Review: Royal Garden, Attleborough: 'The sizzling beef is a showstopper'
Stuart Anderson headed out of the city to find a host of Chinese delights at Attleborough's Royal Garden
There are two types of Chinese restaurants in the world: Those that give you a moist towelette in panda-themed packaging at the start of the meal and those that don’t.
Fortunately, Attlebourgh’s Royal Garden falls into the former category, and it set the tone for a series of small, unexpected delights to follow on our first dining-out experience of the new year.
For starters we had a hors d’oeuvres platter (£5.50 each), an assembly of deep-fried takeaway favourites well presented on a long plate, laid out in neat pairs, Noah’s Ark style.
There were ‘butterfly’ prawns, tender spare ribs and cheese mushroom parcels tied in knots despite their crispy, hard shells, raising more questions than they answered.
There was also a couple of satay chicken skewers strung out on a rather unnecessary lettuce garnish and a mound of seaweed. It was only later I learned that when you get seaweed at a Chinese place it’s not really seaweed at all but actually ‘fried spring greens’. Who knew? It nonetheless tasted like seaweed due to the fish powder topping, and that’s what’s important.
Our ‘middle course’ was a big plate of crispy aromatic duck (from £10). Unlike Peking duck, this dish’s fattier brother, the meat was deliciously dry and crunchy. There’s also a certain sense of achievement in the ritual of heaping duck, cucumber and spring onion into one of those flimsy pancakes, smothering it in hoisin sauce and wrapping it up neatly for delivery into one’s mouth.
The duck was all over a bit too quickly and there was quite a wait for the next course, but it turned out to be worth it.
This was the main event, a spread of sharing dishes showcasing the best of Chinese cuisine - or at least its British purveyors.
First out of the blocks was the Yeung Chow fried rice (£5.50) spiced up with shrimp, chicken, prawn and peas, as well as a plate of well-balanced stir fried mixed vegetables (£4.50).
Then out came the chicken with Chinese mushrooms in oyster sauce (£7), simple to the eyes but complex to the tongue, deeply marinated and melt-in-the-mouth.
The ‘Chinese mushrooms’ used are actually straw mushrooms, a staple Asian fungi with an intense flavour that suited the bird perfectly.
There was also a serving of Szechuan king prawns (£8.80) in a rowdy red sauce of stir fried onion, green peppers and peas. Szechuan (or Sichuan) food is famous for its bold, spicy flavours and this was no exception.
Last on the table was the sizzling beef fillet in capital sauce (£12).
A real showstopper, this emerged in a sauce still bubbling away, its ceramic dish heaped high with vegetables and small yellow blocks I was secretly hoping would be potato but turned out to be pineapple.
The meat was cooked perfectly - soft and juicy but not too much. The barbecue sauce left a lovely aftertaste, much like the restaurant itself.
Note: I visited the Royal Garden and wrote this review on New Year’s Day, just days before the venue suffered a devastating robbery. I called them back the other day and they’ve since re-opened and are trading normally.
My condolences go out to the staff who suffered through this ordeal, and I hope everyone is able to put it behind them. Attleborough is ordinarily a safe place, and this incident appears to be very much a one-off. I hope it doesn’t discourage anyone from visiting the town, or giving this restaurant a try.
The Royal Garden is in an elegant, stand-alone pile at the end of the town’s main shopping strip. The interior is nicely done in black and red and heavy wooden furniture, and there’s an aquarium blobbing along in a corner.
Ambiance and service
We dined in early doors (5pm) on a bank holiday which was possibly a mistake. The phone was buzzing off the hook with takeaway orders, which seemed to have got priority - although it appeared they were unusually snowed under that day.
It’s probably better to book for a bit later on, and, if possible, ask for a table closer to the back, away from the hubbub. The staff were doing a great job, smiley and attentive.
We stuck to soft drinks (£3.50 for a pint), but there’s a good range available including a couple of Chinese beers.
There’s a couple of steps to get inside and then the main dining area is all on one level.
There’s a stable of no-nonsense, white-tiled toilets around the back of the reception area. There were no surprises here, either good or bad.
There’s customer parking behind the restaurant off Besthorpe Road. But if you’re visiting the town, remember, this is Breckland, so council-run car parks are free. There’s one of these a short stroll away at Queen’s Square.
I’ve given prices for individual dishes here but everything we had was part of Set Meal C, which is £23.50 per person, so our bill, including a drink each, came to £54.
It would have to be the sizzling beef fillet in capital sauce. The dish was brilliantly presented and the steak was well cooked, expertly complemented by the sauce and vegetables.
This has to one of the few Chinese eateries in Norfolk outside Norwich where dining in is a real option. An increasing number of Britain’s Chinese restaurants are struggling to recruit staff as first and second generation postwar migrants retire, and booming Asian economies make moving over less attractive. That said, Chinese cuisine is more popular on these shores than ever before, so as long as the Royal Garden keeps hold of a dedicated kitchen team, it should continue to thrive.
3 great dishes to try…
1. Mixed Hors D’oeuvres (5.50 each)
2. Crispy aromatic duck (from £10)
3. Sizzling beef fillet in capital sauce (£12)
Value for money
Good value, main dishes are mostly around £8 and there’s a selection of set menus ranging from £17.50 to £38 per person. Soft drinks seemed a bit pricey at £3.50.
Visit www.royalgardenrestaurantattleborough.co.uk for more.