Norwich: Baby Buddha

Emma LeeAs celebrations to mark in the Chinese New Year of the Tiger got underway, EMMA LEE welcomed it in with a roar at the Baby Buddha Chinese Teahouse.Emma Lee

This weekend sees celebrations to mark in the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. EMMA LEE welcomes it in with a roar at the Baby Buddha Chinese Teahouse.

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It's only been open for little over a year, but the Baby Buddha Chinese Teahouse has established itself as a firm favourite on Norwich's foodie scene.

Everyone I've spoken to who has visited has had nothing but superlatives for the restaurant.

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So a visit was long overdue.

My boyfriend and I visited on a chilly Saturday night (has there been any other kind recently?) and found a warm welcome.

I was very glad that we had thought to book ahead. When we arrived, family groups of several generations were just finishing up their dinners - and after they left, a couple of large-ish party groups took their seats.

Tucked away on Ber Street, a stone's throw from the city centre, the restaurant is set in a Grade II listed building, which has been tastefully renovated - traditional Chinese restaurant decor has been given a fresh contemporary twist.

And although small, it can seat 40 diners.

Having been saving myself for the meal all day, I was famished. So I was delighted to see a basket of prawn crackers was waiting on the table to tuck in to while we looked through the menu.

Deciding what to drink was by far the easiest of the evening's decisions - the menu really spoils you for choice. I was the designated driver, so I had a Diet Coke (�2), while my boyfriend had a bottle of Japanese Asahi beer (�3.20).

There's also what, to my untrained eye, looks like a decent selection of wines, with bottles of house white and red starting around the �13 mark.

We'd heard especially good reports about the dim sum, which are a speciality here. The little filled dumplings (the name dim sum means 'touch the heart' and they originate from the Canton region) are hand-made on the premises, by highly skilled chefs.

Although dim sum have got a menu all to themselves here - you're encouraged to mix and match a few dishes, like tapas - we decided to just dip a toe in the water and order a mixed platter (�10.50) to share as a starter.

The serving dish emerged from the kitchen loaded with king prawn dumplings, pork and prawn dumplings, grilled pork dumplings, Vietnamese spring rolls and crispy fried spring greens.

We had great fun working out which was which, and I was surprised at how much flavour was packed into the dainty little parcels - the prawn one had a proper salty taste of the sea to it.

On to the main courses, and, although I had tried my best to go for something different to the dish I usually order in Chinese restaurants - tofu and green pepper in black bean sauce (�6.80) - I found myself ordering it anyway.

My boyfriend went for chicken in a spicy honey and lemon sauce. And we got a bowl of egg fried rice (�3.20) to share.

I have to say that I'm sure I made the right decision with my dish. Tofu is sometimes maligned for being bland - but not here. The substantial chunks were well marinated and flavoursome, and were perfectly complimented by the thick black bean gravy. And the peppers - a few pieces of the red variety had sneaked in too - had a satisfying fresh crunch to them.

My boyfriend's chicken (�8.30) was also delicious. The succulent fillet was coated in a delicate melt in the mouth batter. And the sauce was a revelation - sweet and warming, followed by a fiery chilli kick.

The egg fried rice was a hit too. It has a tendency to be a bit greasy sometimes, but here it was perfectly fluffy.

The staff coped admirably with a restaurant which was packed to the rafters - including a party of about 20. Their smiles never slipped once and the service was swift.

The bill for two came to just under �40. And for the tastiest meal out I've had in ages, it was worth every penny. I'll be heading east again very soon.

t Baby Buddha Chinese Teahouse, 139 Ber Street, Norwich, 01603 490889,

t Wheelchair access: Yes, but limited.

t Vegetarian options: Yes. There's a whole menu's worth of dishes for veggies alone.


Food: ****

Service: ****

Atmosphere: ****

Family: ****