The first impression to strike you when you enter the New King Wah restaurant is the stunning interior design. Owner Mr Chan called in interior designers from local company Benoy to introduce a new subtle mix of creams and greens with elegant oriental pictures and light shades. We were here for the food, but it soon became clear that the pride Mr Chan takes in the look of his restaurant is matched by the pride of his Cantonese cuisine.
The New King Wah is so called because of the restaurants move from the original premises close to Newark Market place and, being first established some 40 years ago, it is now very much an established part of the towns dining scene. We were treated to a meal of Mr Chan's own choice - a mix of dishes from the extensive menu which contains no less than 151 separate dishes with more combinations than national lottery lines. And that's not to mention the range of set meals for two, three, four, six and more people.
Unlike many Chinese restaurants that rely on passing custom and occasional diners, the New King Wah has its loyal following of happy customers who return time and again. According to Mr Chan this is because diners know they can combine any of the 150-plus dishes in any way they prefer with only encouragement from Mr Chan and his staff even though this may mean considerable extra work in the kitchens.
Judging from our visit to the New King Wah, the friendly staff and nothing-is-too-important attitude also played a big part. As an Englishman raised largely on meat and two veg, the whole experience of eating Chinese style with its spicy flavours and variety of dishes bubbling away on candle powered heated plates always comes as a wonderfully different way of eating. After the customary prawn crackers, our opening course arrived speedily and without a hint of heat loss as two waiters and waitress descended with four large plates of beautifully presented food.
There were Paper Wrapped Prawns alongside Deep Fried Wan Tons, Spring Rolls and a special dish not included on the main menu, Smoked Chicken. A blank bean sauce was served with the course as a dip. It was time to unwrap the chopsticks and pretend once again that I had fully mastered the oriental eating art.
There is a real beauty about eating in this style since all four dishes provided taste and texture enjoyment, you can casually pick and mix and should one dish particularly take your fancy (in my case Paper Wrapped Prawns), then you are free to indulge more in these at the expense of the other offerings. Circular tables help the evening become more intimate and the conversation flow. And a new bottle of New Zealand Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc recommended by Mr Chan from the restaurants own wine list was a perfect compliment to the meal.
Mr Chan's second and main course was a mix of three fish dishes and two meat dishes. Particularly unusual was the Soft Shell Crabs spiced in Black Bean Sauce. This dish, Mr Chan explained, is very popular in America and Japan and, once tasted, it was easy to see why, however picking up the crabs with chopsticks is something of an acquired skill.
The Roast Duck in Plum Sauce and Fillet of Beef in Ginger and spicy onion were both delicious, but it was the Cuttlefish in Spiced Salt and Chilli that disappeared first and was the main reason why my partner promises to be one of those regular returning diners mentioned earlier. But the center-piece of this five dish course served with fried rice was the Steamed Sea Bass, a speciality of the New King Wah, but which you should order in advance when you book your meal. Removed from the bone at the table, this fish was fresh and succulent and it was easy to see why it is one of Mr Chan's favourites.
With the equivalent of nine dishes eaten in varying measure, there was room only for an ice-cream sweet from a large selection followed by unlimited cups of coffee.
Interior designer Marianne Shillingford joined us for the meal having heard of the New King Wahs reputation for fine surroundings as well as fine food.This is what Marianne had to say about the restaurant. "Creating a great environment in which to enjoy good food takes a certain flair. The New King Wah has got it just right. Good ambient lighting enhances the elegant colour scheming which combines warm ivory walls with contemporary oriental paintings and crisp linen table cloths. The dining experience is improved by the lack of overpowering background noise, usually attributed to the hard floors and abscence of soft furnishings that have become so fashionable in modern restaurants. Both flooring and window treatments are perfectly understated while being luxurious and comfortable."