SOMETIMES you’re in the mood for a slap-up meal in a posh restaurant: all discreet service, candle-lit tables, expensive wine and elaborately deconstructed main courses. You take your time, enjoy the fine dining and fine surroundings - and pay for it afterwards.

Other times, you just feel hungry and fancy somewhere where you can fill up quickly, easily and cheaply.

There are plenty of fast food joints in York where you can do just that. But what if you want something a bit different from a burger, fried chicken or a jaw-busting filled roll with build-your-own salad? What, for example, if you fancy trying some Chinese fast food for a change?

Well, there’s always the Upper River restaurant in Gillygate.

We went there with a couple of friends for a meal one recent Wednesday evening. To be honest, we didn’t have a clue what to expect when we arrived. We were hoping it might be an upmarket Chinese restaurant where we could entertain our friends - who we hadn’t seen in some time - in style.

It turned out to be quite different.

The restaurant is tiny, for a start. From the outside, it looks just like a takeaway, and the front half is indeed dominated by a large counter. But at the back there is a small, plain seating area.

It wasn’t that prepossessing: the walls were drab white, the tables small and plain, and the restaurant smelled faintly of fried food. But, always an encouraging sign, there were a good few Chinese customers sitting down to a meal inside.

We were hungry, so decided to try it and see.

A waitress brought plastic-covered menus, in which a series of simple meals were illustrated with large photographs. At which point our friend Suen Li clapped her hands in recognition. It was a fast-food restaurant of the kind popular in her native Hong Kong, she said.

We settled down to ponder the menu. In most Chinese restaurants, when it comes to the main course, you order rice each, and then a series of dishes which you all share: a common rule of thumb is one dish for every person, plus one extra dish.

The Upper River isn’t like that. The main meals come all-in-one: meat, vegetables and rice or noodles all served together on a single plate. There is also a small selection of Chinese soups (very different to western soups, these usually take the form of thin noodles and tasty strips of meat or vegetables cooked in a clear, savoury consommé) and starters.

I chose a plate of vegetarian spring rolls for us to share as a starter, and then we each chose a main course: the vegetarian fried rice (£7.30) for me, the Satay beef soup vermicelli (£7.50) for Suen Li; and two portions of the ‘duo choice’ meat with boiled rice (£11.30), one each for Suen Li’s partner Ian and my wife Lili. We also ordered a plate of Chinese vegetables with oyster sauce (£7.80) to share.

The spring rolls were a disappointment. They looked tasty enough: eight slender, crispy rolls laid out on a bed of lettuce and with a sweet chilli dipping sauce accompaniment. And they were indeed hot and crispy. But good spring rolls are all about the filling: you want the crisp crunch of fresh beansprouts contrasted with flavoursome shreds of carrot, perhaps some peppery shredded cabbage, and a few peas. These, however, had a salty, mushy filling that had no discernible texture at all.

My heart sank at the thought of what was to come. But after that disappointing start, the main courses were a pleasant surprise. My vegetarian fried rice was good: crunchy broccoli clearly cooked with a dash of soy sauce, plus meltingly tasty Chinese leaf and peas, all served on a bed of fried rice that was light, fresh and tasty.

Suen Li also enjoyed her satay beef soup. The beef, she said, was very tender, and the seasonings nicely balanced.

Lili and Ian’s ‘duo choice meat’ also seemed to be a winner. It consisted of generous sevings of thick- sliced pork cooked two ways: char siu style (a kind of Chinese barbecue) and siu yuk (roasted and seasoned). Both plates disappeared remarkably quickly. “I enjoyed mine!” Lili said.

We also enjoyed the side plate of Chinese vegetables, which turned out to be pak choi: beautifully cooked in a salty sauce so that they were tasty, moist and crunchy.

The service was prompt and efficient, and our meal was over quite quickly. But then, the Upper River isn’t the kind of place to linger long over your food.

But we left well satisfied. And the restaurant is pretty good value. A filling meal for four, with two beers and two iced lemon teas, came to a whisker over £60. A good alternative to a burger, perhaps, next time you’re hungry...