open Mic Comedy Nite and, for a pre-chortle fuel-up, they turned to the Ming Garden.

St James Street at tea time on a Friday night was buzzing, with plenty of fast food to be had and many people eager to have a pre-weekend scoff-up. Having passed the snaking queue at Stotesbury’s, Matt and Cat were surprised to find that the Ming Garden was pretty empty. However, they were greeted warmly and shown to a table in the barn-like inner chamber. This cavernous space has been neatly fitted out with hefty, carved wood glass-topped tables and a smattering of oriental screens with traditional art and calligraphy decorating their panels. Two huge scarlet lacquered pillars appear to be holding up the ceiling but on further investigation (i.e. a discrete tap) they were discovered to be hollow and presumably not load bearing. Nonetheless, they gave a welcome hint of ancient temple.

Menus, drinks and a complimentary bowl of prawn crackers soon arrived and Matt and Cat were left to study the bill of fare. This was the only respite on what was almost continuous attention from the staff. Having given their order to the waitresses and been slightly taken aback as Daniel the waiter came over and unexpectedly introduced himself by name in a very American diner fashion, Matt and Cat gawped around the venue in anticipation of their meals.

Cat ordered chicken chow mien – her benchmark dish – and Matt had beef and green pepper in black bean sauce with egg fried rice. A side dish of garlic French beans completed the order. Before long a hot plate, of the type seen in Indian restaurants, was put on the table along with warmed crockery. The actual dishes emerged from the magical interior of a dumbwaiter which was in full view of the inquisitive M and C; they had enjoyed a moment of idle speculation about where the kitchen was situated and this interesting device answered their question – either upstairs or downstairs.

Chinese food

With a flourish, two dishes were laid on the hot plate and the rest were scattered about the vast reflective tabletop. Matt’s empty bottle of Tsing Tao beer was whisked away as had been the plastic prawn cracker basket. There had been much staff presence at M and C’s table; napkins flapped over proffered laps, not one but two waitresses had busied themselves taking the order and, of course, the enigmatic Daniel whose sole role appeared to be to introduce himself.

Matt was hungry and, eating like a dog on its last meal, devoured his dinner pretty quickly, whilst Cat was more measured. This dichotomy must have caused consternation amongst the staff who made several abortive approaches as they had to restrain themselves from clearing away Matt’s plate whilst The Cat was still picking at the bowl. Cat, suffering from server fatigue, described the staff as ‘wasps at a picnic’ as they buzzed about the table expectantly. There is definitely a line over which attentive service becomes intrusive; and the Ming Garden was perilously close to crossing it. But they’re new and keen and this enthusiastic end of the service spectrum is to be preferred over the indifferent and neglectful performance experienced at the Lemon Tree in Salisbury.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Chicken chow mein £5.00
Beef with green pepper in black bean sauce £5.20
Egg fried rice £2.40
Garlic French beans £3.30
Bar £4.10
Total: £20.00

But what about the food? Cat’s favourite Chinese dish, chicken chow mien, has been served to her in a variety of ways. Yan Woo‘s interpretation of this classic dish has chunky orange noodles, Hong Kong Express offers skinny noodles and torn chicken. The Ming Garden’s version deviated from the above with its pasty-looking pieces of steamed (?) chicken which shared the plate with two pods of mange tout, all smothered with sticky gravy. It was pretty bland, and lost its temperature far too soon. Cat has been spoilt by the mountainous noodle-pyramid of the HKE; a heat-retaining structure with tasty slivers of meat, fresh spring onion and egg. She was disappointed by the Ming Garden’s chow mien. The garlic French beans were meagre in number, not particularly garlicky and decidedly underwhelming too.

Matthew’s stir-fried beef with green pepper in black bean sauce was too hot for Cat’s delicate tongue. His asbestos-like mouth was more acclimatised to the application of chilli, and he took it in his stride. The meat, although plentiful, was on the soggy side of soft. The dish tasted good enough but had little to distinguish itself.

Once they had finished eating Matt and Cat watched as their plates were whisked away and a reasonable bill arrived with a brace of mints. No fortune cookies alas but, if there had been, Cat’s would have read ‘Soon you will receive a prize for your enormous wit’ because just a few hours later at the Comedy Nite her pert head was inflated to gargantuan proportions when she was awarded a bottle of wine for the funniest audience contribution.

So the Ming Garden failed to impress. It wasn’t bad – far from it – and the massive back room in the old bathroom shop has been converted to a stylish space that could house a huge banquet if you wanted one. But for an intimate meal for two it felt a little impersonal; and if anything the well-meaning attentions of the staff furthered this impression. The food was like the venue – nothing wrong at all, but somehow undistinguished and lacking in flair. Newport’s Asian restaurants could do with some competition, but to offer it, Ming Garden is going to need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

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  • Marcelo

    31st March 2014 #1 Author

    Went to ming garden fir my birthday meal. All drinks returned 3 times as flat coke, chef forgot to cook a starter. Then waited 2 HOURS for main courses came out cold or lukewarm and over sweet. Asked to speak to manner 3 times who never came over. Complained and he did not care. Some other friends went there a week later and waited 2 hours for their main course and they walked out….

    Reply

  • da yw wyth

    22nd December 2013 #2 Author

    Went here on Friday after a two-year gap. The experience then had been satisfactory, but this time it was really outstanding. The staff were a completely different group, and in place of haphazardness they were slick, organised and efficient.

    The food was exceptional, and certainly would bear comparison with any mainland Chinese restaurant I have been to. Crisp ingredients, subtle sauces but with odd bursts of unexpected flavours; all was harmonious and of great good quality.

    The only small gripe was an hour from arriving to being served the main course. This was apparently due to a large party in another part of the restaurant – but tables near us were mostly empty, so it was well under full capacity. Luckily a waitress came to ask if “everything was allright” as we sat vacantly at an emtpy table – and all was rectified swiftly…

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  • Angela

    23rd September 2012 #3 Author

    We had the takeaway last week and were very disappointed. I ordered lemon and honey lamb, if I pay £6 for a meal I expect the tiny container to be full not half empty. There wasn’t a single vegetable in the dish, had I known this I would have ordered a side serve of vegetables. The lamb was also very fatty .Having lived in countries where Asian restaurants are very popular I was astonished to see that neither my meal or that of my husbands contained any vegetables, is this a ploy to make you buy more?. The spring roll was soggy and the ribs were not fresh. I was really looking forward to this meal but was disappointed.

    Reply

  • Karen

    1st September 2012 #4 Author

    Second time returned to the Island and 2nd time been back to restaurant, never disappointing and the food and service is excellent, had a great evening. Highly recommended.

    Reply

  • Sean

    16th August 2012 #5 Author

    Heading out of Cowes for a birthday celebration chinese sit down meal on Saturday night, for obvious reasons (we don’t have any yellow wellies!). Food was great, really tasty and big portions, but the service let them down. As another reader states it really takes the shine off the food, no matter how good, and your celebration!

    Not a particularly busy night, few tables in, lots of staff just flapping about, no eye for detail, nothing like good service, no “everything ok” no “can I get you more drinks”. We waited for drinks even after asking them to take our order, then for our starter plates to be removed, and too long for the mains to arrive, while the many staff all waited, herded together, staring at the dumb waiter – never a more aptly named piece of equipment.

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  • frances

    26th February 2012 #6 Author

    foods rubbish,full of fat and dont know what else.yukkkkkkkkkk,also,dont like the bad mannered staff.

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  • rosalie

    26th February 2012 #7 Author

    everytime i walk past the place the staff are staring outwards and bleating out embarassing and nasty comments,even though all i am doing is looking in at the decor and attempting to admire it,sometimes i am simply peeking in to watch th ecustomers.i do not stand and stare for more than a few seconds.so,i cant stand the place because of this and will be taking the longer route home a sit has been going on way too long.i can assure you,they are bad mannered in behaving as such and truly unprofessional and is no way to run a business.also i have told friends,so they dont shop there anymore.

    Reply

  • Lucie

    12th March 2011 #8 Author

    I laughed out loud at the Mat & Cat review as we had a couple of similar experiences in the early days when despite the dozens of waiting staff flapping around your table; they couldn’t seem to co-ordinate the service so that we had literally had one of our party finished whilst another waited for starter. The waiting staff have definitely stopped taking whatever they were on in the first few months. It is much calmer & co-ordinated now.
    To be honest we found the early experiences good comedy value even if a little unorthodox!
    Why do we continue to return? Well partly because it’s very convenient to our house … but otherwise, we always have a good experience. Yes I agree that they probably use some bought sauces, the style is a bit English/Chinese … but it’s good or better than good. We’ve never had a bad experience. And I like their house wine choice as well. If you’ve been before & been disappointed give it another go. We always end up there if we want a reliably enjoyable dinner … or lunch.

    Reply

  • Ben

    22nd January 2011 #9 Author

    All I can remember is waiting. Lots and lots of waiting.

    There wasn’t even many people then.

    Fail.

    Reply

  • Sean

    11th January 2011 #10 Author

    Must say we have had 2 family meals over the holidays on Xmas Eve and News Years Eve at Ming Garden. Both were superb in terms of quality and quantity of food, value for money and service. My Sister and her family were with us to try for the first time and were also very impressed, some of the dishes were really superb such as the ‘roast pork chow mein’ and ‘beef with bell peppers’. On New Years Eve they gave all the adults and children a nice calendar to wish us in the New Year, will be going again soon.

    Reply

  • Rich W

    28th November 2010 #11 Author

    Visited with my daughter’s family which included my 5 year old grandaughter almost as soon as they opened at 5.30pm on friday 26th november 2010. Very quick to take our order, but after that it went downhill. The starter took a half hour to arrive, and after an hour we were still awaiting the not-so-crispy duck.

    During this time we witnessed an almost non-stop stream of takeaways emerging from the dumb waiter.

    Luckily, my grandaughter is a happy little girl who kept herself occupied with her colouring. After a couple of prompts, the main course arrived a little before 8 and my grandaughter was confronted by a (for a 5 year old) terrifyingly huge plate.

    We ate a few mouthfuls, but the little girl was clearly out on her feet so we paid the highish bill (no tip) and left.

    Not a single word of apology from anyone about the long wait for our order. The food was nothing to write home about. A long drawn out romantic meal ? Probably fine…..a family supper out ? Forget it.

    Reply

  • Joanna Lewis

    15th November 2010 #12 Author

    Me and my husband are regular customers of Ming Garden. Never had bad experience either dining in or order take away with them. Well, except there might be a little longer wait and no table available for walk in customers during some busy weekends. However it just pays off everytime when we get the food. They do the best spare ribs (love capital ribs most!) and curry in town! Makes me mouth watering everytime I think of it.. YUM!

    Definately a good choice if you are craving for Chinese!

    Reply

  • TINA FRENCH

    30th September 2010 #13 Author

    WE HAVE BEEN INTO MING GARDEN AT LEAST 20 TIMES IN THE PAST 6 MONTHS.
    WE HAVE TAKEN MY FRIENDS IN PARENTS IN IN LAWS IN KIDS IN…

    WE HAVENT HAD A BAD MEAL YET…

    WEVE HAD TAK AWAYS ALL MEALS ARE VERY QUICK TO BE BROUGHT OUT ALWAYS VERY VERY TASTY.
    VERY PLEASENT STAFF.
    ALWAYS HELP FUL AND CONSTANTLY MAKING SURE EVERYTHING IS OK.

    MY MUM AND DAD ARE AT MING GARDEN TODAY WITH NAN AND GRANDAD. AND WE WILL BE GOING AGAIN IN A WEEK HIGHLY RECOMENDED… A++++++++++

    EVERYTIME

    Reply

  • catherine

    1st September 2010 #14 Author

    We went to Ming garden last night..my partner and i and my 9 year old little boy.
    On first impressions we were pleasantly surprised. The decor was classy. The menu had a nice range of dishes. BUT we ordered a starter platter that stated for two people.We knew it would be enough as my little boy has a small appetite and only eats ribs and noodles!we ordered it alongside a few other dishes to come out all at once.The food came out , very nicely presented and we enjoyed it. When we got the bill, thats when the disappointment came…they had charged £17 for a starter that stated £11 .. they said they had put enough on for three people. I explained that we never asked for extra and that we knew it would have been enough. The manager said they had put extra on and we should have realised that…we explained that we couldnt have realised as we have never seen their portions before!! Basically, he insisted we paid and yes it is only £6 but it was the way the whole thing had been conducted. There was no customer relations there and no compromising or apologieds..It makes it very difficult to feel we want to go back…

    Reply

  • Matt

    16th August 2010 #15 Author

    We had a take away from here on Sunday night we ordered several different dishesand quite frankly were a little disappointed we ordered crispy duck and pancakes and spare ribs but both had been precooked then microwaves so instead of having a nice crispy duck it was all soggy and the spare ribs were chewy with a bought in sauce over them. Alarm bell did start ringing when I was told that our order would be ready to collect in 15 mins. I would have rather they said it would be half an hour and had popped the duck under the grill to crisp it and to put the ribs in the oven. In their favour the pork dumplings were very good. Will think carefully about using them again

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  • Sean

    21st June 2010 #16 Author

    Popped in for their set lunch, Prawn Crackers, Soup, Main and Rice and a soft drink (or ice cream if you prefer) for £7.50, we were most impressed with the choice on offer and the dishes were the same size as when you eat here in the evenings. Was very good quality and value and there was quite a few eating. We will be visiting again soon.

    Reply

  • Greg

    11th June 2009 #17 Author

    I’ve been there several times recently and can say that the service has improved since their opening. Meals are alot hotter now at the table. Best chinese i’ve been to on the island by far. Definately worth a visit should you pass through newport

    Reply

  • Mike

    8th May 2009 #18 Author

    Went here for our company staff dinner, our experience was not so nice in fact the whole evening was spoilt.
    Arrived at eight and was kept waiting for drinks after complaining several times the waitress hurriedly gave us stone cold plates at 10.00 oclock with the food arriving at 10.30 “guess what” yep the food like the plates was also cold our sales managers duck curry had a skin on it
    It was then we promptly walked out and found ourselves another eating establishment

    Reply

  • linda bassett

    25th March 2009 #19 Author

    a group of 10 of us went here for lunch and ALL of us said was brilliant.We all had different meals and all said would return.

    Staff were friendly .

    Would reccomend it.

    Reply