“ Address: The Gates Shopping Centre Unit 30b | Lambton Walk, Durham DH1 4SL, England / All you can eat Chinese buffet in Durham. „
Durham used to have two all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets Dynasty Buffet (more commonly known as China Joe's) and InShanghai. Sadly, China Joe's shut down earlier this year, so InShanghai is now your only option. We've been a couple of times, both as part of a large group and just the two of us and whilst it's been adequate, it doesn't offer anything special.
In terms of location InShanghai is definitely onto a winner. It Shanghai stands on the banks of the River Wear as it flows through Durham city centre, making it a very picturesque place to eat a meal and. It is also very central, located on the lower level of a shopping centre at the bottom end of town and so is easily accessible on foot. That said, it is a little tricky to find, as to reach the main entrance, you need to go down some steps which are slightly hidden.
The interior of InShanghai also matches its prime location and it's clear that it wants to give off a positive impression and destroy the idea that all you can eat buffets are at the lower end of the scale quality wise. InShanghai has clearly had a lot spent on its image. The décor is tasteful and the lighting atmospheric. A large bar occupies one room and proves a pleasant place to sit and wait for your table. Through in another part of the restaurant, a well-proportioned dining area (catering for parties of all sizes) provides a pleasant dining area, with easy access to the cafeteria style hot plates that house the food. The downside is that because the whole restaurant is quite large and open plan and you are often seated close to the food, it can get very noisy and very hot.
When it came to location and atmosphere, there was no doubt that InShanghai definitely beat China Joe's, which had a more basic, no-frills approach to such things. In the areas that matter most - service and food, it is not as good.
On each of the occasions we have been, we have found the service to be slightly on the surly side. Staff are polite enough, but not exactly overjoyed to see you and there have been times when we made to feel like we were being a bit of a nuisance, which is not a good thing for a customer to feel.
On one occasion when we went as part of a group, for example, the waiter who took our drinks was not exactly brimming over with enthusiasm. In a rather strident tone, he asked whether any of our party were students (four of them were) and then demanded to see their student cards, as if he suspected them of lying. OK, I understand they need to check these things, but there are ways of asking without making the customer feel like they are a criminal! Then when our party was deciding what to drink, he truculently asked whether he should go away and come back when we'd decided, making it very clear we were imposing on his time. Sadly, this was fairly typical of our experience of the service - it stays just about the right side the line between good and bad service, but doesn't make you feel particularly welcome. It's made very clear to you that this is nothing more than a business transaction, and if you are looking for a friendly environment in which to eat, you will find InShanghai lacking.
The staff were OK during the meal, clearing plates away efficiently, although they were not terribly good at coming and asking whether any more drinks were required. We ran into the biggest problem at the end of the night. On checking the bill, we realised we had been charged for an extra person. Unfortunately, we only realised this after we had actually paid and when we pointed it out, one member of staff was openly hostile (arguing that was how many the party had been booked for - it was, but one person didn't turn up on the night and we did inform them of this before we sat down to eat). Then, when they'd finally agreed to refund for the phantom person, they were thrown into panic mode because the transaction had already gone through the till and they didn't know how to do it. Needless to say this, combined with our experience of the service generally did not exactly leave us with a terribly positive impression, and it's noticeable that we've not been even remotely tempted to go back since.
When it comes to the actual food, there is an impressive range of dishes available from chicken to pork; fish to vegetarian options. I would estimate that there were at least 50 different types of dishes available at any one time. If you can't find something from that lot that you'd like to eat, then you probably shouldn't be there! There's even a nice selection of desserts ranging from jelly (which didn't look terribly appetising) to chocolate cake (which was) and ice cream.
Quality-wise, it's obviously mass-produced food and so is never going to be the best. Even allowing for this, I find much of the food at InShanghai to be curiously bland and a little on the tasteless side. One of the things I love about Chinese food is that it is usually so full of flavour, with tasty sauces and well-seasoned stir-fried vegetables. This stuff seemed designed to be as inoffensive as possible to the palette, so that it would appeal to as many people as possible. However, this means it loses much of its flavour and overall, I found the quality rather disappointing. The food was also very salty (often an issue with Chinese food) and some dishes were also on the greasy side, which was not appealing!
The actual food area could also be laid out a lot better. Food is kept warm under hotplates set into four long counters. These are packed with all different sorts of dishes and you can walk either side to get access to the huge range of food available. The trouble is there is no set way to go round these counters, so everybody ends up getting in everybody else's way. They are also set quite close together and there's a real danger that you could turn around, bump into someone with a huge plateful of food and send everything flying.
The price varies depending on the time of day you go but the Grand Buffet (on which this review is based) is around £12.90 per person, with a discount for students (just make sure you have your Student Card ready!)
At the end of the day, InShanghai may look good and occupy a prime spot on the riverbanks of Durham city centre, but it just doesn't deliver in the areas where it matters - food and service. At best, the service we have experienced has been neutral; at worst aggressive and hostile. Similarly, whilst there might be an impressive range of dishes available, giving you the chance to try lots of different stuff, it's all pretty mediocre.
30 The Gates Shopping Centre
0191 375 7333
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