If you are of a certain Dundonian vintage (I’m not, but I hobnob with people with long memories), you might remember 204 Perth Road as the home of the Shakespeare coffee bar or the Underworld, a haven of 60s nostalgia for a generation of groovy young locals.
Although the Fine Palate Chinese restaurant and takeaway has been in residence since 1986, there is still visible evidence of the past when you venture out of the main eating area on the ground floor.
This street level part of the interior, as well as the exterior of this characterful local landmark, has had a lick of paint and a bit of an upgrade recently, making it clean and comfortable although it has no pretensions to contemporary restaurant design. Downstairs, in fact, when you make your way to the loos, still retains some rather surreal elements, including a giant former aquarium and a sizeable painted plastic tree, not to mention the trademark, swirly mid-20th century carpet.
It’s odd, there’s no getting away from it, but the Fine Palate also has a fair reputation for honest-to-goodness, freshly-prepared food in a westernised Chinese style and none the worse for that. It’s probably best known for its thriving takeaway that goes like a fair of an evening.
The menu has changed little over the years but for my money it makes and serves the best hot and sour soup I have ever tasted. So much so in fact, that when four of us decided to sate our mid-Friday evening hunger with one of the Fine Palate’s set dinners, I asked specially if we could replace the chicken and sweetcorn brew on offer with my personal favourite.
No problem at all, as it turned out and a staff member emerged from the kitchen to double check that we were getting exactly what we wanted.
My companions gamely went with my recommendation on this one and it lived up to expectations, being fiery but not fierce, full of well-cooked and textured vegetables, plenty of chicken and prawns and possessing that lovely slurpy consistency that sticks to your little Chinese-style spoon and your ribs. I have a theory about Scottish men and their passion for soup to do with mother’s milk and all that sociological stuff, but me and the hot and sour? I’m just a sucker for it.
There is a wide choice of everything from staples like chow mein and sweet and sour dishes to a particularly good shredded crispy beef and kung po chicken. We opted for the meal for four which at £64 all in, consisted of as many prawn crackers as you could shake a chopstick at (we were brought a second helping when the first ran out), soup and four generous main dishes chicken combination, sweet and sour pork Cantonese style, beef and green pepper with black bean sauce and roast duck with char siu and beansprouts. There was also plentiful special fried rice and the offer of tea or coffee.
Two of us attacked the food with chopsticks, two with forks and having chosen one of the round tables with those revolving marble centrepieces, each of us took every opportunity to sample all the options.
The general consensus was that we were getting a bargain and at least an element of surprise that the general standard was so good. The duck especially came in for rave reviews, being tender, savoury and meaty. The serving dish and the plates ended up seriously polished. The crispy pork was also light and tasty, with the beef and black bean sauce another major winner. This is a regular offering in Chinese venues and can end up more than a little on the gluey side but this version was excellent and spicy.
The rice, studded with nuggets of meat and vegetables and full of flavour (which is not always the case with rice), was particularly impressive and gathered a bit of a fan club of its own.
Three of us opted for Chinese tea to finish, hot and refreshing. A couple of Tsang Toa beers and a litre carafe of basic but perfectly drinkable house white wine came in at £3.20 per beer and £15 respectively. Service was efficient and admirably speedy.
It’s not a place to linger over your meal or have a posh night out but go with a group of friends to create your own atmosphere and you can be assured of good food sometimes really good and notable value for money. And there’s always the much-in-demand takeaway service!
Price: Set dinner for four £64
Info: The Fine Palate, 204 Perth Road, Dundee DD1 4JY. T: 01382 225650