“ Chinese / Address: 19 Fisherton St / Salisbury / Wiltshire / SP2 7SU / Tel: 01722 321399 „
~Dinner at the Dragon~
My mother had a hip replacement in February and one of the unexpected benefits of her new synthetic hip is that she's been able to give up the rather weird diet she used in the years running up to her operation. I was never sure of the medical science behind her decision to give up wheat, potatoes and all sorts of yummy things like tomatoes, aubergine and the like. It certainly made feeding her very difficult since I don't eat meat and base a lot of my food around tomatoes and vegetables. But now the new hip is in, she's taking a much more relaxed approach to food and has also developed a bit of a 'can't be bothered - let's go eat out' approach to food - this wasn't an easy thing to do in the past so we've been enjoying it. I should point out though (just in case she should ever read this) that there's nothing wrong with my mum's cooking - far from it.
During one of our visits to my parents a few months ago they proposed we go to a Chinese restaurant called The Dragon, on the grounds that it's my cousin's favourite place. This isn't the best of reasons since the cousin wasn't with us and he only likes it so much because it's an 'All You Can Eat' buffet and he's the kind of guy who relishes a challenge. My step-father proposed it and we went along with the suggestion. It's a bit further from their home than the other places where we've eaten recently in Salisbury so we took the car, benefiting from Mum's disabled parking permit and parking right outside the restaurant. You'll find The Dragon on Fisherton Street - the road that runs from the town centre towards the west of the city, past the City Hall and the Playhouse Theatre.
~A Knight Out~
It was a Saturday evening and we went early. It's a sad reflection of modern times that my Mum wanted to be out of the centre before things got rough and the drunks hit the streets. When I was a teenager Salisbury never got rough at all and perhaps her request reflects some of the nervousness that comes with being nearly 70, very small and a bit frail. I think we could also add in that it was the day after the Royal Wedding, and a day when a lot of major football games were being played so people had been drinking for many hours.
The Dragon only does all you can eat - there's no alternative menu. It has different dishes on offer depending on the time of day and possibly also the days of the week and a buffet at lunch time is very reasonably priced at around £6 per head Monday to Saturday, leaping up to £10.50 on a Sunday. The evening buffet is £10.50 except on Fridays and Saturdays when it's a pound more. The higher prices apply when more expensive ingredients are used in the dishes. We have been before at lunch time and I have to say that I didn't enjoy the experience at all. It was in the period between Christmas and New Year when people have really stretched their stomachs through lots of overeating and it was like eating with a swarm of locusts. As someone who doesn't eat meat, I really struggled to find anything on the lunch buffet and left very disappointed. The evening buffet is less of a disaster but if you don't eat meat, all you can eat should be rephrased as 'all you can FIND to eat'. Real vegetarians should just do themselves a favour and stay away because the meat and fish-free options are very limited.
The Dragon is not a glamorous establishment. Its dining area is a long oblong space stretching back through the building. There's quite an attractive glass roofed section where we sat and the back of the restaurant has French windows that open directly onto a shed. It's not exactly a scenic view. The furniture is basic and wipe-clean and has more of a cafeteria 'vibe' rather than a proper restaurant. We were some of the earliest diners so we took a table in the brightest area and had a giggle at the outrageously kitsch ceramics balanced on a beam above us which included fish with red lightbulb eyes.
~A Sumptuous Feast? Or not?~
The waiter came for our drinks order. It's a Pepsi establishment and I can't and won't drink that stuff so I asked for a J2O. I can never remember the available flavours so we were all trying to decide which was the one with the passionfruit. Eventually the poor waiter just said "You come with me, look fridge" and that's of course what we did. I went with him, I looked in the fridge and found my drink. My mother has some fizzy water and hubby and step-father ordered beers. We then took our first visit to the buffet.
We're spoiled by having some exceptional multi-ethnic buffet restaurants near where we live and work. Salisbury has no such places and by contrast the spread was a little poor. My step-father bemoaned the lack of a place like the one he loves to visit when they come to stay. "Salisbury needs a 'Red Hot' desperately" he said. But let's not give up yet - there's enough for four hungry diners. I kicked off with a bowl of hot and sour soup which was thankfully vegetarian. It wasn't the greatest but it had a bit of kick. I also took some sesame prawn toasts to dip in my soup. My husband loves prawn toasts and each time he went back to the buffet there seemed to be a few on his plate. There were also some juicy shell-on king prawns in a salt and pepper sauce which were tasty but very fiddly to get the shells off. My mother piled up the duck pancake to make some pancake rolls and went back for seconds.
For my main course I was limited to an egg fried rice, a seafood mix (prawn, squid, green lipped mussels) in a rather bland oyster sauce and some mixed veg in another bland sauce. There was no plain boiled rice which was disappointing but I can live with fried once in a while. For the meat eaters the choice was much better with sliced roasted duck, sweet and sour balls of something or other, a spicy lamb curry that was apparently pretty horrible, and several other dishes. The dessert choice was pretty impressive for a buffet with mille feuille slices, chocolate cake, several other puddings and a large ice-cream selection. My mother went off like a kid to try the chocolate fountain but was disappointed by the quality of the chocolate. I skipped puddings since my tummy had rather shut down from the boredom of the main courses.
~Recommended? Not really~
The Dragon is - as I've already said - nothing fancy. I'd suggest it's better for hungry diners who aren't looking for too much authenticity or dishes that challenge their taste buds beyond the most basic spices. It's not my kind of place although it's certainly better in the evening with a few prawn dishes than it is at lunchtime when they're sticking to cheaper ingredients. I wouldn't rush back.
Our meal for 4 with drinks was around £60. For me it wasn't great value and I would probably have done better at an a la carte Chinese restaurant but for meat eaters who like lots of choice it's not dreadful. It wouldn't be the first place to which I'd rush back though.