Larkhall then, on a Tuesday night, table booked at a glittering new restaurant – a sentence incidentally I don’t think I have ever written before. Having given up trying to get through on their phone earlier I had switched to the online system, uttering an audible “aye-right” to myself when it told me the first slot was 8.15pm.

On a Tuesday night? I book the slot anyway. And so I swing down the main street 10 minutes early, push back the heavy velvet drape covering the Shanghai Oriental’s doorway and step into what I expect is going to be acres of empty space, maybe some tumbleweed, definitely tinny music and a quick chat about me having the table of my choice. Wrong. It’s mobbed. 

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So mobbed in fact that the waiter, despite scanning the room diligently and more than once, cannot find a single free one of those tight two-seaters waiters always seem to want to put people like me at. He directs me to a primo four-seater at the window. 

By the time Joe arrives I’m spread like a burst beanbag, jacket off, scanning a giant laminated menu, sipping free water and taking in the vibe. “Uh?

What’s going on in Larkhall tonight?” he says as we both look around. Couples, long tables with families and kids bouncing about, a six-seater of older gentlemen and there’s an ordinary, but somehow warm vibe about this place, which was until recently – according to what I read on the internet anyway – a bank. We like. So let’s skip forward to the next section.

Right now, a soft-shelled crab, one of maybe three in a platter and in chilli and salt, is being held up by me, having been tasted, examined and complimented. I ordered it really because it is the number one car-crash dish in restaurants with aspirations, being very easy to get gruesomely, stickily and scarily wrong. Here: the meat is sweet, white and moist, that light, almost white, batter crisp and easy to enjoy.  

The Herald:

Honestly? For a moment I consider ordering it again. Even at £9.50.  But as this table is currently occupied by the £15.50 (good value) sharing platter for two, that would be embarrassing. 

Who doesn’t love the starters in a Chinese restaurant? Honey wings, that being wings that actually taste of honey; prawn and pork wontons, crumbly light pastry with flavour and a meaty punch from the filling; pancake rolls, halved and full of meaty flavours instead of the usual tired beansprouts. Those rolls get dunked in the peanut sauce (meant for the satay) simply because it’s a very good salty, tangy, actual peanut-studded sauce. The chicken satay itself? It’s just OK. 

There are capital pork ribs, glistening in toffee-apple colours, a sharp, clean edge to them, indicating that whoever made this wanted the diner to know they actually think about what they serve. Jimmy Lee then – a TikTok chef on daytime TV, has the smash-hit Shanghai Teahouse in Bothwell, restaurants in Glasgow, one even on Glasgow’s south side that I, er, didn’t much like. He’s behind this. 

So far? It’s that comforting Chinese restaurant food we’ve all been brought up on, but put together with a higher level of care, maybe a tiny twist or two, like in the spring rolls or the peanut sauce, to signal that we’re moving upmarket here, folks. Obviously, I ordered the egg-fried rice (£3.40). It’s fine. Maybe lacking seasoning.

The small portion of Singapore noodles (£7.50) is better, caramelly-dark, studded with micro meats, scattered with fiery spicing and slightly softened, sweetened onions. So far I think they are way ahead of most of the competition. Then come the mains. Hands up? I ordered these. And as soon as they arrive I’m thinking I have failed to order well. I suspect there are better choices on the menu to show off the Shanghai’s gentrification of old favourites. Clay pot duck with ginger? I get no ginger hit, instead one of this big, generic mish-mash dishes where everything just tastes blandly pleasant. Ditto the beef asparagus with not-much-taste-of-chilli-garlic-sauce. Perhaps my fault. But then again. Great starters, so-so mains? Wasn’t it always like this? 

Menu: It’s a Chinese restaurant of course, with most of the old favourites, a sprinkle of new dishes and presented with a Scottish twist. 4/5

Atmosphere: Likeable on a Tuesday night. The place bustled with families and couples and had a real warmth. 5/5

Service: Efficient, polite and pleasant. 4/5

Price: Some dishes, those mixed starters for two at £15.50, are a bargain. The mains are well into the teens and up though. 3/5

Food: Perfectly executed soft shell crab, real signs of care in the mixed starters. Singapore noodles were good, both mains forgettable. 7/10

Total: 23/20

Shanghai Oriental 
108 Union Street
Tel 01698-886021 
Hours: Seven days