Food review: China Lodge, Kidderminster - 3.5 stars
Andy Richardson is left more than satisfied when he enjoys touches of class during a visit to one of the region’s best Chinese restaurants.
I’m not sure that China Lodge can continue to trade on being the region’s newest contemporary Chinese and Asian restaurant.
After all, it opened back in 2015 – a year in which Jeremy Corbyn became the surprise choice to lead the Labour Party, Jeremy Clarkson was suspended by the BBC after he attacked producer Oisin Tymon over a steak sandwich and the Hatton Garden heist gripped the nation.
And yet, given the paucity of decent Chinese restaurants in our region, that strap line may still be true.
For if one cuisine is sorely underrepresented in our region, it’s Chinese.
Our towns and cities are filled with brilliant curry houses that celebrate the flavours of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
And yet the world’s fourth biggest country – and most populous – still seems restricted to dingy and not-always-reputable takeaways.
How some of them continue to flourish is any one’s guess.
Haven’t we moved on from a time when we thought it was acceptable to eat rubber chicken in a wan gravy with limp vegetables and gristly pieces of meat?
Judging by the food served up at some takeaways, evidently not.
'Fresh and vibrant dining room'
If you want decent Chinese food, it’s best to make a trip into Birmingham where the Second City’s China Town enthrals and delights.
And if you want contemporary Chinese food, you could do much worse than book a table at Tattu, the recently opened and thoroughly dynamic restaurant that brings an age-old cuisine kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
China Lodge doesn’t do that. The restaurant offers tried and tested dishes that will be familiar to customers with only a basic understanding of such South Asian cuisines as Cantonese, Szechuan and Thai.
It covers most of the bases, and the restaurant showcases dishes that draw from their environment and explode with fiery tastes.
The restaurant was created when a popular and skilled family relocated and converted a former pub.
Creating a dramatic, light and airy extension, they crafted a medium-to-large dining area that has aged well during the past four years.
It remains one of the more enjoyable, fresh and vibrant Chinese dining rooms in the region, despite its inauspicious location near to a traffic roundabout in Kidderminster.
Large plate glass windows allow light to flood in while the modern furnishings of the restaurant still look new with swashes of lime green and dark wood tones dominating the room.
A considerable amount of investment has paid dividends, however, and the restaurant has a good reputation for consistently decent standards.
Service remains a strong suit. The venue has an exceptional restaurant manager who is polished, professional and polite. Greeting guests with the warmest smile and a determination to make the evening pleasant, he is a stand-out maitre d whose skills go a long way to giving guests a great experience.
Punching above its weight
Ably supported by a young team, he leads from the front and provides service of a high standard. The food is decent, too.
When I called for an unbooked midweek supper, I started with a bowl of complimentary prawn crackers before enjoying two light and flavoursome courses with a side.
China Lodge set a high standard when it opened and it continues to punch above its weight.
It offers decent-ish food that’s not quite on a par with the best in Birmingham’s China Town but isn’t far off.
To start, I ate a plate of smoked chicken with chilli and spring onion.
Big, punchy, pyrotechnic flavours were beautifully aligned as the crunch of a light batter contrasted with the tender pieces of smoked chicken.
It was a no-holds-barred dish with gentle heat from small slices of red chilli and strong onion flavour from the green shoots spring onions married with small slices of fried garlic and the pieces of chicken. While it didn’t overpower, it was the gastronomic equivalent of going three minutes in the ring with Tyson Fury.
The main was equally delightful. A Mandarin chicken dish featured thin slices of tender chicken and was served in a fruity, tangy and slightly spicy sauce. Augmented with slithers of green and red capsicum and pieces of onion, it was generously portioned and served with a bowl of light, fluffy egg-fried rice. The Mandarin sauce was a delight, though its texture was a little gloopy and it began to congeal on the plate as it cooled. The chicken was cooked with no little skill; it was a pleasing dish.
A youthful waitress made a number of visits to the table to make sure the food was fine and the evening was entirely pleasant.
It would be disingenuous to describe China Lodge as a destination restaurant. It’s never going to trouble the guide books or restaurant guides; it’s really not in that market.
It appeals to those who want a step up from their neighbourhood curry house but don’t want to push the boat out and spend a fortune.
It’s a once-in-a-while and we’ll-be-back-before-long restaurant, where reliability and consistency are key to its success. In short, it’s a cut above the rest.
The food is pleasant, if not spectacular, and there are touches of class in both service and food.
It’s done well to become established and popular during a four-year tenure in Kidderminster.
There’s no reason to imagine it will do anything other than flourish in the years ahead.