Returning home to the North East is always an overload of sentimentality. The number of happy memories of my childhood which come flooding back makes for a trying experience for Mrs G who is always on the receiving end of my endless stream of food related anecdotes.
On the Saturday I’d managed to persuade Mrs G to come with me to a Newcastle United match.She miraculously enjoyed it even though it was the most turgid game of football I’ve seen from Newcastle this season. Perhaps it was the experience of 50,000 people erupting in voice and hugging as we scored our solitary winning goal which swung it for her.
A fairly typical post-match ritual for many a fan is a trip to Newcastle’s China Town located on Stowell Street, a few minutes’ walk from the football stadium. Some of my most vivid food memories come from this little street. Special occasions with my grandparents were always spent at The Royal Circle (now consigned to the Chinese restaurant graveyard) for excessive quantities of what seemed like everything on the menu. In 6th form, a Karate Club training day concluded with a banquet in The King Neptune.Inevitably there was much jostling over the Lazy Susan for the last morsels of food.
|A short walk from St James Park to China Town - Credit Robin Van Mourik|
Stowell Street has seen many restaurants come and go in my lifetime. In my early childhood China town was dominated by traditional establishments serving food which catered to the Western palette. In my late teens a dark patch saw a worrying number of pile it high and serve it cheap all you can eat buffets. Thankfully all but one of these buffets seems to have disappeared and have been replaced with an increasing number of more authentic restaurants serving regional food which caters to Chinese palettes.
In the mood for a more nostalgic experience, we devoured our post-match meal at The King Neptune, one of oldest surviving establishments in China Town. The King Neptune has a friendly, family run feel and still proudly displays its plaques by the front door for its entry into the Egon Ronay guide in 1993, 1995 and 1997. Judging by its name, it unsurprisingly specialises in seafood.
Leaving behind the chill autumn weather, we entered a bustling dining room that was packed to the rafters with people waiting at the bar for a table. Thankfully on my insistence, Gourmet Gilly had reserved a table meaning we were swiftly ushered to our seats. The eating commenced instantaneously with a bowl of crisp prawn crackers washed down with a bottle of cool Tiger Beer.
Spare ribs in Cantonese special sauce. Tender, crisp meat dripping in a sticky, sweet and slightly spicy sauce.
Aromatic crispy duck with pancakes. Crisp skin, moist meat, soft pancakes, delicately sliced cucumber and sweet hoi-sin sauce. Perfect.
Sizzling King Prawns in Black Bean Sauce – An intense sweet black bean sauce with bags of juicy king prawns.
Sizzling chicken in Cantonese sauce – Lush, spicy and sweet sauce
Crispy Beef with Plum Sauce – Crisp strands of melt in the mouth beef in a sweet plum sauce.
Scallops in Sea Spiced Sauce – Oodles of soft scallops (sadly lacking a crisp exterior) in a fragrant sauce which had a hint of the sea. It was the only dish we’d ordered which didn't have a sweet sticky sauce and so provided a welcome change for the taste buds.
Replete, we were brought warm flannels and segments of orange. There was no offer of a dessert menu and we took the hint that there was a desire for the table to be turned. Thankfully we were happy to make our exit as we wanted to be back in time for the highlights of the Newcastle game on Match of the Day. However, I could easily see how this could nark you off if you were out on a romantic date.
I’m not surprised by the popularity of King Neptune. What they do, they do very well. If you’re looking for a comfort food laden western style Chinese banquet then King Neptune does the job. Price-wise they’re not at the bargain end but equally they’re pretty reasonable (mains average around the £10 mark).
King Neptune, 34 Stowell Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne And Wear NE1 4XQ