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New Capital - restaurant review

Angie Sammons hears only good things - but are they true?

Written by . Published on March 15th 2011.

New Capital - restaurant review

I HAD heard a lot of good things about the New Capital.

Now when I say “a lot”, I mean its name cropped up three times. And that, in my book, is remarkable.

Until I tried the £5.50 local chippy version of the blackbean dish, I thought my days of bringing sad efforts home after the pub were over

Why so? Well it's three times more than I have heard mention of any other Chinatown restaurant in recent memory.

Perhaps that is because they are all so unremarkable.

Perhaps that is because they all so good that there a conspiracy among the general census to keep shtum - the city's best-kept-secret.

Perhaps I need to get out more.

But then again, I couldn't.

After being told it was where the leaders of Liverpool's Chinese community (Europe's oldest) took visiting big-wigs from the mother-land, it was time to go. This clincher followed two incidents where I had eavesdropped as it was discussed, in a positive way: first in a Bold Street shop and then by strangers on a train.

“It's boss that New Capital, lad” - was the exact tone of the shop chat.

The New Capital is right at the end of Nelson Street, under the improbably large Shanghai arch which dwarfs it so effectively that a row of late night, neon bright Cantonese dining venues appears not so much a thin strip, but the tiniest plaster in the first aid kit. As viewed from Mars.

“This is the best Chinese restaurant in Liverpool,” a lady at the next table beamed, at no one in particular, as a huge chow mein landed before her.

A good start – thank God. I had wavered just moments earlier.

“Where are we going?” my companion had wondered as we traipsed from the Little Grapes.

“Oh no! It's terrible in here,” he declared as we opened the door, decorated with a Circus of Horrors poster.

“And?” I replied.

The latter Peking sauce was a sour/sweet glutinous mix that cloyed itself to the well endowed ribs. Pak fa crispy rolls and wonton were standard chippy fare, but at £6 apiece were holding themselves up for a battering.

Here, there is none of the abrupt service found in many neighbouring restaurants on this stretch. The New Capital is largely staffed by capable Chinese teens sporting incongruous surfing hairstyles. They are smiling and well trained and do not invite you to pay up and sod off at the first pause of the chopsticks. They don't say much and keep a watchful distance.

Stir-fried assorted seafood (£10) arrived on a bulky matress of

vegetables, carrot, Chinese leaf, celery etc, in a bland sauce that became familiar as the dishes were trooped out. There they were again, slightly rearranged, on the “fried two sorts of meatballs” (£8) and, oh yes, who was it who ordered a side dish of fried mixed, er, vegetables (£7)?

The seafood dish was the winner of the two, and not just because it flashed an exciting bit of mangetout like a daring bit of leg. Long tentacles of properly cooked squid, the odd scallop and a few king prawns and something called a fish slice, which was a pressed disc of something that, I assume, had once lived in the ocean.

The meatballs two ways (more prawn, and pork) gave little to excite and the surplus side order of veg sat there reminding us of the old adage that three is a crowd.

There are no surprises on this menu, the inclusion of more traditional Chinese dishes, like the accent of the mostly gwailo Liverpool punters, is exceedingly rare.With it's richly decorated living room style, The New Capital is not the obvious place to descend on at four o'clock in the morning.

Indeed, If you are the sort of person who plays hard all night in town and needs filler after a skinful, and/or can't be bothered with the taxi queue by the arch, then you will find The New Capital has got your measure already. It closes at 11.30 in the week and keeps a respectful 1am curfew at weekends.

But say you stay in. In the interests of comparing this place with the nearest takeaway to home, in a why-you-should-eat-Chinese-out-and-not-in-front-of-the-telly sort of way, I ordered a couple of week-night specials: chicken in yellow bean sauce (£7) and the MSG lover's jackpot, sliced fillet steak in green pepper and blackbean sauce (£9.50).

Both were massively meaty, hearty and tasty, rescued the day and were a good case for ditching the local. Order the fried noodles with beansprouts too (£4). They are delicious, and a world away from my dinner two nights earlier.

Fact is, until I tried the £5.50 neighbourhood chippy version of the blackbean dish, I thought my days of bringing sad efforts home after the pub were over.

They didn't mention the atmosphere when I was earwigging on that train or in the shop. For the record it's like a library.

Don't you know you shouldn't believe Chinese whispers?

Breakdown:6.5/10 food
3.5/5 Service
2/5 atmosphere
Address:The New Capital
5-9 Nelson Street
L1 5DW
0151 709 1427

Liverpool Confidential reviewers dine unannounced and always pick up their own bills.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, bars, grills and cafes compared with like. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect.

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Chow for nowMarch 15th 2011.

Usual sharp read, Miss Sammo.

Liverpool is actually looking better than Manchester for food these days, but apart from the Mei Mei, you can't get good Chinese food in this city.

MerseymikeMarch 15th 2011.

Not so. Yuet Ben remains very good, and the new Scezhuan place is good too - China City.

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