The Hungry Dragon opened just over a year ago, time enough for this recent recruit to Southsea’s Osborne Road to settle down and deliver.
Housed on Southsea’s Restaurant Row, opposite and next to two distinctive Chinese restaurants – Chez Choi and Noble House – it needs to compete to survive.
Décor is on a shoestring, with little to woo the customer to try its ‘authentic Chinese’ food and hospitality. But many a simply-decorated restaurant can impress due to the sheer quality of cooking and service.
The people behind The Hungry Dragon seem to have got out a yellow paint pot and covered the walls, then added five Chinese prints and simple, unadorned tables, placed two dragon motifs on steamed-up windows and opened the doors.
Chinese cuisine is one of necessity and invention, no wastage encouraged. Meat and fish are stretched with vegetables and noodles.
Exported to all global corners, Chinese food has been adapted and distorted for over a century in other nations. Think of chop suey, an American idea unknown in China.
At The Hungry Dragon, the food is billed as authentic. But is anyone cooking here really aware of what the word means? And, yup, chop suey is on the menu.
The menu relies heavily on a running buffet, 20 dishes at lunchtime and 35 at evening service alongside a mega-generous separate menu.
Prices are £6.50 for buffet lunch and £8.50 for dinner, with most separate menu dishes around the £6-7 mark.
Don’t rely on the labelling to inform your choices, as I found many were incorrect. One noodle dish was tagged as a vegetable one.
Two soups, highly gelatinous, fatty ones including chicken, were looked at and ignored. Every other dish seemed to include a vibrant yellow rice. There were chicken balls in a thick coating; vegetable samosas; spring rolls; lemon chicken; Malaysian chicken or beef; two types of spare ribs; Thai chicken; deep-fried chicken; vegetable omelette; beef curry; noodles; prawn crackers.
I tried 10 dishes in all, many of them swimming in a swirling bright liquid. I kicked off with a tasteless vegetable samosa in which I struggled to find any vegetables. Then there was an unpleasant-tasting chicken ball and a very poor spring roll.
The rice tasted stale and none of the other dishes I tried were even slightly palatable. However, a pot of jasmine tea was enjoyed, as was the service provided by the excellent waitress. She was delightful, charming, friendly, smiling and attentive.
I find it a mystery as to why those behind this venture can offer such poor quality food, yet still expect us to fork out. My bill came to £7.70, not including a well-deserved tip.
The Hungry Dragon
42 Osborne Road, Southsea PO5 3LT
(023) 9281 4422
Open: Noon-10pm 7 days a week.
Food: One (out of five)
Disabled access: OK
How to get there: Osborne Road is off Clarence Parade, the restaurant on the right coming from the Parade. On-street parking.