Eastern Bamboo

194, Northgate, Darlington

Phone: 01325-468640


Food quality 9

Recyclability 7

Covid security 7

Value for money 8

THE Eastern Bamboo has won many accolades since it opened in Darlington’s Northgate in 1972.

In the 1980s, it had a curious illuminated plaque in its window saying that it was the Darlington & Stockton Times’ Restaurant of the Year, although no one on the paper for the last 30 years could remember how the competition was run.

Mike Amos, a one man eating out band on The Northern Echo, hailed it in his final column ten years as the finest Chinese restaurant in the North-East, adding that it was “better than anything experienced in Chinatown, Newcastle”.

The Bamboo is designed as a restaurant, and on Saturday the post-lockdown diners appeared to be quickly returning, but we’ve always used it as our special occasions takeaway.

Indeed, for many years, our front room carpet acted as an eloquent reminder of its tastiness as a childish hand, eager to reach a rib, tipped over the tinfoil tray, and we could never get the stain out. A strategically placed rug, a little off centre, had to hide it.

This weekend, family not seen for six months came up from the south so we got out the special occasions menu. Our visitors were quite delighted at the prospect because down their way, good Chinese restaurants have become rare as they are being replaced by more fashionable oriental flavours and fusions.

The Eastern Bamboo’s menu seems not to have changed over the years and is packed full of favourites. Our pick up was prompt; the welcome was warm, and our children have grown up watching the fish in the tank by the door bob up and down.

After a large portion of prawn crackers, we started with Sauteed Chicken Wings (£7.50), Barbecued Spare Ribs (£8.50) and half a Peking duck (£19.50). I think the chicken wings are the best things the Bamboo does: marinated with moist interior, crispy exterior and a delicious coating of chilli and onions, served on a crunchy salad which has the same exhilarating sauce on it.

Theo, our son, thinks just as highly of the spare ribs in the rich garlic and tomato sauce, which is indelible when on a carpet but extremely edible when on a plate. He sucks on the bones when all the meat has gone.

The Peking duck involves a self assembly ritual. I take the pancake, apply a thin layer of the dark, mysterious hoisin sauce, line up slices of spring onion and celery lengthways and then apply the shredded roast duck on top before completing the roll-up.

My brother-in-law is a duck aficionado. I remember the first time we went out with him to a Chinese restaurant and he set to shredding a steaming duck with two forks and all the delicacy of a paddlesteamer chomping its way across a choppy lake. Fortunately, the Eastern Bamboo’s duck comes ready shredded, and is served with plenty of salad, sauce and pancakes.

My brother-in-law pronounced it a fine example of a dish that is no longer easily available round their way, but my sister injected a note of controversy. The duck came with a portion of pickled vegetables which she called them kimchi, and said that down south, they’d were only be found in a Korean.

We shared our main dishes (which cost between £8.50 and £12.50 each). The beef and green pepper in a rich, dark black bean sauce was universally applauded. The sauce with the sliced beef Sichuan style was not so dark, but was still pleasantly powerful, while the pork kung-poa style is always excellent: slivers of meat and vegetables in a tomato and garlic sauce touched with a whiff of heat.

The same sort of sauce graced the tofu dish chosen from the extensive vegetarian section of the menu by my wife, Petra, while my sister summoned up lamb stir fried with cumins from a corner of the menu I had never investigated before.

What a revelation! The Bamboo’s sauces are all rich and big, but this lamb came unadorned so the meat stood alone, tender and aromatic, almost perfumed.

Theo, of course, doesn’t worry about such tenderness. Most people struggle with a takeaway starter and a full main course, but after consuming every rib, he ate all of his plain roast chicken drenched in a fruity plum sauce with plenty of noodles and rice.

So a banquet for six of us came to £87.50 and, thankfully, as not everyone ate as much as Theo, there was enough for me the following night, such is the perk of a takeaway that you cannot get when you eat in.

The Bamboo is unchanging. It is dependably excellent. Mr Amos, who dined on a very similar menu 15 years ago, called it “many a mile further up the Great Wall from the average Chinese restaurant”. The D&S Times editor who handed out the ultimate award 40 years ago must have had similar sentiments.

Our only accolade is that we keep going back.