“ Cuisine: Chinese / Contact: 51 North Road, Durham, Durham DH1 4SF / 01913 709180 „
[Update April 2011: Sadly, Dynasty Buffet is no more, having closed down to make way for yet another Indian restuarant (like Durham needs any more of those.)]
At this time of year, you can get a bit fed up with turkey and sprouts. If so, the all-you-can-eat restaurant The Dynasty Buffet (or China Joe's as it is more affectionately known) offers an attractive alternative.
If you are in Durham just for the day, Dynasty Buffet is very handily located, as it's less than 10 minutes walk from the station (although after you have eaten all that food, this walk may take you longer!). It sits at the top of North Road, less than 5 minutes walk from Durham City Centre, so whether you are heading into Durham or out of it, you can call in at China Joe's on your way!
Looks-wise, there's not much to immediately recommend China Joe's. It has a rather spartan look, with fairly anonymous wooden tables and chairs laid out to serve parties of various sizes and this no-frills approach extends to pretty much all aspects of dining there. The whole thing looks a little like a cafeteria and to be honest, had it not been recommended to us, I'm not sure we would have ventured inside. It can get very busy at times (particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings) and the open plan nature of the restaurant does mean that it can be noisy. However, if you choose your night carefully (Wednesdays and Thursdays are good!) you can have a very peaceful dining experience too, so whatever takes your fancy!
The Cafeteria-style continues with the food itself. Dishes are laid out at the top of the room in hot metal dishes stored on a hotplate to keep them warm. Essentially, they are laid out in the order of starters, rices, then main courses, although of course, there is absolutely nothing to stop you from piling a little bit from each section onto your plate! The concept is simple - you grab a plate, help yourself to whatever you fancy.
There's no limit on the amount of food that you can pile on your plate, although to discourage waste, you can be charged extra if you waste platefuls of food, which is fair enough. Similarly, there is no limit on the amount of times you can refill your plate and, whilst there is nominally a 1.5 hour limit on your meal time, this doesn't appear to be enforced.
There is a wide variety of dishes of the type you would normally see on a Chinese takeaway menu, including things like spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken, several different types of rice and extra things such as duck pancakes, prawn crackers and soup are available at no extra cost. There is a genuinely wide range of dishes available and you can either choose to stick just to on particular dish or be more adventurous and try lots of little bits from everything.
And that's the nice thing about China Joe's. You can try a little bit of something you've never had before and, if you don't like it, simply go back and get something else instead, without having spoiled the entire meal by ordering something you don't like.
True, there's little or no variety in the menu. Each time you go, it's pretty much the same food that available, so if you like a lot of variety, you might find what Joe's have to offer a little limiting after a few visits. Many of the meat dishes also tend to be quite heavily chicken-based, so if you're not keen on chicken, you are a little more limited in choice.
The main disappointment is the desserts. In fairness, this is mostly because dessert really is a more western concept and Chinese cooking does not really go in for them as much. Ice cream is available, as are various types of fresh fruit (usually chunks of orange or melon). There are also some vaguely identified bits of "cake", but these always look a little suspect and on the couple of occasions when we have tried them, have proved to be rather dry. Mind you, this isn't really a problems, as we are usually so full by this point!
From the point of view of quality, it's pretty good, perhaps a little bit on the greasy side occasionally, but generally very tasty. It can also depend a little bit on how fresh a dish is - if something has been sitting under a hot plate for a while, it inevitably becomes a little dried out. However, replacement servings are brought out on a pretty regular basis. Obviously, this is a kind of "fast-food" Chinese, so don't expect the absolute best in Chinese cuisine, but it is still very tasty and we keep going back for more. I guess the best way to describe it is to say that it sits in between a proper Chinese restaurant (which it obviously can't compete with) and a standard Chinese takeaway (which it is better than).
Staff at China Joe's are usually very friendly. You are greeted at the door by a waiter who takes you to a table and brings your drinks and then you can immediately start to go and fill your plate. Waiters are very efficient at cleaning away plates and pretty much as soon as you have finished the food on one, they will come and take away your plate, leaving you free to go and get a clean one if you want more.
Price-wise, it's pretty good value for money. After 6.30pm it is £11.90 per person and a couple of pounds cheaper before that. The main difference between the two is that once the Grand Buffet starts at 6,30pm, a number of extra dishes (mostly fish-based) are brought out, and these are only available to those paying the higher price. We usually go for the Grand Buffet, but when we have been earlier, we have found there to be more than enough choice on the cheaper menu to satisfy our hunger!
Dynasty Buffet/China Joe's is one of those places it's hard to resist. The food might not be the greatest Chinese food in the world, and it's not particularly healthy. However, it is also very tasty and appealing and the fact you can try lots of different things, rather than having to choose one meal makes it a nice place to visit. Certainly we visit it far more often than we should, and are now definitely considered to be (and welcomed as) "regulars" by the staff there!
50-51 North Road
0191 370 9180
© Copyright SWSt 2010