Advantages Charming Little Chinese Restaurant in Ipswich, Suffolk
Disadvantages Often Necessary To Book Ahead
|Value for Money|
|Standard of Menu|
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One chilly evening earlier this week, my husband and I were out in Ipswich. It was rather late as we made our way back towards our car, which was parked on St.Nicholas Street. Ipswich, for those of you unfamiliar with it, poses no particular threat to any of the bastions of International Haute Cuisine. References to 'Michelin stars' here are more likely to suggest laudable car mechanics than lauded chefs, and the only 'restaurants' to grace the town's immediate centre are depressing affairs scarcely worthy of the title. St. Nicholas Street, however, is the great exception that proves the rule, and actually boasts a couple of very appealing little eateries.
The maitre d' was very welcoming. We were led towards a vacant table just in front of an archway, in a small dining area to the left of the entrance. On the other side of our archway, immediately behind us, sat a noisy gaggle of boldly dressed middle-aged ladies. The sound emanating from their table suggested a re-convention of a suburban Book Club. A formidable figure in acreages of scarlet satin appeared to be the ringleader, and wine flowed and prawn crackers were crunched amidst hoots and general hilarity.
A waiter brought across a bowl of pale prawn crackers, still warm, and two large, leather-bound volumes masquerading as menus. I should probably point out here that I'm essentially a philistine when it comes to the intricacies of 'Chinese' cuisine. I do know enough to realise that 'Chinese' is in some respects a meaningless generic term, encompassing a vast spectrum of cooking styles, methods and ingredients, from Cantonese to Szechuen. However, in my experience, Chinese restaurants tend to fall into two distinct categories: the very good and the very ordinary. In the past, Chinese friends of mine have taken me to some very good ones, and they were often intimidating (and frequently expensive) places, featuring strange and disturbing delicacies. Then there are those more common-garden places, with 30 variations on every theme (Sweet & Sour Pork, Sweet & Sour Prawn, Sweet & Sour Squid etc) and the piquant aroma of Mono-sodium Glutomate hanging thickly in the air. Trongs, however, seemed to have nestled itself into a cosy and appealing niche, somewhere between these two extremes.
The spring rolls arrived promptly, and these were daintily displayed on a little bird's nest of thinly shredded cucumber. They were served with a small bowl containing a very subtle and almost colourless fish sauce. Whilst we ate, the boisterous chatter behind us continued unabated. "Well if you're not used the theatre, Chekhov is very deep!" pronounced the lady in scarlet, to the obvious approbation of her companions, and my husband sniggered into his Singha. Meanwhile, the duck had already emerged from the kitchen, and our waiter stood at a station beside us, deftly shredding it into a very neat little pile.
My main was a dish of 'Five Willows' sole, lightly coated in flour and then quickly fried, before being served in a rather tangy chilli and ginger sauce. The fish was tender and succulent, and had clearly been fried only very lightly, perhaps just swiftly dunked in the oil and immediately retracted. The sauce, however, was a revelation. Both the chilli and the ginger were very much evident, but discreetly so, and neither flavour overwhelmed the other. It was quite simply divine. My husband had ordered the Shredded Beef with Chilli, and pronounced it very good, if not spectacularly so, and he remarked that all of the ingredients had clearly been very fresh and unadulterated.
We dine in Ipswich fairly often, and are frequently disappointed. Other than the harbour-side Salthouse, a couple of other rather self-consciously sophisticated places near the docks, and the handful of restaurants on St. Nicholas street, there isn't all that much to get excited about. In view of this, Trongs really was a bit of a find. The food is fresh, simply prepared, and tasty. The service is charming, and the décor, although a little unusual, is ambient and welcoming. The restaurant is immaculately clean throughout and the prices charged are very reasonable. And as Chinese restaurants in English provincial towns go, I rather suspect that this is as good as it gets. In any event, it was certainly good enough for me. I was more than a little surprised to find it listed on ciao, but am glad that it is. I can heartily recommend it.
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