Water Margin Chinese Restaurant and Takeaway – North Baddesley

We have been going to this Chinese restaurant for a few years now and have yet to have a bad experience. The food is always hot and tasty, the service is adequate and although I have to drive and can’t have a drink with dinner, the restaurant is not too far away. Every lunchtime and evening (apart from Fridays and Saturdays) the restaurant serves a ‘Grand Buffet’ which is Β£16.95 per person for dinner and a bit cheaper at lunch. Considering all the food is cooked fresh and brought to your table (none of this getting up out of your seat nonsense!) we believe this is a bargain. In most Chinese restaurants the food has been sat out for an unimaginable amount of time and you have to just grin and bear the luke-warm spring rolls, cold noodles and vomit-inducing film across the top of the sweet and sour sauce. Ergh. At Water Margin, you sit on your bottom for a pleasant couple of hours and people will just bring you food, it’s fantastic. It’s eat as much as you like, but they prefer you to finish all the food you’ve got before you order more, which is fair enough and avoids the ‘eyes bigger than belly’ symptoms I often suffer from when visiting buffets.

We did actually have one very awkward experience with this restaurant, which has remained a secret between myself and Benjamin for many months now…but it is time the world knew.

So we rocked up one Friday night, craving prawn gyoza and salt and pepper mushrooms and ready to have a bloody good time. We were welcomed into the restaurant, seated and handed the menus. The waiter took our drinks order and disappeared to bring back our delightful non-alcoholic beverages. What followed is something that to this day we absolutely crack up at, but also makes me shiver in a mortified, kill-me-now kind of way. A few moments passed as we perused the menu before Ben piped up ‘Where’s the buffet menu, I can’t see it?’ My whole life flashed before me as I realised the buffet menu was nowhere in sight and we were in fact looking at the A La Carte menu, currently showing prices of around Β£30 per person. My mind racing, I remembered it was a Friday and the horrible realisation that they DO NOT DO THE BUFFET ON FRIDAYS hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew we had mere moments before the waiter returned and as embarrassing as this is, we were absolutely skint and could not afford Β£30 each for dinner – we could barely afford Β£16 each but we’d had been saving up for this special treat 😦 My mind was made up, we had to leave. I looked at Ben and I could see he was on the same page as me. I chucked the menu full of expensive food on the table, grabbed my coat and bag and power walked out the restaurant, avoiding any eye-contact with staff. We hopped in the car and revved out the carpark, pausing only when we’d gone a safe distance down the road to discuss our options. We ended up driving home, parking and walking to the local pub where we spent Β£10 on two burgers. CHEAP. SKATES.

That was a couple of years ago now though and although I couldn’t say with all honesty I wouldn’t have done the same a month ago, we are slightly more accepting of expensive food now and in fact recently spent Β£1o0 on dinner at JW Steakhouse in London for my birthday. This is a fantastic restaurant by the way and probably my favourite dinner in the UK πŸ™‚ (American restaurants always top this list and I imagine will continue to do so as we continue to visit!!)

ANYWAY. A couple of weeks ago we decided to treat ourselves to dinner here one Sunday night, having not spent a penny for the previous 2 or 3 weekends due to buying stuff for our new flat. We arrived for dinner about 7.30 and were seated immediately in a pretty empty restaurant which grew increasingly busier during our visit.

We ordered a diet coke and a beer from our surly waiter – the service here is not at all fantastic and generally, grumpy is as good as you’re going to get. It doesn’t bother us at all as we go for the noms but you have been warned! There is a bowl of prawn crackers on your table as you sit down which I try very hard not to nibble at and generally fail.

Our attention then turned to the Grand Buffet menu which really is a beautiful sight. I absolutely LOVE seafood and they have all manner of king prawn and squid dishes. If you come for lunch though, most of these aren’t included 😦 So go for dinner!! Alternatively, if you aren’t a cheapskate like us and want a little treat, the non-buffet menus include scallops, seabass, lobster and oysters! *makes mental note to save up* They also have looaaads of meaty and veggie options so something for everyone really. The idea is that you order a number of starters to share, then a mid-course of crispy duck pancakes or similar, then your main courses. It is a lot of food and a few times we’ve been, I’ve got so carried away with the starters that I end up too full for my main course. A hazard of the game but one I struggle to avoid.

We each ordered 4 starters, specifying that Ben was vegetarian so they wouldn’t come all jumbled up on one platter, chicken splayed on top of tofu and meat juices soaking into seaweed.

I ordered (clockwise, from top) Grilled Pork Dumplings, Chinese Style Spare Rib, Salt and Pepper Squid and Salt and Pepper Prawns. The chunk of green on the right is just a garnish, obviously I didn’t eat that.

This was all wonderful, as ever. My favourite is the salt and pepper squid, SO GOOD!! Everything was crazy hot and tasted fresh and I was very pleased with my choices.

Benji ordered (clockwise, from top) Crispy Seaweed, Vegetable Spring Roll, Salt and Pepper Mushrooms and Vegetable Wonton. Ben would like me to add that the mushrooms are ‘the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten.’ Quite the accolade! If I ever want to go to this restaurant, I mention the salt and pepper mushrooms and he’s instantly keen.

After we had finished our starters, we have a brief conversation about ordering more. I wanted to, as messing about with loads of different little bits and bobs is my perfect meal. However, it is a shame I can never order a main course at this restaurant and I was feeling quite satisfied. So, I very bravely resisted the urge to order more salt and pepper squid and instead we turned our attention to the next course, variations of duck pancakes.

I chose the Mongolian Lamb with lettuce wraps, AKA the light option! Well not really, but I can kid myself. Benji ordered his usual, Mock Duck with plum sauce and pancakes. It’s very cool that they do mock duck here and he really loves it.

Our waitress bought us a serving tray with a lit candle underneath, to keep the food hot. Our intermediate courses arrived a few minutes later.

Mock Duck on the left, crispy lamb on the right.

The lettuce wraps and sauce for my lamb.

I really enjoyed this course and was glad we’d ordered it. The lettuce wraps were crisp and fresh and the perfect shape to wrap tightly around the lamb and sauce. It was a bit messy as the sauce is thin (in a good way) but I just went with it and ate each wrap slightly quicker than the last, to avoid it all falling apart. Ben enjoyed his wraps too and it was nice for him to have the lovely flavours of crispy duck wraps without the meat. I’d love to recreate this at home one day but I’ve not had much luck tracking down mock duck – I can only find the tinned stuff which is rubbery and glutinous and not really what I’m aiming for.

Next, we quickly ordered our main courses as we were becoming painfully aware of our dwindling stomach space. I should really have called it a night here as I was already feeling very full but I cleverly managed to ignore this and order 2 dishes anyway. Plus another appetizer on the side. And half of Ben’s rice and noodles. Good one Lib.

I chose Honey Roast Duck which was amazing, and Satay Chicken which was also lovely but has somehow managed to avoid being photographed. Slippery devil that Satay Chicken. I also ordered a serving of Smoked Chicken from the appetisers menu because I quite fancied it.

I instantly realised my error when the duck arrived and it was an entire breast. A huge, beautiful, glistening breast of duck. In normal circumstances this would have been a fantastic turn up for the books but instead I started worrying about getting told off and possibly charged for all the duck breast I was going to leave. Eeek!!

Doesn’t it look magnificent though?

Ben ordered Sweet and Sour Vegetables with cashew nuts, andΒ Bean Curd with Green Pepper and Black Bean Sauce. Bean curd is tofu, and it is delicious at this restaurant. We can never achieve that texture at home so it’s nice to have it out sometimes. We also got noodles and egg fried rice to share which you can see in the backgrounds! Both lovely and nice to break up the meat and veggies a bit.

My alarmingly coloured Smoked Chicken. It was very nice though!

I feel pretty knackered just writing up this multi-course feast so I can only imagine how we were feeling at this point. This really was a lot of food, but what a bargain for Β£16.95 each! I’m sure you can see why we go to this restaurant. The bill came to under Β£40 and we left feeling absolutely stuffed and about ready to cry, but very happy. I love this restaurant and whole-heartedly recommend the buffet if you fancy some delicious, fresh chinese food at a great price.

Remember, don’t visit on a Friday or Saturday though!!

Friends Indian Restaurant – Bishops Waltham

Last night me and Ben went for dinner at Friends Refined Indian Cuisine in Bishops Waltham. We’ve wanted to go there for ages, having previously only sampled their food in takeaway format (which is amazing!!) and we booked a table for 7.15, planning to go for a couple of drinks at a pub nearby beforehand.

We were actually slightly late for our reservation due to having to go to a further away pub than originally planned but this was not a problem. We were greeted warmly and led to a lovely little table for two at the back of the restaurant. The dining area is quite small and according to the website seats 50 which sounds about right. There was a table next to us which was really quite close and I was hoping nobody would be seated there, luckily it remained empty throughout our dinner.

First things first, drinks! Ben opted for a Cobra beer while I chose one of the only wines available by the glass which I think was a Chardonnay. We also got some water for the table.

There was a really nice atmosphere in the restaurant – there were only two other tables occupied which made for minimal noise and there was some music playing quietly in the background. We guessed that the restaurant does most of it’s business through takeaways as there was a steady stream of people coming in to collect their food throughout our meal.

We opted against starters as we are valiantly trying to be a little healthier what with it being January and all and we also know from takeaway experience that the portion sizes are not to be scoffed at!

We ordered a curry, rice and naan each and onion bhaji’s to share as Ben said they were the best he’s ever tried, high praise indeed! We waited a while for our food to come but it wasn’t an issue as we were chatting and enjoying our drinks. I think they were waiting for us to signal we were ready or something as at one point one of the lovely guys came over and asked if we were “ready for our mains?” which confused us slightly as we hadn’t had starters! But it didn’t matter.

After that, a steady stream of food was bought out to our little table and it was time to feast!

I ordered the Lamb Pasanda, described on the menu as the “next step up from a korma” as I am slightly unadventurous and not a huge fan of spicy curries.

Apologies for the less than ideal photos, I only had my iPhone and it was super dark in there!

I also got a peshwari naan which is my absolute favourite, lots of scrummy coconut and almonds in the middle. As you can see I really lean toward the sweeter options when having a curry; there is something about the combination of a slightly spicy sauce and the sweetness of coconut and almond that just works perfectly in my opinion.

In a stroke of genius I opted against the usual basmati rice and instead bravely got the exciting sounding keema rice, containing cooked lamb and fried onions. It was seriously amazing. I was worried that lamb curry + lamb rice might be, dare I say it, too much lamb…but obviously I came to my senses as you can actually never have too much lamb. It was perfect, ensuring a taste of meat in every bite, a difficult feat with some curries that contain less than generous ratios of meat to sauce. Happily this is not the case at Friends and even if I’d gone for plain rice I think I would have had more than enough lamb to last me through!

The lamb pasanda was amazing. The flavour was so rich and intense, I could really taste the almonds and cream and there was a hint of spice that kept me on my toes! Combined with the rice and the naan I was in absolute heaven! We hardly ever get Indian takeaways or go out to restaurants but I think we will be going to Friends a lot more often now. We quite often cook kormas and tikkas at home using Quorn chicken pieces or fillets but the flavour is never there. Even in really good ready-meals (if there is such a thing!?) that we very occasionally buy, the flavour is always just lacking. I have been seriously impressed by the food at Friend’s and it has proved, to me, that Indian food is one of the only cuisines we just can’t replicate accurately and needs to be sampled at a restaurant.

Benji got a Vegetable Dopiaza as he was fancying something a bit spicy. He got mushroom rice and a plain naan to accompany his curry.

The mushroom rice was crammed with fat, juicy mushrooms and he said the rice had absorbed all the flavours making it tasty enough to eat on it’s own!

His dopiaza was full of perfectly cooked vegetables and there was a sizeable heat to the dish which Ben really enjoyed. There were no complaints with regards to the naan, not a crumb was left on that plate when he was finished!

We also got a starter sized dish of onion bhaji’s which we asked to be served with our meals. These were absolutely delicious and we cleared the dish with no problems!

I was actually really impressed with the portion sizes overall; when eating out I often can’t finish my food and end up leaving a lot but at Friends I was able to eat it all which was very exciting! It could have been because we went without starters, something we don’t normally do but is obviously beneficial!

Overall we had an absolutely delightful evening at Friends and will definitely be back, I actually suggested we go back tonight but Ben understandably told me to calm down. The service was really friendly and nice and we felt well looked after and not at all rushed. The dinner came to Β£41 which included two Cobra beers and a glass of wine and we felt this was reasonable. We like the convenience of being able to walk down to the Village from Ben’s house and saving money on train/taxi fares into town which is always good.

Finally, I saw this on the website and just had to share it:

The name “Friends” comes from the fact that a group of friends own and run the restaurant.

How adorable is that!?