If you ever wander in the upper floors of St Stephen’s shopping centre, whether ambling to the Reel Cinema, getting a quick coffee at Starbucks, or having a round of adventure golf with your pals, it is hard to not notice a constant buzz of footfall at the Real China.
The Real China is a Chinese buffet restaurant located next to Nando’s and whenever I have walked past it has been full of diners. I decided to try out their food for myself, accompanied by an assistant taster so that as much of the menu could be sampled as possible.
Did the Real China live up to its evident popularity among Hull diners?
The restaurant has a four star food hygiene rating, issued in Summer 2021. A meal for two on a weekday evening at 6pm with refillable drinks cost £26.90.
It is worth noting that the restaurant offers very good prices for lunchtime – £5.99 per adult Monday to Friday and £6.99 on Saturday.
Overall, me and my glamorous dining partner were impressed with the all-you-can eat Chinese food offering. We pre-booked our romantic meal for two earlier that day, which was probably just as well as there were only two or three tables empty when we arrived.
The table we had was on the cosier side, but by not getting multiple plates at a time, there was never any real issue with this. We went up to buffet area on three occasions, to try starters, mains and the desserts.
One area of slight puzzlement for a good few minutes was the location of the drinks refill machine. It was nowhere near the food, but was actually all the way back by reception – presumably to minimise spillages near the food and ensure the buffet’s flow was smooth.
The starters largely passed the mustard, with the exception of the restaurant’s spring roll offering. I am not being uncharitable when I suggest there are better spring rolls to be bought from the large supermarket chain also in St Stephen’s.
“It was a disappointment,” agreed my dining partner, somewhat of a spring roll aficionado. Still, it was the only minor damp squib in an otherwise impressive starter offering.
Other tastier starters we tried included prawn on toast, squid, and a fantastic version of steamed fish and egg fried rice. I normally dislike eating fish, but was delighted by Real China’s offering. As my dining partner put it, “going for the steamed fish was high risk, high reward, Ivan!”
The mains were the “piece de resistance” of the meal. My dining partner waxed lyrical about the spare ribs and char sweet pork they tried.
I, on the other hand, regretted helping myself to only three of the truly exceptional meatballs in sweet chilli sauce. We were both also enamoured of the restaurant’s spicy green beans which had a nice kick to their flavour.
Other elements that formed part of our mains included Satay chicken, chicken curry, veggie fried rice, sweet and sour chicken and crispy duck. My taste assistant quibbled about the crispy duck, describing it as “little bits of gristle” that made it “hard to tell if it was duck” with the flavour. But they still praised the mains as “well tasty”.
Finally, the dessert phase. An underwhelming end to the evening, only brightened by my taste assistant’s subsequent surprisingly passionate rant about his theory that Chinese restaurants’ desserts are always disappointing – choicer words may have been used on the walk to the car park after the meal.
The portion sizes were quite modest, with various soft cakes largely forming the dessert menu, though also some nice-looking peach and watermelon pieces too. I have to confess neither of us tried these, mainly because we are both sweet-toothed in nature.
By the meal’s end, we were both feeling rather full and ready for a quiet rest of the evening.
The Real China all-you-can eat experience is something I would definitely recommend to others, though with the advice that the Spring Rolls are not the best and the steamed fish is worth the punt.
It gets an 8/10 rating from me.