“ Address: 56 Stamforad Road Kettering Northants „
~Beware of Bargains that might not be~
When I first started buying GroupOn vouchers I got a bit carried away, buying deals for things I didn't REALLY want. After about 6 months I started to wise up and get much more selective about what I bought but I still have a weakness for a good restaurant deal. I bought a voucher for two people for the Zen Spice 'all you can eat' oriental restaurant in Kettering. It was a bit of an odd choice for me as I'm not a great fan of oriental buffets and I'm equally not fond of Kettering, but at £10 for two, it seemed worth a try.
I phoned ahead to book since that was a condition of the deal. At first the lady on the phone seemed a bit reluctant. "Could you come next week instead?" she asked and then decided that it was OK, we could go at 7 pm. I expected on the basis of her hesitation that the place would be really full.
~Do you like Kettering? I don't know, I've never Kettered~
It's very rare that we go to Kettering and we don't know the town at all well. Fortunately our Tom Tom got us there without too much trouble although I'd struggle to tell you where it was because it seemed to be quite a long way out of the centre on the Stanford Road. It's quite a busy road and I was concerned about where we'd park until we spotted a parking space opposite the restaurant in front of a fish and chip shop. After checking there were no signs about non-customers parking there, we locked up and crossed the road.
Zen Spice is a big restaurant, occupying a corner plot. I guess if you are going to do all you can eat buffets, you need to be able to have a high throughput of customers in order to maximise your turnover. The restaurant was only about one fifth full which surprised me after the lady had been unsure about whether to take our booking. As far as I could make out, they only do the buffet and we didn't see a menu. The standard price is £12.95 per head which is on par with two other places in Northampton (the nearest bigger town) but each of those offer a more international menu.
~Low Atmosphere means high throughput~
The building is an old one with high ceilings and dining areas laid out on several levels. The décor was doing its best to be oriental with large vases, costumes framed and hung on the walls and interesting painted murals including one of a row of blue and white vases. The problem was that the paint colours were too light and the lights too bright so that instead of being atmospheric, the place felt like a canteen. We spent most of our meal discussing how we would decorate it in deep shades of red and gold to look more like a brothel or opium den and less like a motorway service station. It was a shame because the staff were lovely and the building had great potential but the décor just wasn't encouraging anyone to linger.
The waitress took our order for drinks - a large diet coke for me, a pint of lager for my husband - and we headed off to check out the buffet which was laid out in a separate room. I had quite low expectations of finding much to eat because I don't eat meat and have struggled to find enough fish or vegetarian food at other oriental buffets. The soup was chicken and something so that was off the menu for me but there were plenty of other starters, though admittedly most of the items were fried. I had some prawn toasts, some tempura vegetables and - rather bizarrely - some garlic bread.
Back at our table everything looked rather bare. The white table cloth and cutlery were the only things on the table and the overall feel of the place was quite bleak. We didn't feel particularly keen to string out our dinner any longer than necessary. Whilst getting diners in and out again quickly is key to making money in a place like this, surely getting them to return a second or third time is also essential.
With starters polished off we returned for main courses. I was impressed by the amount of choice with several vegetarian dishes plus fish and seafood options. Although a lot seemed to be of the 'veg in slimy sauce' type, they did each taste distinctly different from each other. With a small spoon of each of the suitable dishes and some rice, I soon had quite a pile on my plate. The quality of the food was pretty good and certainly better than many of the oriental places I've been to in the past. I wasn't tempted to go back and have another go but I was more than pleased with the quality, the temperature and the range of dishes available.
My husband had been saving himself for pudding and I was amazed to discover that despite being married for nearly 14 years I had never known that he liked canned peaches. He piled his bowl with these slimy delights before dolloping a spoonful of ice-cream on the top. I was full enough to not need pudding and I hadn't been tempted by the cakes and mousses on offer.
Three courses and a drink took us a mere 45 minutes but there didn't seem any reason to hang around much longer. We paid for our drinks (£6) and left a good tip and then headed home. The food was fine and the price we'd paid through GroupOn was good, but I wouldn't have been happy to pay £12.95 and despite the good range of dishes, I wouldn't rush back because the setting was just so 'bleak' and soul-less. I would prefer to spend a little more and be able to choose from a menu. This restaurant could be very good and it might only take some darker paint, some muted lighting and a few flowers on the tables and some cruet sets to make it much more impressive.
Oriental restaurant in Kettering