“ Address: 43 - 45 Oxford Rd / Reading / Berkshire / England / RG1 7QG / Tel: 0118 957 2323 „
Spending the weekend in Reading with the Saturday night out for drinks and dinner with friends we decided on China Palace for our meal as it was somewhere we'd all been before and knew the food quality was good. We also remembered that they did a buffet for a fairly reasonable price.
As we entered the restaurant at about 7.45pm on a Saturday night we looked around and noted the decor had changed. I'd not been for a good 5 years or so and couldn't really remember what it had looked like before but I found the new decor very modern and easy on the eye. With a glossy black background, there were delicate flowers, leaves and birds painted on which gave it a serene atmosphere. We were seated at a table for 4 within moments and we advised our waiter that we'd like the buffet. The system had changed from previous times we'd visited. Instead of a help yourself buffet table, we were given the "All you can Eat Menu" which costs £15.00 a head on Sunday to Thursday and £16.50 on Friday and Saturday for adults and £8.50 and £9.50 for children under 10 respectively. This offer is not available on Festival Days, although we weren't sure which Festival Days this referred to.
You might think it would be easier to order from the A La Carte menu as you would have more choice but having looked at both menus and seen the items that we particularly wanted to order available on both menus it certainly was worth the £16.50 each that we decided on for the "buffet" type menu. With this menu you are basically given a list of what is available and you order it and it's brought to your table as a starter or main course depending on what you order.
I'll list a few examples of the items available on the "All you can Eat Menu" and in brackets I'm listing the price if you order from the A La Carte menu. Where there is no price listed the item was not available on the A La Carte Menu and where some of the items are not named exactly the same thing on the 2 menus I've tried to list the A La Carte prices of the nearest equivalents.
* Mixed Hors D'Oeavres (min 2 persons) (£7.50 each)
* Seaweed (£4.50)
* Seasame Prawn Toast (£5.50)
* Vegetarian Spring Roll (£4.50)
* Barbeque Spare Ribs
* Satay Chicken (£5.00)
* Pork Dumplings (£5.00)
* Mongolian Lamb with Lettuce
* Mussels in Black Bean Sauce
* Crispy Duck (£9.50)
* Wanton Soup (£3.50)
* Chicken & Sweetcorn Soup (£3.30)
* Hot & Sour Soup (£3.30)
* King Po Chili Prawns (£8.90)
* King Prawns Szechuan Style (£8.90)
* King Prawns with Vegetables (£9.50)
* Sweet & Sour King Prawns (£8.90)
* Squid with Ginger & Spring Onion (£8.50)
* Deep Fried Shredded Chili Beef (£7.50)
* Beef with Ginger & Spring Onion (£7.00)
* Beef with Oyster Sauce (£7.00)
* Roasted "Char Sui" Pork
* Sweet & Sour Pork (£6.50)
* Kung Po Chicken (£6.50)
* Duck in Black Bean Sauce
* Fried Mixed Vegetables (£6.00)
* Fried Bean Sprouts
* Fried mange Tout (£7.00)
* Stirred Fried Mushrooms
* King Prawns in Black Bean Sauce
* Squids in Black Bean Sauce
* Beef in Black Bean Sauce
* Chicken in Black Bean Sauce
* Special Fried Rice (£9.00)
* Fried Rice with Egg (£2.90)
* Boiled Rice (£2.20)
* Spicy Singapore Fried Rice
* Chicken Chow Mein
* Plain Chow Mein
* Singapore Rice Noodles (Vermicelli)
* Chicken (£6.50)
* Beef (£6.50)
* Lamb (£7.00)
* King Prawns (£8.50)
* Mixed Veg
Below I'm listing how many items are actually available in the sections I've mentioned above:
* Starters - 20
* Soups - 7
* Seafood - 16
* Meat/Poultry - 10/17
* Vegetables - 9
* Sizzlers - 5
* Rice/Noodles - 12
* Curry - 5
So you can see there is a very large selection of items available in this menu and try as I might I couldn't think of anything that I might ever want to order which wasn't available on the "All you can Eat Menu".
If you're a fan of Dim Sum, there's a separate menu available here: http://www.chinapalacereading.com/assets/Dim_Sum.pdf (this menu is only available during the day from 12-4pm)
HOW IT'S DONE
What is different about the "All you can Eat Menu" at China Palace is that you order items off the menu and they are brought to your table. The best things about this are that you don't have to queue for items that might have run out and you get your food made specifically for you order so it's hot, not sitting in a metal container possibly having been there for 3 or 4 hours getting somewhat congealed.
The waiter advises you that you can order whatever you like from the menu but that you should eat at least half of what is brought over to you, i.e. not to waste food, I imagine many people would order too much thinking it doesn't matter because it's "eat all you can" but they do advise that if you leave more than half a portion of any dish, they will charge you for it. We ordered our starters and noted that the menu said you can't eat for more than 2 hours but there is no limit on how long you can stay seated. Tap water is charged at £1 per glass but only if you don't order ANY other drinks (which I think is rather cheeky - I've not been to a restaurant for years where they charge for tap water). As we ordered alcohol with our meal, we were offered unlimited glasses of ice cold tap water for free.
I'd say the customer service levels are somewhat hit and miss at China Palace, the waiter who seated us was less than pleasant and a couple of the waitresses who brought various dishes to us during the evening didn't even crack a smile although we were very friendly and thanked them politely. The waiter who explained how the menu worked was a real bundle of laughs and really had us chuckling. When he bought over the finger bowls he explained that they were for washing our fingers and not to drink, we roared with laughter and he told us that many people assume it's clear tea or something and start swigging at the bowl but he didn't say it in a nasty way at all. During the evening he came over quite a few times and made some funny comments which had us chuckling which was quite nice as all of the other staff seemed rather bored and not really friendly towards us or the other customers. Some of them even came across as rather abrupt. But because the one waiter was so very friendly and he waited our table for most of the evening, on balance we were quite happy with the service.
The food was brought over in a reasonable time and after we had finished our starters, the "nice" waiter encouraged us to wait a while before ordering our main course so we could have more space for our main course. This was a nice gesture and we liked that we didn't feel we were being rushed out.
I also noted that although it was Saturday and the restaurant closes at 11:30, they were still seating diners just before we left at about 10:30 and the staff seemed in no rush to take the orders quickly or rush the diners even though it was due to close in an hour.
I also noted that the staff seem to operate a well run service, I did not see anyone on nearby tables sending their food back due to it being incorrect, which I've seen on occasions in other restaurants which are so busy.
THE TASTE TEST
Having eaten out at Chinese restaurants for well over 25 years now in Central London (including Soho) and all around the UK I'd say I have a good idea of what's good and what's not when it comes to Chinese food. I have to say that the 4 of us in our party thoroughly enjoyed every dish that we ordered and we managed to finish every single dish we were served.
I loved my Crispy Seaweed - yes that dish that makes you look so very attractive when you finish and have lovely green bits stuck in your teeth so you look very dodge when people ask "How was your Crispy Seaweed?" The rest of our group ordered Seasame Prawn Toast, Barbeque Spare Ribs, Spicy Chicken Wings, Mussels in Black Bean Sauce and Mongolian Lamb with Lettuce (which I had a taste of too - the lamb was so tender, it was divine), we enjoyed it so much we ordered it again and these were just our starters! For main course the Sweet and Sour King Prawns went down a treat as did my Crispy Duck (I'm a creature of habit, I tend to order this dish in most Chinese restaurants) and we shared a selection of Beef with Ginger & Spring Onion, Chicken in Black Bean Sauce, Singapore Rice Noodles, Egg Fried Rice, Special Fried Rice and Chicken Szechuan Style.
LAYOUT OF THE RESTAURANT
The main seating is downstairs at China Palace but the toilets are upstairs on the first floor but it feels like you're climbing up two flights of stairs to get there, also the way the tables are laid out, it didn't seem very wheelchair friendly either. I did not notice a disabled lift or facilities for disabled people to reach the toilets so the restaurant loses marks for this in my book. I found the toilets to be rather unpleasant as there was water on the floor and just two toilets available, neither of which had any toilet roll. This is a rather large restaurant so I do think they need more toilets. They should definitely introduce regular checks by staff to ensure things like soap and toilet roll have not run out. I was very relieved that I always carry a packet of tissues in my handbag.
On the first floor is a function room which is available for private hire. I imagine a private party here would go down very well as it's a nice size for up to 160 people for a wedding reception, engagement party or milestone birthday or anniversary party. This private hire restaurant looks very pleasant indeed with its own bar as well. There are apparently two separate karaoke rooms available too.
When we got our bill it was 100% accurate and we were pleased to see no service charge had been automatically included but we were more than happy to leave a tip as the food had been delicious and the main person who'd waited on us was such a bubbly character - we made sure we left the cash tip for the waiter we wanted to receive it rather than as an "gratuity" on the credit card payment.
Overall I know I will definitely return to China Palace when I'm in Reading, I quite enjoyed it the first time I went about 5 years ago and now they have this new method of serving the "All you can Eat Menu" and I know what the standard of food is I know I'll be visiting again. The only small gripe I might have were the lack of toilet roll in the toilets, the £1 charge for tap water if you don't order other drinks and the fact that everything stopped for a few minutes when they played "Happy Birthday" over the speakers to two separate groups of diners which, whilst wasn't overly intrusive, it did mean that our conversation was drowned out during the groups singing to their birthday person. Once or twice during an evening is fine but I'd imagine this could get a little intrusive if it happened 5 or 6 times during your meal. A definite 4.5 out of 5 stars from me with a recommendation to try out if you're in the area.
China Palace, 43 - 45 Oxford Rd, Reading, Berkshire RG1 7QG
Tel: 0118 957 2323 / 0118 959 6683
Monday to Sunday: 12:00 - 16:00
Monday to Thursday: 18:00 - 23:00
Friday and Saturday: 18:00 - 23:30
Sunday: 18:00 - 22:00