While the Alnwick area is fairly well stocked with Indian restaurants, those looking for a taste of even further east have to travel a little way for a sit-down Chinese restaurant.
The main options on offer are Berwick and Morpeth and we opted to travel south at the weekend, having heard good things about Mulan and also hoping that it would be a good venue for a large gr0up – 10 in this case.
So was it worth the journey? Well, yes and no.
Yes in that an enjoyable evening was had by all and it was certainly an easy and sensible option for a party of 10, through being able to order one of the banquet menus, avoiding hours of delay while everyone decided what to have.
Having said that, I don’t think I will be rushing back anytime soon as I found the food to be not quite good enough to persuade me to travel and ignore all of the other high-quality eateries in closer proximity to Alnwick.
But it must be said that the food was of a very adequate standard and by having the pre-ordained banquet selection, I may have missed the dishes I personally would have preferred in the name of appeasing the tastes of 10 different people.
Among the large variety of dishes placed onto the spinning server in the centre of the table were several that were very good indeed, suggesting some gems among the very extensive menu.
The restaurant itself is located on the second floor of a building in High Stanners – perhaps sensible given its closeness to the Wansbeck – which means it has views across this picturesque end of town.
The decor is smart and fresh without being intrusive and there was a pleasant hubbub from the full restaurant at 7.30pm on a Friday night.
Our reservation had afforded us a round table, by far the best way of sitting a large party as it means everyone feels involved and can talk to one another without splitting up into smaller ‘ghettos’.
The menu offers a great deal of choice with separate sections for starters, appetisers, meat dishes, seafood dishes, rice and sundries and chef’s specials, as well as a separate vegetarian section, allowing veggies to see all of the options in one place.
It offers around 10 different starters and soups followed by seasonal vegetables in a choice of 10 sauces culled from those on the meat-eaters menu.
This is on top of the three banquet menus, which are a good option either for groups or for those less well acquainted with the different Chinese dishes available.
We went straight down the middle and chose the £25-a-head option, the others are £32 and £23.
Our culinary journey began with a bowl of crabmeat and sweetcorn soup, although to be honest I wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t chicken and sweetcorn from the taste, and I found mine was better with a good crack of pepper in it.
The starters brought one of the highlights of the evening with the salt and pepper chilli king prawns.
The seafood was cooked well and not too tough and the batter brought it with both crunch and a good kick of chilli heat.
The other starter was a firm favourite, crispy duck with pancakes and hoi sin sauce. It was wolfed down by all present, but didn’t necessarily stand out against similar offerings at supermarkets or takeaways.
The main course consisted of yeung chow fried rice with seven different dishes – the number you get increases with the number in your party.
They were: Beef fillet in a tangy Cantonese sauce; chicken in a garlic chilli sauce; king prawns in szechuan sauce; pork with asparagus and cashew nuts; chicken with lemon sauce; beef with kung po sauce and cashew nuts; sliced duck in mango curry sauce.
On the whole they were good and the meat was quite tender, but some of the sauces seemed to blend into one another and it was difficult to distinguish between them.
There were a few exceptions though, notably those that had a bit of spice or heat to lift the dish a little.
I enjoyed the king prawns in szechuan sauce, one of my favourite sauces with a little heat behind it.
I also liked the kung po beef and the pork with asparagus and cashew nuts, which varied the vegetable content slightly.
The sliced duck in mango curry sauce was very good indeed with a rich velvety sauce.