DESPITE being perched at the end of Newcastle’s ever busy Chinatown, the Palace Garden seems to lurk virtually un-reviewed, according to the World Wide Web.
At the top of a flight of stairs, it’s not as in-your-face as the competing buffet restaurants lining the neon-flickering Stowell Street.
But whereas they favour the wipe-clean school canteen look, the Palace Garden is a touch of class with its fantastic mural of towering mountains and a bridge over a real carp pond.
It’s a popular choice with Chinese people and a group of seven of my friends who roll up there every time one of them celebrates a birthday.
Westernised menus are available, but for a real taste of the Far East, I’d recommend taking the plunge with the traditional Chinese menu, which is printed in English and Chinese.
Eating Chinese style is also the order of the day, with everyone choosing a dish, which are piled on to the lazy Susan in the centre of the table.
Each diner gets a small bowl and you (carefully) revolve the dishes to try a bite of everything.
Add in some hot green tea and teetering bottles of Tsingtao beer and it’s virtually a party game.
The menu of Szechuan, Malaysian, Cantonese and Pekinese cuisine is vast and if you’re feeling really adventurous, favourites like congee – a kind of porridge – frogs legs or abalone (sea snails) are on offer
Walking not so much on the wildside, I opted for a hotpot of crab in a satay sauce, which was a delicious gloopy stew bobbing with chunks of crab waiting to be wrestled from its shell.
Three roast meats, a whole seabass, fried crab, water spinach with chilli and beancurd, sizzling beef and plates of prawns in salt and pepper were also served up, with plenty of rice.
Digging in, mastering chopsticks and generally making a mess are all part of the fun and the waiting staff kept us well supplied in top ups of tea and beer.
The food was outstanding, with huge portions stuffed with lip-smacking flavours.
Nobody could manage a dessert, but there was a splodge of ice cream and candles for the birthday boy, plus a round of real coffee to perk us up enough to hit the nearby casino.
Splitting the bill between those who’d had a drink and those who hadn’t almost took a maths degree, but in the end the drinkers paid about £25 each and the non-drinkers £17.