Why have I never reviewed the restaurants almost on my doorstep? Okay, so I did review the jam factory tea rooms, but for the most part I use the closest eateries for takeaways and otherwise go elsewhere. For example, my son and I went to RML Indian (Raj Mahal) for a takeaway last week, though I’ve never once eaten in the place.
The Maypole is a slightly different story. This is our local Chinese/Thai restaurant, housed in a delightful old ex-pub at the far end of town, towards Tiptree woods. It’s been there some years under the current management, and we have had successful takeaways at a shade higher cost than the cheap and cheerful places in town; the Maypole evidently sees itself set apart, literally and metaphorically, from the competition.
Why go there, it asks us rhetorically, then proceeds to answer:
Why choose the Maypole Chinese Restaurant?
- Authentic Oriental dishes
- Regular special offers
- Great food freshly prepared each day
- ‘Eat as much as you like’ Sunday Buffet
- Chinese, Thai and English meals available
- Good vegetarian options
- Variety of meat or seafood meals
- Choice of house wines
- Genuine Chinese beer
- Create your own ‘taste sensation’
- Regular entertainment evenings
“Sunday buffet”, you ask?
Don’t miss our freshly prepared Sunday Buffet – eat as much as you like for just £10.00 per person. Book in advance at our restaurant on Happy Tuesday and get 25% discount on all your food. Happy Wednesday offers 15% discount on all takeaway food ordered. Go on, experience our delicious delicacies that delight discerning diners.
In fact it’s nothing of the sort. They cook more food when you ask for it, but when I took my kids they were reluctant to ask for more. Despite little being eaten, the bill with service rose astronomically and I left feeling I had gained very poor value. Our fault for not filling our boots? Clearly that is the gamble the restaurant takes, but if you advertise it as a “buffet” then that is exactly what it should be.
That gripe aside, there are always things to like about the Maypole, one being the relentlessly chatty front-of-house host who treats you like a long-lost brother, though the coy but friendly waitress probably edges him for charm. Maybe it was this factor that persuaded me to suggest the Maypole when making a dinner engagement with an old friend I had not seen in ages; well, that and the fact that I fancied Chinese and couldn’t be bothered to travel far after a hard day at work.
As we entered it was charming waitress who led us to a table in what is a deceptively spacious interior, barely reconstructed from its pub days and replete with olde English beams and red plush seating, plus a function room at the back. This is as authentic to old China as Tiptree United’s football ground is to a Premier League stadium, but as provincial Chinese eateries go it’s pretty unique. At the time it was also pretty deserted, of which more anon.
The menu is a slightly rambling affair, bearing little resemblance to the neat and well-constructed document found on the web (see here.) It does however contain a few interesting foodie cul-de-sacs and avenues worth exploring on another occasion. Since on this occasion the company was the main purpose of the visit, we made do with a set dinner plus added crispy duck – though the set dinners bear no relation to those featured on the takeaway menu for some reason, so you’ll have to rely on my memory for what we were actually given to eat.
However the priciest set menu included lobster, other seafood, lamb and red curry, though sadly it had to be discarded due to my companion’s mussel allergy. The one we had started with the duck supplement, went on to the dim sum and continued via mains – but fell short of pricey desserts (£3.95 for canned lychees? Toffee apples and bananas are lovely, but £7 a pop is the price level I would expect for intricate specialties served by Gordon Ramsey in person.)
We started with drinks (China tea for me, less than a full pint of lime and soda for my friend) followed by the crispy duck. Time was when this dish was to our palates, a waiter brought a domed tray laden with a joint of crispy quacker, heralded the home-cooked meat and then took to it with two forks, with which to shred it at your table in a consummate demonstration of his professional skills. Alas, no longer: a plate of ready-shredded duck appeared on the table, followed swiftly by a steamer of pancakes, a small dish of hoi sin and a slightly larger dish of shredded cucumber and spring onion that looked as if they had been hanging around longer than was strictly necessary.
I was tempted to ask if the duck had been cooked freshly and shredded on the premises, but sadly I know what the answer would have been. Somehow it tasted pre-packaged, lacking the zing that comes from a dish prepared freshly to order. To damn with faint praise, it was alright – nothing special.
This course was followed by a long delay, during which our waitress went AWOL and not much happened until she appeared from nowhere to take my teapot for refilling (how do they do that? Waitresses that glide on wheels, maybe?) Perhaps this would be understandable if the place was packed but I can just imagine my mother’s disapproving look if the waiting staff dared to leave her sight for more than 30 seconds.
The second course, when it arrived, was a combination of deep fried dim sum: sesame prawn toasts (de rigueur and also commoditised), “seaweed” (ditto), salt and pepper squid and prawns (I think), and…. a large carved carrot, which from one side formed a charming peacock’s head and tail, but from the back might easily have been taken for something else entirely! At any rate, the food, minus carrot, was swiftly dispatched.
A somewhat shorter gap brought the mains to our table, plus Mr Front of House, as jovial and chatty as ever: that old British favourite, sweet & sour chicken; sizzling steak in black bean sauce and added shiitake mushrooms; “special” fried rice (signifying that minced morsels have been added) and a small bowl of glass noodles with bean shoots. There was nothing inedible there, but most certainly nothing memorable either. I could not put hand on heart and say that any dish furthered the art of Chinese cookery, certainly all were well within the comfort zone of the chef, being aimed at the consumer for whom even a step beyond the known would be a bridge too far (see my recent blog on this subject here.) In hindsight I wish we had gone for more interesting dishes – or even invited the kitchen to choose for us!
Having skipped the pricey desserts we were left with a bill for £55 for food that matched my previous impression of being mediocre and not good value. Had I got the same dinner elsewhere in Tiptree and taken it home, chances are it would have been no worse and probably 25% cheaper. But then maybe you pay a premium rate for the premises and the cheeky charm of mine host?
Superb Chinese, Thai and English cuisine in Tiptree, Essex
So says the website, but it lies – at least as far as the Chinese goes. This is lazy food that could easily be much better, and certainly doesn’t live up to its own billing.
My resolution is this: next time I will try the Thai grub, which for some reason unknown is priced higher than its Asian counterpart. However, I will bring it home and probably not eat at the Maypole. Indeed, it will have to wait some while until I can’t be bothered to drive far too, since there are many keen young restaurants prepared to take risks and give a dining experience to savour. Frankly, they deserve my attention and money more.