Felix Yu, restaurant review: Just the ticket for a pre-theatre supper - but does it deserve an ovation?

Felix Yu, 23 Castilian Street, Northampton, tel: 01604 233 011

My mate James is the artistic director of the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton. He has complained for years that I never see his productions unless they are in London. He's right. I enjoy the theatre more and more, but it's not generally the sort of thing I'd leave London for, especially if it isn't Shakespeare.

Yet here we are in Northampton, with James and Eve and Henry and my wife, and naturally it's Felix Yu that we've come to. I say naturally because many critics who have come to these parts seem to have tasted the best of his Cantonese wok, and also because it is roughly 30 seconds from the stage on which we'll later see a production of Patrick Marber's Dealer's Choice. And by critics I mean both foodies and thesps, because this is where the latter hang out too.

The interior is surreal going on seedy. I know it's a dreadful cliché to say your local Chinese place looks like something Kurt Russell conquered in Big Trouble in Little China, and that you're half expecting Lo Pan, the sorcerer with a green laser beam coming out of his mouth, to deliver the dim sum; but then again that is exactly what comes to mind in this dim, cavernous room. The ceilings are low, the lights similar, the music a little oppressive and the artwork and furnishings nondescript.

But perhaps more than with any other restaurant culture, Chinese demands you focus on the food. Whereas the French or Italian, say, want you to notice the décor and cutlery, the Chinese want you to notice the frog legs are sticky and the hoisin duck tender.

The menu is long, with 85 options and a choice between three fixed-price menus. The first is £36.80 for seven dishes with rice, for a minimum of four people; the second is a seafood selection of five courses with egg-fried rice at £34.80, for a minimum of two people; and the third is a cheaper option, five courses plus special fried rice for £24.80. The last of these is excellent value.

From the appetisers, the sesame prawn on toast (£5.80) is crunchy if a little overcooked and greasy, but the soft-shell crab with yuzu kosho (£8) – a paste made from chilli and the yuzu fruit – has none of those defects, being a succulent taste of the sea in light batter. The grilled spicy quail (£7.50), meanwhile, comes with peppercorn, chilli and a delicious dose of lemon grass, which cuts through the heat with a citrus twang.

There is a substantial vegetarian selection – notable here because it is often absent from a cuisine notorious for frying the limbs of amphibians and higher mammals. The menu's description of the aromatic crisp beancurd (£9.50) makes this point well: "For too long have vegetarians been excluded from the experience of consuming the Favourite Crisp Duck." The crisp tofu with chilli plum sauce (£5.50) is excellent; and the mixed vegetable-and-sweetcorn soup is one of the cheapest and healthiest dishes available at £3.50.

Among the meaty and main courses, all the usual Cantonese delights are here. The crisp shredded chilli beef (£8.50) is a definite highlight: think Twiglets but even more intense in Marmite taste, yet made of beef. If you closed your eyes for a taste test, you might not guess what you were eating; similarly, to look at these little rascals without eating them, you wouldn't know there was beef inside. That's half the trick of Heston Blumenthal's more eccentric recipes, at a snip of the price.

We also have Chairman Mao's braised pork belly (£8.80), which is very fatty pork slow-cooked and gone for a swim in chilli, cumin and lashings of soy sauce. And James's local knowledge leads him to the sweet-and-sour pork Mummy Style (£8.80), which as far as I can make out is more slow-cooked pork, but this time more dry than fatty and doused in a sweet vinaigrette.

There is an unexceptional but inoffensive wine list, and the main dessert is big wedges of juicy oranges, which makes a nice change.

You'd have to be fanatical about Cantonese cooking to go to Northampton just to see Felix; but if you happen to be there, you'd have to hate the stuff not to have a memorable time – especially if you make it to the Derngate over the road later on.

7/10

Felix Yu, 23 Castilian Street, Northampton, tel: 01604 233 011, £90 for two, with drinks

Four more foodie notes from the week

Buffalo mozzarella

In Amalfi last week, I sampled the best mozzarella I've ever had – and they have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Granola

At Baker & Spice in Belgravia, I discovered that this breakfast favourite can be very greasy – and therefore calorific.

Black-truffle pasta

At Parliament hang-out Quirinale in Westminster, I enjoyed myself immensely courtesy of a stonking truffle menu on the go right now.

Almond cream

I'm getting into this as a milk alternative. The upside: extra calcium, great taste. The downside: it's not milk.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Recruitment Genius: Processing Partner

    £15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Manager - SW London

    £34000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist travel agent ba...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower