Amber Regent50 West Regent Street,
0141 331 1655
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Duck and cover
Review published on 09/09/2013 © Sunday Herald
I know that Chinese cuisine isnt the top performer in Scotlands restaurant portfolio, but even so, I was stunned by the awfulness of the food sent to my table at the Amber Regent. It counts as a Glasgow institution, still a clearly busy and popular one. I remember eating there in the 1980s, and thinking that the cooking was reasonable, back in the day when our appreciation of Chinese cuisine was less sophisticated than it is now.
To this day, and with a few notable exceptions, Chinese restaurateurs have maintained a binary approach to their menus. One is authentic, geared to the Chinese community, the other features dishes that Chinese believe non-Chinese like. This partition is sometimes explicit, with one menu printed only in Chinese script, and another, printed only in English, that features a totally different roll call of overly familiar dishes.
Why should Chinese restaurateurs ever tinker with this tried-and-tested Occident-pleasing formula when it has proven to be highly profitable? After all, lots of Scots lick their lips at the thought of sweet and sour chicken and chop suey. But the trouble with such complacency is that more of us are wising up about foreign cuisines. In the Chinese category, Opium in Glasgow has dared to break with the formula, and earned plaudits for it. And around the Asian fringes, Malaysian restaurants, such as Kampung Ali in Edinburgh, often serve more genuine Chinese dishes than those habitually served in Chinese-branded establishments.
I certainly didnt expect the shredded crispy beef to be remotely like real Chinese cooking, but I had expected it to be edible. Actually, it was the sort of thing you sample cautiously, like some weird futuristic lab food experiment, then promptly freshen up your mouth with a great glug of water. It looked like a pile of Twiglets slathered in liquidised Turkish delight. The Twiglet-like things were mainly composed of biscuity, deep-fried batter. They snapped easily, showing no resistance from their supposedly beefy cores. There must have been some beef in there, although it would have taken DNA tests to detect it, but for £13, it represented miserable value-for-money.
Amber Regent has a plush nightclub atmosphere. Lighting is low. Even so, you could spot our grilled sole Peking style at 10 paces, thanks to the gleaming sauce that covered it. The menu promised that it would be in a light batter with ginger, garlic and wine sauce, but it looked like a loofa being suffocated by a jellyfish. Closer inspection revealed an under-sized sole, not especially fresh, encased in another armour of batter that was slowly turned to starchy mush beneath the saucy gloop. Under the dim light, it was also hard to make out what, exactly, were the flower-like bright orange and red things that decorated every dish. A 1960s-style radish or tomato rose, I wondered? In fact, they were carved onion halves that must have been dipped in red and yellow colouring. Sink your teeth into one of these by mistake, and youre in for a ghastly shock.
I should have seen the writing on the wall when the fresh mussels with black bean and chilli sauce appeared. Id assumed, not unreasonably, that the mussels would be Scottish after all, we produce loads of them but we were served super-sized mussels of a kind that arent cultivated or dredged here, resembling the New Zealand green-lip type. Chewy, salty and submerged in a starch-stiffened sauce with a wallpaper-paste consistency, I couldnt eat them either. Wafer paper prawns, which should be, as the name suggests, light and crisp, had morphed into leaden, greasy spring rolls.
Youd have needed dental floss to deal with the aromatic crispy lamb a spin on Peking duck. Dry and tough, it formed a thanklessly unrewarding ball in the mouth. The final kiss of death was its tired shreds of leek and cucumber, grave-cold from the fridge.
For the sake of appearances, I picked at the passable ho fun rice noodles with beansprouts, but even then, I knew Id pay with an unquenchable thirst.
Sometimes, being a restaurant reviewer feels like a penance not a pleasure.