Dubbing a Chinese restaurant and takeaway ‘the best’ means that ideally you really should have eaten at the other 100+ in Cornwall for a fair comparison. And, subjectively, one man’s favorite takeaway is another woman’s leave well alone.
But reviews site TripAdvisor is keen on these lists, which collate users’ reviews to ascertain the most popular restaurant types across areas of the UK. The top three Chinese restaurants / takeaways in Cornwall include Red Panda in Callington and Yue in Truro. I can vouch for the latter, having had a superb takeaway from there a couple of weeks ago – as someone on TripAdvisor says, it’s ‘light years’ away from post-pub, beer-mopping-up fare.
You may be surprised by the venue which takes the top spot. I certainly was after a visit this week. Shanghai Express has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 on the website with over 500 reviews of which 346 are ‘excellent’.
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Based above a pet shop on Newquay’s main drag on East Street, you could easily miss it if it wasn’t for a big yellow arrow sign pointing you in the right direction. Another sign has faded over time.
The entrance is less than salubrious, it has to be said. The 1970s has asked for the carpet on the staircase to be returned, while the walls and paintwork need a definite freshen up. Once inside, the restaurant area – which closed during lockdown and won’t be reopening, according to the woman behind the counter – is used as a bit of a dumping ground.
To be frank, it all looks a bit messy, unappealing and in need of some tender loving care. I’ll be honest, it didn’t bode well for the food and despite the saliva-inducing smell in the car on the way home, I wasn’t holding out much hope for this being a Chinese meal to remember. It was less a case of Eastern promise and more of sour balls.
Well, appearances can be deceptive. First off, the food was cooked really quickly to order and despite a 20-minute journey home it was all still piping hot on serving. The menu is split into appetisers, soup, seafood mains, sweet and sour dishes, curries, chow mein, chicken, beef, pork, duck and vegetable mains, rice dishes and extra portions including the ubiquitous banana fritter.
It’s a good mix of dishes and reasonable – mains tend to range from around £ 5.30 with only a handful priced over £ 7. In order to get a taste of everything on offer, we went for a set dinner for three people – three vegetable pancake rolls, beef with black bean sauce, sweet and sour chicken, chicken with Szechuan sauce, king prawn and mixed vegetables, yung chow fried rice (including meat and prawns) and prawn crackers. That’s five mains and extras for just £ 30.
And the food was good – the chicken with Szechuan had a real kick and depth of flavor; the black bean sauce, which can sometimes be too heavy and smother the flavor of the beef, had just the right balance; the pancake rolls were crisp and had bite, and the other dishes were also superior to many other takeaways. Nothing is saturated in too much soy or sugar.
Whether it’s the ‘best in Cornwall’ I’m not sure, but Shanghai Express offers a very high-quality mix of Cantonese dishes and for value-for-money it certainly is among the best – £ 10 each for three of us with food left over as it’s so filling is a great deal. They just have to work on making the premises more appealing.
Some TripAdvisor reviews for the Shanghai Express:
“Our go to place for the once a month Chinese. Never had anything bad from this place and always tasty and freshly cooked to order.”
“We have eaten here regularly for nearly 15 years [this review was written before the restaurant closed]. Food is always superb. Great menu to choose from and great friendly staff. “
“Everything you want in a takeaway! Tasty food, excellent price, quick delivery, friendly staff. Perfect!”
“This unappealing and rather grubby little Chinese restaurant, situated above a pet shop hides a bit of a secret. The food is actually quite good.”
Shanghai Express is open from 5pm to 9.30pm every day at 28-30 East Street, Newquay. You can also find them on Facebook.