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Dine Online Discoveries

Dine Online Discoveries is a new column where we bring you news about restaurants that you might otherwise overlook. They may be quite well established, so have missed out on all the recent hype of newcomers and their glitzy openings. Or they may be a little off the beaten track, but we feel that you will find great enjoyment and satisfaction as a reward for your adventure!

The Regent Chinese Cuisine, Hook Road, Near Kingston, Surrey

Friends had told me that this Chinese restaurant would be worth a visit. We felt like being cheered up, so we popped in on that sad, last Sunday evening in August. The Hook roundabout on the A3 Kingston Bypass is hardly the place to expect to discover fine cooking. The first surprise is the size of the restaurant - from a small shopfront it opens out into a spacious and well furnished interior. There's a bar with an open pool to one side full of enormous oriental carp, and a vast fish tank down one wall that's impressive enough to dispel the inevitable kitschiness of aquaria. The opposite wall has a long authentic-looking panel depicting grooms bathing their horses in a stream; simple, beautiful and restrained. There is, however, one grisly piece of real kitsch - a sort of bas relief involving terribly life-like crustacea - I was glad I had my back to it!

Set Menus at Oriental restaurants are mostly derided with good reason, but really they are an excellent test of an establishment. If they are prepared to show care, attention and pride in the set menu, then you can bet your bottom dollar that the a la carte will be seriously good. With this in mind, we thought we'd try the cheapest of the Set Menus: Menu A: minimum 2 persons, 18.00 per person.

Even as we were shown to a table, seated and benapkined I had the feeling that this was a place where the management was alert and interested. The service was impressive: quiet, courteous without being over obsequious. White wine (a racy South African de Wetshof Estate Chardonnay, 13.00) was dispensed at just the right pace. Our glasses were never empty, yet never overfilled. A plate of hors d'oeuvres arrived after a decent interval: each oeuvre had clearly been finished to order. Familiar enough these items may be, but how often do you get prawn toasts that are fat with fish as opposed to fat with grease, or spare rib chops that still taste of pork as well as subtle spices and tangy sauce?

Sizzling chicken was timed to perfection, with meat that was tender and delicious, with a good natural sauce. But I do wish they'd roast the green peppers to caramelize them rather than serving them practically raw. Sweet and sour pork was tasty and mercifully not battered to death, but the sauce had that gloopy texture I personally don't happen to like, and there were pieces of pineapple. Crispy shredded beef was outstanding, with plenty of well cooked garlic that had lost its raw pungency. It was imaginatively presented in a cunningly fasioned bowl of crispy noodles. To accompany all this was egg fried rice and an eyecatching arrangement of stir fried vegetables. Do they really eat mange-toute peas in China?

I shall certainly be going back to the Regent to try a full blown a la carte dinner. It is several jumps ahead of the average neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. Seafood seems to be one of chef Wan Loong's particular specialities. He does interesting sounding things with scallops and various types of prawn - not to mention lobster, though only in season I was glad to note from the menu. Wan Loong came to the UK about seven years ago from Malaysia where he had woked in several of that country's top hotel restaurants. Manager and co-owner Mickey Wong started his career in fashion before joining the family restaurant business. Perhaps this explains his sense of style (but not the kitsch crustacea on the wall!)


The Regent Chinese Cuisine, 7 Ace Parade, Hook Road, Chessington, Surrey. KT9 1DR
Tel: 020 8397 3957

Directions: Take the A3 out of London, bypassing Kingston and take the exit clearly signposted Chessington World of Adventures. The restaurant is on the Hook exit roundabout on your left. If you have visited The Regent please let us have your comments:
dine@dine-online.co.uk

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