Featured Restaurant: Peking Garden

15th December 2017

28 Main Avenue • Moor Park • HA6 2HJ • 01923 820951

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

Peking Garden holds a special place in my heart, as one of the restaurants in which I first ate 'proper' Chinese food. I'm clearly not alone in my fondness for the place; established over 30 years ago, it continues to thrive in a challenging marketplace, where lesser establishments fall by the wayside week in, week out.

Owners Kim and Lai Wong have a winning formula: a warm and friendly atmosphere, an extensive menu and thorough attention to the customers' requirements from start to finish. You barely have to think you want something, and it's there…

We begin with Pepper Prawns (shelled prawns fried in salt and chilli) and Steamed Scallops (steamed in shell). The prawns tick all the boxes: good and hot, they are bursting with flavour, and the coating is beautifully light and crispy. The delicious little garnish of garlic and spring onion disappears in no time. As it happens, we have devoured the prawns before the scallops arrive (the time lag is only momentary; our enthusiasm overwhelmed us), but this proves ideal: they act almost as a palate cleanser, served in a broth so savoury and light that when I've eaten the delicate scallop I tilt the shell and pour the juice onto the spoon – slowly, slowly – so as not to waste a drop.

We meant to order an interim course of crispy duck (along with the pancakes, the cucumber, the spring onion and the hoi sin sauce, for that hands-on do-it-yourself experience that I remember so vividly from my first exposure to oriental cuisine)… but somehow we forgot. Oops. In the event, this also proves ideal, meaning that we have plenty of appetite for our main courses – Chicken with Cashew Nuts in Yellow Bean Sauce and Sizzling Fillet Beef: Szechuan Style (Spicy) – and our side dishes of rice and Stir-fried Beans in Garlic Sauce. The beans are, as ever, particularly delicious: in fact, I could die happy if I knew how to cook them exactly like this. I wonder whether the chef would teach me?

The Chicken with Cashew Nuts in Yellow Bean Sauce (a popular dish that, unaccountably, I think I've never eaten before) is delicious. The meat is moist and tender, and the sauce not too sweet. The presentation is plain, but really, with flavours like this, who cares?

We've made a good start on the chicken and the beans before the beef announces its wonderful hissing, spitting arrival from the far side of the restaurant. The bracketed 'spicy' on the menu is justified; this is a choice that demands attention on the dish and in the mouth… but, oh, it's good. The meat is so tender, and the flavours and textures are very well integrated. Clear plates at the end bear testimony to the excellence of the food: good quality ingredients and careful preparation to traditional recipes earn ten out of ten.

The standard Toffee Apple, Toffee Banana-style desserts don't really do it for me… but I do have a weakness for Red Bean Pancakes. They don't appear on the menu, but if you're in the know (and now you all are…) the kitchen will prepare them for you. They're not quite sweet and not quite savoury, with a paste-like filling that is almost earthy. With chopped peanuts for texture, and a scoop of ice cream on the side, they're utterly heavenly. Perhaps the chef would teach me how to make these, too…

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