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Our reviewer heads to Sandbach and discovers it's good to share<br/>REVIEW BY RAY KING

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When former Premier of the Peoples Republic of China Zhou Enlai was asked, on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, what impact the event had on history, he famously mused that it was too early to say.

Chinese culinary culture however, especially as we see it played out in Britain, has been responding rather more quickly to new ideas. In Britains big cities traditional Hong Kong-Cantonese menus have been adapting, at least in part, to the preferences of customers from further north with the influx of students from booming Shanghai and Beijing. Dishes are getting hotter and spicier.

Meanwhile in suburbia and in smaller towns, Chinese restaurants have been turning their gaze in the opposite direction south; towards Vietnam and Thailand and pan-oriental menus featuring Chinese and south east Asian cuisine are becoming commonplace.

The Orient, a thoroughly modern restaurant just on the fringe of Sandbachs historic town centre, falls very definitely into this latter category, offering Thai and Vietnamese dishes like red curry duck and pad Thai alongside more traditional Cantonese fare with the odd northern spicy note here and there. So, a big menu with plenty of appealing choice to enjoy amid contemporary surroundings with top quality tableware and fresh gleaming white dcor.

We started by sharing an Oriental Platter (7.50 a head, minimum two persons), which also features on at least one of the Orients well-balanced banquet choices. We were presented with a very attractive collation of mainly fried dim sum items plus some succulent short spare ribs luxuriating in a sticky, sweet-peppery Mandarin sauce arranged around an intricately carved vegetable, probably turnip or swede. There was a brace of light and crispy Vietnamese spring rolls, commendably non-greasy seaweed, especially flavoursome cuttlefish cakes - excellent when dipped in sweet chilli sauce - butterflied king prawns and tasty morsels of deep-fried salt and chilli-smoked chicken.

For our main courses we both gravitated towards the list of chefs specials, some of which dishes like wok-fried diced fillet steak with crispy garlic and chilli, we noted, also appeared under other headings elsewhere on the menu.

After much discussion, since we were going to share anyway, Mrs Ks choice came from the kitchens Cantonese quarter; scallop and prawns with asparagus in XO sauce (10.50), whereas by tiger prawns in tamarind sauce (11.90), a more eclectic Sino-Thai combination. We ordered a portion of fluffy egg fried rice and one of soft noodles to accompany and set about the feast with elegant black chopsticks.

Developed in Hong Kong as late as the 1980s as a seafood accompaniment, XO sauce offers spicy notes without overpowering delicate ingredients and in the dish before us, the flavours of the slivers of tender scallop, meaty fresh prawns and al dente sliced asparagus were allowed full rein.

Fittingly, as the new Chinese Year of the Tiger fast approaches next month (it falls on the same weekend as St Valentines Day book your tables now!), the tiger prawn tails were awesome. Plump, firm and superbly flavoured, they were served in very generous portion, sliced lengthways in their shells with an unctuous sweet-savoury, utterly complimentary sauce.


A bit messy to deal with, true, but easily the best prawns weve had for a long time.

The wine list, which starts with South African Chenin Blanc and Languedoc Merlot at 3 for a 175ml glass, is thoughtful and moderately priced, yielding our Oyster Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, whose vibrant lime-zest, minerally qualities provided the ideal foil for the food, for 17.90.

The Orient, 67 Middlewich Road, Sandbach, Cheshire CW11 1HU.
Tel: 01270 759000
www.orient-restaurant.co.uk

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