Restaurant review: Lychee Oriental, Glasgow

Lychee Oriental Restaurant. Picture: Robert Perry
Lychee Oriental Restaurant. Picture: Robert Perry
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MORINDA citrifolia (aka the dog dumpling) smells like cheese when ripe, resembles an obese caterpillar, and is especially attractive to ants and fruit bats. Then there’s the durian, which gives off an odour like turpentine and has a custard-textured pulp.

Lychee Oriental

59 Mitchell Street, Glasgow

(0141-248 2240, www.lycheeoriental.co.uk)

How much?

Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £55.30

OK, the common lychee isn’t quite as odd as that fruit, but it’s up there in terms of edible curiosities. Underneath that spiky covering is firm, baby-pink flesh that’s like a hybrid of soap, flower, baby animal and stress ball. Of course, they pepper the menu of this restaurant, which won Best Newcomer at last year’s Glasgow Restaurant Awards and, this year, Scotland’s Best Asian at the Scottish Entertainment Awards.

It’s a self-consciously fabulous venue – low-lit, with Norah Jones and Sinatra on the stereo, black-lacquered screens and toffee-coloured banquettes. There are no chopsticks offered, but there are toothpicks, which probably says something. Staff are good cop bad cop. We were served by one impossibly effusive waiter, and another who looked thoroughly cheesed off.

Main courses, served on square plates, are around £15, but there are cheaper set menus, including a lunch version that offers two courses for £9.80. At dinnertime we went à la carte, with starters of mussels in black bean and chillies (£4.80) and yuk sung (£5.50).

The latter featured a bowl of wet pork and chicken, which was so finely minced it was almost powdered. As well as being bionically savoury, smoky and garlicky, it had a compulsively sweet and hot, chilli-flecked tang.

Our instructions: dollop it onto one of the six lettuce-leaf sleeping bags that had been provided, alongside a strut of the accompanying sharp-tasting carrot or cucumber, which had been dipped in rice wine vinegar, then roll up tightly. Bite. Chew. Swallow. It was great.

My mussels in black bean and chilli option certainly looked dramatic. There was half-a-kilo or so of smallish steaming sea beasties, their shells half open. These were dunked into an inky-black, roof-of-mouth-coating ultra savoury broth dotted with soft red peppers and onions. Not bad.

I went for something from the speciality list for my main – roast duck with plum sauce and lychees (£14.50) with a side portion of jasmine rice (£2.50). This was probably the biggest disappointment of our meal. Although the neatly sliced duck breast was jazzily presented and decently cooked, its yellow skin was about as crispy as a wet chamois, while the transparent and glossy coral-coloured sauce was rather too jammy, peachy and single-notey. The poor little lychees, with orange syrup clinging to their naked bodies, looked a bit embarrassed. I ate the rice instead.

In contrast, as soon as our stir-fried monkfish (£16.50) landed, and we’d been hit with a wafting cloud of fragrance that turned our salivary glands to geysers, we knew this dish would be a goodie. And it was. There were fat chunks of fish in a thin batter (slightly soggy, but we’ll let that one go), as well as a lively mixture of crisp mangetout, water chestnuts, sliced shiitake, onions and red pepper. These were doused in a deeply elemental and sticky XO sauce (a staple condiment of Chinese cuisine, which contains caramelised dried seafood and other intensely brooding ingredients). It worked well alongside a side dish of not-too-greasy wok-fried rice noodles (£3.50), which were fragrantly nutty with sesame oil and draped with opalescent beansprouts.

The puddings here are less than authentic. Our chocolate fudge cake (£4) was acceptable, in a sludgy Sara Lee-esque, lick-the-wooden-spoon sort of way. A pumpkin-coloured scoop of mango sorbet (£4) was zingy and dense, and came with a clutch of syrupy lychees packed into the bottom of the sundae glass.

With around 40 main courses, we both felt as if we’d only scratched the surface of this place’s repertoire. However, what we did experience wasn’t nearly as weird, exotic and wonderful as its fruity namesake might suggest.

Though decent, the foodie offerings here are slightly more pedestrian than that.

But I suppose Banana Oriental doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.