STEPHEN LEWIS enjoys an authentic taste of China on George Hudson Street

GEORGE Hudson Street isn’t the prettiest street in York. But if you happen to like oriental food, it is definitely the place to go. The western side of the street, furthest away from the river, is dominated by Red Chilli (specialising in Chinese dishes from Beijing and Sichuan) and its associated oriental supermarket. On the other side of the street, meanwhile, you have Thida Thai, sushi joint Sushi Waka and, at 2 George Hudson Street on the corner of Tanner Row, another Chinese restaurant, the Regency. This, too, has a Chinese supermarket attached.
Anyone with a hankering for the flavours of the Far East is spoilt for choice, in other words.
We were on a mission to go Chinese. And having reviewed Red Chilli before, that left The Regency. 
It is a restaurant that, in terms of decor at least, is far less sophisticated than Red Chilli. From the outside it looks frankly unappealing, with its ugly, blocky design and neon lighting in which four of the letters don’t light up.
Inside, it is all harsh lighting and synthetic, wipe-clean table-tops. A long counter runs along one wall with large photographs of popular dishes displayed above. It has the feel of a Chinese fast-food joint. 
Not a place for a romantic evening ‘a deux’, then. But I love it. It reminds me of the Chinese restaurants you find clustered around underground stations in big Chinese cities. It is clean; it is functional; and the food is way better than anything you’ll get in most fast-food restaurants. The restaurant is owned by the same people that own The Regency in Barbican Road, but has different managers. And the menu is very varied.
You’ll find old favourites of the sort that used to feature on Chinese takeaway menus of a generation ago - sweet and sour dishes, fried rice, spring rolls and beef in black bean sauce. But there are also a host of more adventurous options which are clearly aimed squarely at York’s Chinese expats. Jelly fish and cucumber (£7.50) anyone? Or how about seafood-flavoured pig blood and gizzard (£15)? Or fried intestine with green pepper (£8.50)?
Me being a vegetarian, all these were off the menu (though definitely not for my Chinese wife Lili). But there were plenty of veggie options for me to choose from, ranging from aubergine in sea spice sauce (£8.50) to steamed tofu stuffed with vegetables (£12) and tomato and egg drop soup (£3.99).
We seated ourselves at a corner table next to an internal window looking out on to the checkout desk of the next-door Chinese supermarket (a great position for people watching) and studied the menu.
The great thing about eating Chinese is that you don’t just have your own single main course and stick to it. You order several dishes, and everybody shares them. The more people you have dining out together, the more varied the meal you can build.
With just the two of us, there was a limit to how many dishes we could order. But we did our best...
We don’t normally bother with starters at Chinese restaurants. This time, however, I fancied trying the crispy vegetable spring rolls (£3.50). We then ordered a selection of other dishes: pork tripe and pepper soup (£3.99); braised aubergines (£8.50); hot and spicy poached tofu (£6.80); pickled Chinese cabbage with fish (£13); and garlic sprouts with shredded pork (£8). We also ordered boiled rice for two (it arrived beautifully presented in a bamboo steamer). Our table was soon groaning with food.
Chinese restaurants often don’t really seem to grasp the concept of a starter – so it was no real surprise when my ‘starter’ of crispy spring rolls was almost the last dish to arrive. I soon gave up waiting, and tucked into the other dishes as they arrived. The braised aubergine was delicious: searingly hot, meltingly tender and with a rich, warm flavour. The gloopy, starchy sauce was wonderful when eaten with the fluffy, well-cooked rice.
If anything, the tofu was even better: large rectangular chunks of beancurd, lightly crisped on the outside, yet wonderfully fresh and light on the inside. As it should, the curd had absorbed the flavour of the chillies and other spices of the sauce in which it was cooked. It was spicy enough to burn your lips, and absolutely wonderful.
I also tasted the broth in which Lili’s pickled Chinese cabbage with fish arrived. It was tongue-puckeringly sour, in a way only Chinese pickled fish soup can be, but deliciously refreshing. The fish itself, Lili informed me, was beautifully cooked. The garlic sprouts (essentially the fried stems of garlic plants) which accompanied Lili’s shredded pork were also excellent; crunchy, and with a mild but not overpowering taste of garlic. The shredded pork was good, too, Lili said.
So were my spring rolls when they arrived: plump, crispy on the outside, and packed with a tasty combination of beansprouts, peas, sliced chestnut and bamboo shoots.
The only real disappointment of the meal was Lili’s pork tripe and pepper soup. It was peppery enough, but there was no discernible pork tripe in it. It was just a thin consommé which was, Lili said, distinctly average.We couldn’t finish everything, but our brisk waitress was happy to provide us with cartons in which to pack our leftovers (perfectly acceptable etiquette in a Chinese restaurant). Re-cooked, they made for a tasty dinner the next day. 
Our total bill, including Chinese tea for two and a bottle of Stella for me, came to £53.29. The Regency isn’t a place for a romantic first date. But if you want a cheap and tasty meal out, and the chance to sample some exotic Chinese dishes, it’s a winner.

Fact file

The Regency, 2 George Hudson Street, York YO16LP

Phone 01904 651003


Food: Tasty 3.5/5

Service: Brisk 2.5/5

Ambience: Functional 2.5/5

Value: Good 4/5

Reviews are independent and paid for by The Press