What better way to celebrate the New Year (the Chinese one at least) than a meal at one of the city’s oldest Chinese restaurants.
It is some years since I last dined at The Grain Barge, the floating restaurant down at the Embanbkment in Peterborough, but the dawn of the Year of The Rooster was the prompt I needed to return. And I am so glad that I did. If memory serves me right not much has changed inside, the colour scheme - bright red and white with some oriental emblems - looked familiar and the exterior which has made it something of a city landmark on the River Nene remains unchanged. So the first surprise was the menu; the set menu seemed straightforward enough, and a decent price, but the a la carte was littered with dishes that had me licking my lips. Starters including fried Pacific prawns, deep fried shredded smoked chicken and mussels in black bean sauce; main dishes including diced chicken with green pepper and Szechuan chilli sauce, sizzling lamb in hot pan, Singapore noodles and sliced breast of chicken and asparagus; specials including oysters in ginger and spring onion, steamed fresh scallops or deep fried fresh squid. My starter consisted of six grilled meat dumplings (£5.20). The crescent shaped ravioli was not at all soggy and the minced pork filling was nicely seasoned. A decent portion, too. Donna went with lettuce bundles (£6) and was equally impressed with the quantity and the quality of the filling.
The minced chicken was mixed with red and green peppers, onions, spring onions and mushrooms serving up a delicious flavour combination set against the cool, fresh lettuce leaves. For the main course, a firm favourite - which thankfully lived up to my expectations - sizzling beef with black pepper (£7). What a wonderful sound that builds to anticipation as it arrives. The smell from the hotplate was terrific. The strips of meat were soft and gristle-free and the sauce, with chunks of pepper and onion and celery was just delicious. I ordered it with just a plain steamed rice (£2.60), which was a treat as the sauce made its way down into the bowl. Across the table the deep fried beef shreds with chillis and carrots (£5.50) was sweet and sticky, but not at all spicy-hot, and the steamed vegetables(£3.70) were crisp and tasty. We also shared a very enjoyable chicken fried noodles £4.80) - a lovely stir-fried taste from the noodles and chicken, while the onions and celery just added to the delight. I did worry we might be rushed with the restaurant getting ready for firecrackers and dragon dancing later in the afternoon, but the service turned out to be very friendly and helpful throughout.
Brad Barnes dines at The Grain Barge, on the River Nene at Peterborough Embankment. Tel 01733 311967.
Brad’s rating: 8/10