I've been to Ying Chow three or four times now and the same things always strike me, way too cramped and noisy, terrible service, mediocre food, inexplicably popular. I know that Ruby and Hungry Pete don't think much of it either, but other friends I've been with really like the food, even if they wouldn't try to defend the service. I have suspicions as to why this is the case, which I'll explain later.
First thing which was kind of annoying was waiting 15 minutes for our previously booked table. Now I know that can happen at any restaurant but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule at Ying Chow. In fact, I can't remember a single occasion when we haven't had to wait for our table. It's pretty chaotic waiting too. There's nowhere to sit or wait inside the restaurant so you have to wait out on the street, hoping that when your table becomes available they remember to let you know rather than offering it to someone else.
One of the first things we asked for when sitting down was glasses for our bottle of wine. I think these arrived sometime between the entrees and mains, maybe 20 minutes after we asked and following a reminder or two. We each chose an entrée from the list, the 'regional' dumplings, the beef dumplings, the shallot pancakes and the satay chicken sticks. The best description of the beef dumplings and the shallot pancakes is mediocre, neither good nor bad. The beef dumplings were a bit 'gluggy' and the pancakes a bit dry.
This is better than the other two entrees, with the regional dumplings having an unusual flavour which I didn't like and the chicken satays way too sweet.
Of the mains both Hungry Pete and I thought the best was the beef brisket with tendon in claypot. This was actually quite good: the beef was nicely flavoured and tender with a respectable amount of tendon. One of my favourite dishes to order at a Chinese restaurant and this one was certainly better than average. On the other hand, our two dining companions didn't think much of it, I think being put off by the idea of eating tendon as much as anything.
I think the red vinegar pork ribs are considered one of Ying Chow's signature dishes but I'm not sure why. The flavour is ok if a little too sweet and what meat there was was moist, but for me the dish has way too much bone and not enough meat.
But I think I preferred the ribs to the duck. The usual problem with duck is that it can be a little fatty but this was quite dry and lacking in that rich, smoked duck flavour. The duck was also very bony compared to the much better version of this dish we had the following night down the road at Ding Hao.
I was quite interested in trying the chicken with salty coriander stir fry. However while it looked quite good it was very salty, and I have a high tolerance for salty food.
While I don't like the food here much the service was the worst aspect of the night. On no less than three occasions a wrong dish was brought to our table, a pretty high strike rate given we only ordered four mains. I don't necessarily blame the staff for this though. They seemed to be working very hard to get the food out to too many customers, in too cramped a set up, as quickly as possible so as to turn the tables over. The result was a chaotic mess.
So why do I think Ying Chow is so popular? Maybe it once was good and that reputation has just carried on, it had been in place for years before I first tried it. Maybe it's because people have been told it's good and don't want to stick their necks out and say that it's not. But mainly I think it's because it's a safe option. The flavours are kind of muted, a bit sweet and not very challenging to someone who is taking the step up from the local suburban takeaway.
It's rare for me to blog about a place I don't like and I know a lot of people would disagree, but in my opinion Ying Chow is a poorly run restaurant with very average food and I won't be returning. There are other restaurants in the city I know I'll enjoy more as well as lots of new places to explore around Gouger Street and the Central Market area.
Food - 6
Service - 4.5
Ambience - 4.5
Price - 7
114 Gouger Street
Adelaide SA 5000
Tel: (08) 8211 7998