Dining in – but out in an ‘ambient’ car park

The Secret Diner

China Plate

Where: 11 Browns Drift Road, Umgeni Park

Call: 031 564 6437

Open: Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 2.30pm and 5pm to 10pm

China Plate waited until level 1 to open for dine-in. Proprietors George and Jessie Hu were not taking any chances.

In the meantime, I had been enjoying a number of their dishes delivered to my door by Uber Eats or Mr D. Their prawn foo yung is a standby for nights when I simply didn’t feel like cooking. It’s a tasty, generous portion and, surprisingly, it survives the trip over the river.

But, once it reopened, a group of us went to try it out. We sat in the open outside area (it’s probably safer) although it was essentially a car park, but we made our own ambience.

For starters, we put a selection of plates on the table. Although one of our party wanted a bowl of their hot and sour soup (R22*). Personally, I’ve never been wowed by soups in Chinese restaurants, but if I was to choose one, this would be it. It definitely beats chicken and sweetcorn.

Starters of steamed pork dumplings and sesame prawn toasts.

We enjoyed the delicious sesame prawn toasts (R59.50). These are for a portion of eight, with some of our party piling in before I could take the picture. The pork steamed wontons (R64.50) too were good, as was the large prawn spring roll (R35).

For mains, we had to have what is, for me, their signature dish: the crispy garlic langoustines. These are dusted in flour and flashed on high heat with garlic and spring onions. They are so crisp you can eat the shells, and the flesh is succulent. It was great to have this treat again.

We also tried the calamari and leeks, which was enjoyable, although on the night it seemed the dish was more calamari and broccoli.

China Plate always does a good barbecue pork but, unfortunately, this was not available that evening, and neither was the duck. We tried a plate of pork meatballs, a special on the night, cooked in a spicy tomato-type sauce. These were pleasant without being exceptional. I enjoyed the “peri-peri” chicken Szechuan style (R85) which was quite spicy – well spicier than I was expecting. Another classic was the beef in oyster sauce (R86) which was enjoyable.

Beef in oyster sauce.

We also ordered a plate of steamed bok choi, although with generous vegetable helpings in most of the dishes, this wasn’t really necessary, especially as one of our party didn’t eat anything green and had already picked all the broccoli out of the calamari.

Desserts were limited to ice-cream and chocolate sauce or bowties, and there may have been a fried banana option, but none of these excited me, and the kitchen was closing by the time we got to this point. It always surprises me that Chinese restaurants rarely make good use of ginger in desserts.

It was a pleasant evening and was great to catch up with friends who, in these pandemic times, one hadn’t seen in a while.

*Apologies, but I took home a smaller takeaway menu and the bill, unfortunately, went through the washing machine, so not all dishes are priced. Most main courses are around R100, with the langoustines, if memory serves me correctly, approaching R200.

Food:

Service: 3

Ambience:

The Independent on Saturday