A fruitful trip to the Orchard's 'Tardis' for a taste of the Orient
The general approach to eating out is rather like that of going on holiday.
Many prefer to repeatedly visit the same places and value the familiar, while others thrive on the excitement of the unknown and what they might discover.
My visit to Rose Orchard in Lincoln's Clasketgate fell somewhere between those two channels of thought.
Being a regular visitor to other Chinese or Cantonese restaurants in and around the city, the cuisine was quite familiar, yet this venue was not.
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Rather unassuming from the outside, the size and scale of the tardis-like interior was altogether surprising.
I visited on a quiet lunchtime, so it felt a little sparse, but a busy evening service would be an altogether more atmospheric experience.
Although a lighter lunch menu was available, my dining partner and I chose one of the six banquet menus on offer so we could sample a selection of popular dishes and so make a fair comparison to other restaurants.
From first walking in, the service was polite and efficient, and the owners very friendly.
When our food arrived, we were pleased with the quality – crispy duck with the usual accompaniments of pancakes, hoi sin sauce and fresh cucumber and spring onions.
The quantity was just right with six pancakes for two people as a starter, and was up to the standard of other good Chinese restaurants I've visited.
Our banquet consisted of three main dishes – all steaming hot and freshly prepared.
The chicken with cashew nuts made a pleasant change from what can often be a dish covered in bland MSG-laden gloop, or a watery gravy.
This was served with a rich, tasty sauce with enough garlic to pack a full flavour.
I was impressed the sweet and sour dish managed to get its sweetness balanced with a fruity tang, avoiding the sickly sugar syrup I've experienced in some restaurants.
The king prawns hosted in this sauce were sizeable and plump, and thoroughly delicious.
Although the kung po beef balanced sweet with spicy, for my taste, I would have liked to have felt just a little more heat in that dish, not only to enhance it, but to provide a little more variety to the three dishes on offer as part of the banquet.
That said, the meat was tender and as with the other dishes, the vegetables were fresh and crunchy.
It's rare there is much to say about rice as a meal accompaniment, but again, I was pleasantly surprised with this.
The vegetable egg fried rice was cooked and seasoned to perfection and the bright green shards of mangetout, and the other vegetables was very visually appealing, and made a refreshing change from what can often be a forgettable extra.
Although the restaurant was far from busy, the other diners in the restaurant were predominantly Asian, and with a specific Chinese language menu, this was maybe to be expected.
Although I had no complaints about my meal, I couldn't help feel I had not been adventurous enough in my menu choices.
Perhaps I should have strayed from the culinary beaten track. Despite being sufficiently full from my banqueting, I was intrigued enough by some of the other dishes being presented to other diners to have gladly tried those too.
They looked more like authentic Chinese dishes, and less like the more Anglicised versions I have come to expect.
And with an extensive menu including interesting seafood dishes, house specialities and Mongolian, Thai and Cantonese influences on some main courses, I would have been spoiled for choice.
I came away feeling too much like the annual Benidorm sun-worshipper, and not enough like the Amazonian rainforest trekker, but my message is that whichever holiday camp you fall into, the Rose Orchard will cater for your tastes.
If you like the typical dishes we have come to expect in the UK, you will certainly not be disappointed with the Rose Orchard.
However, if you're feeling a little more adventurous, delve deeper and you may find a real taste of China – I certainly expect to when I return.