All too often, a visit to a Chinese restaurant or takeaway can be a predictable affair. Even here in Newcastle where we have our very own ‘Chinatown’, finding food that I’ve not tried before is harder than you might think.
The majority of the eateries around Stowell Street (where most of Chinatown is located) cater for the masses with typical Cantonese style food that English diners are familiar with. Don’t get me wrong, I love a spring roll as much as the next girl but I was delighted to discover that the menu at La Yuan is bursting with dishes I’d never heard of.
Created by former Newcastle University graduate Joshy Jin, and dedicated to Sichuan cuisine, La Yuan is like a breath of fresh air, offering a completely unique dining experience in Newcastle!
La Yuan is a relative newcomer to Newcastle’s restaurant scene and is located in the former home of a Ladbrookes shop on Gallowgate, just a stone’s throw from the Paifang (Chinese Gate) near St James’ Park. You’d be forgiven for not noticing it as the entrance is rather discreet and overshadowed by the much more flamboyant Lebenase restaurant next door. However, although the decor at La Yuan is subtle, the flavours in the food definitely are not (more on that later).
James and I pondered over the menu for ages before finally asking our waitress Rachel (great name!) for help. Rachel explained that instead of ordering a starter and a main course per person diners are encouraged to order a combination of hot and cold dishes which would be served in a banquet style so they can be shared. I love this… It means you can order as much or as little as you like depending on how hungry you are, no one would look twice if you wanted to share one of the hot dishes (they are big enough) or order more portions than you have people at your table (tempting).
In the end we opted for a couple of seafood appetisers, Steamed Oysters (£2.50 each) and Steamed King Scallops (£3 each) and two of the big hot dishes, Gung Bao Chicken (£10) and Shuei Ju Beef (£12.50).
The oysters and scallops were an absolute steal, they were beautifully presented and extremely tasty. Both were marinated delicately, the oysters with pickled chilli and the scallops with garlic and rice noodles. It was the perfect start to our meal.
Our hot dishes arrived shortly after and I couldn’t believe how huge they were! We also shared a side order of vegetable fried rice (£6) which was another large portion, easily enough for three or four people. There was certainly no chance of leaving La Yuan hungry!
We intended to split our dishes evenly but it turns out I’m a bit of a wuss and there was way too much chilli in the Shuei Ju Beef for me but James devoured it, the hotter the better for him! I much preferred the chicken dish which was flavoursome, full of interesting textures and very moorish. The chicken was still juicy even though it has to be cooked at an extremely high temperature. Joshy explained that Gung Bao Chicken is one of the most classic dishes in Sichuan cuisine and is the first dish an aspiring chef must master if he wants to be taken seriously. I was very impressed and would definitely order it again!
We wouldn’t normally order dessert after Chinese food but we couldn’t resist the temptation of a White Chocolate and Lemon Posset (£4) and a Tea Poached Pear with Lemon Crumb (£3.50)…
It really was a pleasant surprise to discover such interesting desserts on a Chinese menu, they were both light and refreshing after all that spice… and much more imaginative than a slice of orange!
Next time you have a craving for Chinese food I urge you to try something different and head to La Yuan! www.layuan.co.uk
We were kindly invited to sample the food at La Yuan on a complimentary basis but the review is as honest as always.