I’m catching up on restaurant reviews from before Christmas and continuing the decidedly Penarth-focused flavour of recent blog posts with San Kai, which bills itself as Penarth’s only sit down Chinese restaurant, but also specialises in Thai and Japanese, as well as Chinese food. We’d had an underwhelming experience at Pearl of the Orient shortly before our visit, so we decided to see whether good Asian cuisine was actually available a little closer to home. Despite the fact that I’m often put off by restaurants that offer numerous styles of cuisine (on the basis that it’s less likely to be able to do all of them really well), San Kai had been recommended to me by a Thai friend, so I was optimistic!
We soon discovered when we arrived that the owner of San Kai has a long history in Penarth, having previously run a now long-departed Chinese restaurant on the seafront, of which Mr W had fond memories, so it all San Kai seemed full of (Eastern!) promise. Chinese gets top billing on the menu, with the widest selection of dishes. Next up is Thai, with a smaller selection, and finally, a relatively small selection of Japanese food, with a few different sashimis, tempura and noodle dishes.
We decided to go with Chinese and started with a selection of hors d’oeuvres, which comprised seaweed, chicken satay, spring rolls, barbecue spare ribs and sesame prawn toast. The menu listing actually mentioned deep fried squid strips, but these seemed to have been replaced by the seaweed. All of the components of the selection were very good, and were hot and freshly cooked. There was a minor misunderstanding, as we’d ordered a quarter crispy aromatic duck as an intermediate course, but it arrived at the same time as our starters – it was swiftly taken away, however, and when it came back out it was just as hot and fresh as it should have been, with equally fresh cucumber and spring onions, plentiful pancakes, and rich, tasty hoisin sauce.
I like variety when I eat Chinese food, so we chose three main course dishes: sweet and sour king prawns, sliced chicken in Kung Po sauce (which came with ‘spicy’ in brackets after the menu listing – we had been warned!) and crispy shredded beef in chef’s sauce.
Freshness was a recurring theme with all our dishes – they’d definitely been cooked to order and were hot and tasty. The king prawns were in a light batter, with chunks of juicy pineapple, fresh vegetables and just enough sauce which was tasty but not gelatinous.
Likewise, the chicken dish had a good amount of sauce and was tender, moist and spicy – as anticipated!
The beef dish was my favourite – crispy pieces of tender beef, glistening with a tasty sauce and a few crunchy vegetables.
We had a portion of egg fried rice on the side, and – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – it was deliciously hot and fresh.
We really enjoyed all of our food, and the service was exceptionally friendly and attentive. Our only reservation on the night we went, however, was that it was very quiet. It was a Saturday night, but admittedly it was pouring with rain, so perhaps it wasn’t a great indication of how busy or otherwise it would normally be, as I would imagine a lot of people would have opted for takeaways in order to stay out of the rain. There were only a few tables occupied when we walked in, and with it being a fairly small dining area, pretty much everyone stopped their conversation when we arrived – which did make me feel slightly uncomfortable! I can imagine it having a better atmosphere at times, though – they had a karaoke machine playing in the corner, and I’ve heard since about friends going in there and actually participating in karaoke, so I think maybe we just chose a quiet night to go. I’m keen to go back again, as the food was great (and good value – our meal came in at just under £60, including a bottle of house wine) and I’d like to try their Thai and Japanese offerings too – and with a bit of added karaoke, I can imagine it being a really fun evening out!
(With apologies for the particularly bad photographs in this restaurant review!)
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: **
San Kai, 46 Plassey Street, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 1EL