“ 3 Balfour Road, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 8HE, Tel:01932 842 766 „
Wandering around Surrey late on bank holiday Sunday, a friend and I were on the lookout for a Chinese restaurant. One of our hobbies is to wander round aimlessly in a car round the surrounding towns and villages of Guildford in search of eateries we haven't tried yet. I like this pleasantly random way of finding food, as you can some across some great places this way that you would never have found otherwise. It was thus that we chanced across The Colony in Weybridge, Surrey.
The restaurant sits just off one on the main streets in Weybridge. As we drove round looking for somewhere to eat, we spotted the name Colony but were a bit reticent, as we had already passed all kinds of patronisingly named hostelries and restaurants full of smug looking posh people. For someone like me, in the Surrey countryside, names like The Prince of Wales suggest a large element of silence and "you're not from round here are you boy?" as you walk in. Of course this is just my paranoia. Maybe. It wasn't until we inspected closely that we cottoned on that it was actually a Chinese restaurant; we expected some sort of place with a highly pretentious menu served to us by pasty looking locals.
Anyway I digress; the restaurant was pretty quiet, but it was fairly late on a bank holiday Monday. This is another thing I've noticed in some parts of Surrey; while other restaurants such as Italian are packed to the gills, anything "ethnic" seems to be almost empty. I have seen the same phenomenon in the similarly posh Godalming. Perhaps Chinese isn't "in" at the moment, my own guess is that the usual customer (unpretentious and discerning, I would say) is suffering from the credit crunch at the moment.
Oops I digressed again. The restaurant looked liked it had had a relatively recently refurbishment, with dark wooden tables and chairs prettily decorated with white tablecloths. It was partitioned off by some thin pillars around, and had a pleasant spacey feel (although maybe because that was quiet).
The menu consisted of the standard Chinese fare. Starters such as duck, prawn toast, chicken and sweetcorn soup and prawns. I quite fancied salt and pepper squid and this was on the starter list but not the mains, which was a bit odd but I bet I could have asked if I could have been bothered. Mains had meat, fish and vegetarian dishes separated, with one or 2 interesting delights such as prawn cake and whole steamed sea bass. The aubergine with some sort of fish sounded promising, too. We were very tempted by fish fragrant chicken but went for a similar starter instead as you will see.
Hmm, I haven't really done the menu justice there. Let's try again shall we.
Hors d'Oeuvres (I told you, we're in Surrey) include spare ribs, sole surprise (sole with mushrooms), soft shell crab, deep fried salt and pepper squid and fried won ton. You have 27 dishes to choose from here. The two middle courses were Peking or crispy aromatic duck. Seven soups can be taken, including hot & sour, chicken & mushroom and vegetable. A huge choice of 26 seafood dishes includes tempura grilled cod, lemon, fish, Szechuan prawns and scampi Peking style. 14 poultry dishes include holy basil chicken, Kung Po chicken and orange duck. 12 meat dishes include teriyaki beef, deep fried shredded beef in chilli, sweet and sour pork and aromatic crispy lamb. There are 6 iron plated sizzled dishes, including prawns, beef and oysters. The 11 vegetable dishes include snow peas & French beans, aubergines in chilli bean sauce and sweet chilli bean curd. 13 rice and noodles dishes include special fried rice, chicken fried noodles and ho fun with prawns. Finally, the 6 desserts include toffee apple, banana or taro, lychee and homemade cheesecake. I hope that adds up to 124 as that's how many dishes are on the menu.
There was also a banquet menu for 4, a set menu for 2 and a small "fusion" menu which offered things such as coconut chicken. I would assume this was a Thai fusion.
We were served some prawn crackers as we arrived, which hadn't been drained fully of the oil they'd been fried in, which made them a bit messy to eat. But, as my friend said, they actually tasted of prawn, so a good solid start there.
Our starter was deep fried shredded smoked chicken, which we ate on its own which is perhaps a bit unusual. We were treated to a rather large plate of shredded chicken pieces, infused with some chilli peppers and what seemed to be Szechuan peppercorns. I've had these in China and the local ones blow your head off; they tingle and then explode on your tongue. These didn't have quite the same effect but definitely had a bit of a kick. The chicken itself was pleasantly smoky, firm and crisp but not fried to a frizzle and very tasty indeed, a quite excellent starter.
For our next starter (we felt greedy, plus it was actually advertised as a second starter, so we were within our rights) we had a quarter Beijing duck with pancakes. The duck leg wasn't as shredded as you usually get and wasn't shredded in front of us, which wasn't a problem really as it was nice to have some meaty chunks of duck rather than the little strands you can sometimes end up with. We had lots of pancakes, in fact we had 3 each and 1 leftover, with some shallots and cucumber leftover, too. It was the first time I've even run out of meat before pancakes and veg, but this wasn't a bad thing at all. The duck was very tasty and crunchy in the pancakes, sweet with the side dish of hoisin sauce spooned on. We were given a couple of bowls of water with lemon to dip our hands in afterwards, a nice touch I think.
For mains we shared deep fried crispy beef and chicken with mushrooms. The chicken was in a pleasant spring onion sauce and the chunks were tasty and well seasoned and cooked. The mushrooms came in quarters and were pretty nice, although I would have preferred them cooked for slightly longer, they tasted nice and fresh though. The thin incinerated slivers of beef were exactly how the dish should be; very crispy and having a good taste of chilli and beef. This isn't as mad as it sounds, as sometimes this dish can taste like crispy bit of match, with no taste of the meat at all, just a bland crispness hidden in a spicy sauce. So, full marks again there. They were lying in a very tasty oily pool of sauce, very piquant with chillis. There were even some slightly thicker pieces of meat that weren't as crispy which in my opinion added to the dish, as it added a pleasant variety. The fried rice is also worth mentioning as it wasn't at all oily, but perfectly fried with lots of egg in there in thick pieces at times.
The obligatory hot towels were given to us at this stage. As my friend pointed out, they had the miraculous property of being red hot for a few seconds and then they rapidly cool down. Does anyone how this is possible, as it never fails to impress me.
It's important not to underestimate the size of portion in this time of credit crunch and I had no complaints on that score, as the portion size of each dish was pretty good for the price and certainly enough to satisfy. I have been to other Chinese restaurants where the portions are tiny these days. I reckon (in Surrey, anyway), about £60 for four sizeable dishes plus rice and drinks, isn't bad at all. Note that the service charge is already added to the bill. The service was also excellent, attentive and helpful. As we left, pretty much all the staff smiled and said goodbye, as well as someone who may well have been the owner who was sitting down and dining in the corner himself, which was rather pleasant. I wouldn't say that the cuisine is spectacular but definitely steady and consistent, with some real potential hidden gems on the menu. Definitely recommended.
3 Balfour Road
As recommended by Max Clifford and the Foxhills Golf Club.