Bristol Evening Post 08-Aug-07
A restaurant review in the Bristol Evening Post for Water Sky Chinese Restaurant, mentioning the Eastgate Oriental City complex and Wai Yee Hong Supermarket.
WHERE SIZE MATTERS
10:40 - 08 September 2007
The first thing that hits you when you arrive at Water Sky is the sheer size of the place.Part of the £8 million Eastgate Oriental Centre which also comprises a Chinese supermarket and cash and carry, this vast, 400-cover Chinese restaurant is as big as a football pitch - albeit one covered with what looks like the biggest gold and red Persian rug in the world.
A brand new building with a striking glass dome, Eastgate Oriental Centre is the brainchild of Bristol-based brothers-in-law Alan Tan and Raymond Chow.
The two-acre site, which is just behind Ikea, is aimed at the growing Chinese community in Bristol, as well as anybody else who wants to buy exotic products.
The supermarket boasts 4,600 lines and a range of oriental products, from duck feet to slices of shark fin, and there are already plans to open a Chinese tailors, hairdresser and delicatessen in the building.
The Water Sky restaurant is run by Gary Ma, who also has restaurants in Hampshire, and he has brought in head chef Michael Ngai, who has been cooking in Hong Kong and Australia for the past 40 years.
The vast dining room is open-plan with an al fresco terrace on two sides of the building.
No expense has been spared with the décor, from the deep carpet and gold chandeliers to the crystal glasses and white linen on the well-spaced tables.
In the first week of opening, I didn’t really know what to expect at Water Sky. As we climbed the sweeping staircase, I whispered to my friend that it would either be packed or we would be the only people in there.
But word has obviously got out for the place was almost full by 7.30pm on a Thursday. So much for a quiet opening period.
The other encouraging sign was that the majority of diners were Chinese families, which is always the ultimate seal of approval.
From the minute we arrived, the service was impeccable. We were shown to our table and after that, we must have been served by a dozen different uniformed waiters and waitresses during the course of the evening.
Our drinks waitress was immediately impressive because she didn’t automatically recommend the most expensive wines on the short list. We were encouraged to try the more affordable wines (we ended up with the Anapai River Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, which was a grassy white with a reasonable price of £16.95).
As is always the case in Chinese restaurants, we were completely overwhelmed by the thick, gold, 16-page menu, but we stuck a few pins in and ended up choosing pretty well.
In hindsight, we probably ordered too many appetisers, but even so we hardly scratched the surface.
Of course, we did our best and threw ourselves into it with gusto, starting with: crispy seaweed (£3.95); baked mussels with green pepper and black bean sauce (£5.50), deep-fried soft shell crabs with salt and chilli pepper (£5.95 each) and deep-fried cuttlefish cake (£4.95). These were all, by and large, very good. The crispy seaweed was light and very crispy, the mussels were of a good size and smothered in a tangy blanket of sauce, the crabs were nicely seasoned and very moreish and the cuttlefish cake wasn’t as heavy as expected and had a decent fishy flavour.
And then came the soups. The thought of my editor signing my expenses put me off paying £24.95 for a bowl of shark’s fin and crabmeat soup so I stuck to the chicken and sweet corn soup (£4.20) which was the cheapest of the soups and with good reason. It was dreadful - like thick, glutinous, unseasoned wallpaper paste with a few bits of chewed-up sweet corn floating on top. It was a reminder that I had to do some grouting in my bathroom.
The hot and sour soup (£4.20) was an improvement simply because it lived up to its description, but neither of these were soups to write home about.
Stir-fried king prawns with ginger and spring onion (£8.95) was a very good rendition of a Chinese restaurant staple, but the stir-fried lamb in the Szechuan style (£8.75) and the kung po chicken (£7.95) were average, both dishes being slightly overwhelmed with a similar sweet, sticky, glutinous chilli sauce that masked the flavour of the main ingredients.
And that’s the frustrating thing with Chinese restaurants. Unless you know exactly what to order, it can be a very mixed experience. With so many dishes on the menu, there are bound to be hits and misses. By the end of the meal we were craning our necks to try to work out what the Chinese customers were ordering.
In fact, we asked our waitress what the couple behind us were eating and, of course, they were eating entirely different things to us Chinese cuisine novices. We were so intrigued by the bowls of steaming green vegetables being enjoyed by another Chinese family that we ordered one after our assault course of dishes.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce (£5.95) turned out to be the most memorable dish of the evening - fresh, clean and healthy and a gentle reminder of why Chinese food can be so good.
But with such an enormous menu - not to mention the dim sum menu which includes such delicacies as chicken feet, duck tongues and steamed tripe - we left in a good mood.
Well, we still have another 15 pages of dishes to try over the coming months.