Newest Review: ... eating but they were lovely and let me sit in to dry off and asked if I wanted drinks twenty minutes prior to official opening which was ve... more
Tofu or not Tofu? That is the Question.
Slow Boat Chinese Restaurant (Chester)
Member Name: koshkha
Slow Boat Chinese Restaurant (Chester)
Advantages: Fantastic soup, fantastic main dishes
Disadvantages: Shame about the starters
~Eat the World~
My colleague Dominique from France came to visit me and I wanted to make sure she had company each evening since it was her first time in her new job (which used to be part of my old job). On the first evening she was over she went for curry with some other people so my 'take her for an Indian' plan went out the window. Offering French people 'English' food is never a good idea, so after checking that she didn't mind a bit of spice, I went online to look for a good Chinese or Thai restaurant with a little help from another well known travel review site.
Slow Boat was listed as the best Chinese/Thai in Chester so I visited the website, checked it wasn't too shockingly expensive, printed off a handy 20% off voucher and called the restaurant to book. I asked if I could make a booking and the chap on the phone said 'Yes' and that was about it. So I thought I'd better prompt him if he wasn't going to ask. "How about 2 people at 8 o'clock? Would that be ok?" "Yes" he said, "see you later". He didn't ask for a name and I figured they probably weren't expecting to be too busy.
Right next to the restaurant there is a shoppers car park for the Iceland store which sits beneath it but it's got a one hour maximum stay and a rather worrying barrier which we feared might be lowered once the store closed. We couldn't find anything to confirm whether it would be safe to leave the car there so we moved to another car park on the other side of the river. Chester is an expensive place to shop but after 3 o'clock in the afternoon many of the car parks are completely free. This is a great way to encourage a vibrant and dynamic evening restaurant and bar scene.
Slow Boat is perched like a toupee on top of the Chester branch of Iceland. I hoped this wasn't an omen for the standard of the food. The restaurant and the Iceland store stand next to the river (it might be a canal) that cuts through Chester but it's not one of the cute old areas of the city so if you're looking for something set amidst the Tudor black and white streets, it's not this place. We headed up several flights of steps to get to the restaurant but I didn't spot a lift so anyone with mobility issues should check if there's a more accessible route hidden away somewhere before deciding if this place is suitable.
The restaurant is all on one level and is a large room with lots of windows around the edge. With the exception of a few murals and some lanterns on the ceiling it's not overly cheesy in its Chinese theme. I'm not sure if the decorations we saw were late for Christmas or early for Chinese New Year. We were led to a table with four chairs which had been set for two. Oddly we were in a rather dark position and could barely read the menus.
Dominique is pretty much a perfect dinner companion for me because she's also a fishitarian so we're sure to be able to share whatever we choose. I was hoping for some kind of fish or seafood 'banquet' so I wouldn't have to think too hard about what to have but none was available so instead we chose a vegetarian banquet. It should have been lovely, but for the problem of the missing tofu. About five minutes after we ordered the waitress returned to tell us that the supplier had failed to deliver any tofu and to ask if she could give us extra spring rolls and mushrooms instead. Who's going to demand the menu back and start choosing again? No, not me, so we said it was fine. Of course it turned out that it wasn't but more of that later.
~Feed your face~
The first dish was hot and sour veg soup. I love a good hot and sour almost as much as a tom yum soup and this was excellent. The soup was thick, spicy and dark brown (well I think it was - the lighting was rubbish as I mentioned already). Finely chopped crisp vegetables and sliced mushroom gave it plenty of texture, crunch and chewiness. I loved it.
Next came the mixed snacks, served on a massive hot tray. Due to the substitutions it was a disappointment. Far and away the best part of the dish was the finely chopped salad of mushrooms and other veg in a spicy sauce, served on a lettuce leaf and sprinkled with tiny bits of peanut. The rest was pretty poor - far too many small vegetable spring rolls and far too many flabby, bland tempura mushrooms which tasted of absolutely nothing at all. Clearly Mum had been to Iceland. The dipping sauce wasn't anything special and certainly didn't have the power to improve the mushrooms. We left most of the mushrooms and about half of the spring rolls, knowing that it's all too easy to fill up on the low grade starters and not have enough room left for the main course dishes and cursing the bean curd supplier for depriving us of the much more interesting 'salt and pepper fried bean curd' which sounded lovely but was sadly missing.
The plates were cleared and the waitress asked if we needed a break or wanted to carry on. We opted to carry on, hoping for something more exciting to compensate for the dull starters. Two stands were brought to the table and the candle burners were lit. Two small wok-like dishes were perched on top of the stands. One was stir fry mixed veg with cashew nuts and the other Thai red curry with mixed vegetables. Both dishes were fantastic and each was completely different. The red curry had more sauce and was quite hot and sharp whilst the cashews and the small amount of light sauce on the other dish gave great contrast. In each case the vegetables comprised of a great selection - pea pods, broccoli, mushrooms, carrot slices, beans and tiny sweetcorn cobs for example - and they were still crisp and crunchy and very flavourful. I was very impressed - perhaps not quite enough to forgive them the missing bean curd and the disgusting mushrooms, but very close.
We had a large bottle of mineral water with the meal and using my 20% off voucher (which the waiter reminded me to look in my bag for) we paid just £31 which was excellent value. If the bean curd had been available I would have been in heaven and this would have been rated higher - as it was we had a great soup, a poor starter, and finished it off with fantastic main courses. It could certainly have been a lot worse but the lack of bean curd has to mean I knock off at least a full star.
Summary: If there had been tofu, this might well have been a five star experience