Regional Chinese restaurants are a guilty pleasure. I don’t know if it’s their grandiose names, their architecture and interior design, or that my childhood gave me a soft spot for Aussie Cantonese dishes, but if time permits, I usually try to squeeze in a visit to one on any regional trip I happen to make. Dragon Palace came to my attention by seeming to be universally well regarded by the people of Tamworth.
Closed by a shocking electrical fire back in August 2017, the restaurant re-opened a year later with the same owners and chefs. It’s set just outside Tamworth’s main shopping strip, but hard to miss with a building-length golden dragon mural and a dancing purple and yellow footpath gobo.
The eye-catching decorative elements continue within, kicking off with a slightly overzealous mystic mountain waterfall fountain, splashing out water onto the reception floor.
To the sounds of traditional Chinese folk music, we’re guided through the elaborately decorated dining room to our table. The vast space creates intimacy using screens that allow you to peek more discreetly at your fellow diners.
Carved golden dragons spiral around black poles, while below them elaborate floor tiles guide the way to the restaurant’s popular smorgasbord set-up and a rounded doorway going through to even more seating.
Even the bathrooms are fancy, with elaborately framed mirrors and cabinets topped with reddish black hand basins serviced by bamboo-shaped taps.
We’re tucked into wide, comfortably padded, flower-decorated high-back chairs and given menus to peruse while someone rustles up glasses to serve our BYO wine.
With an extensive list of both Chinese and Malaysian items to choose from, we decided to put Tamworth’s thus far excellent record in quality beef to the test with Sizzling Mongolian Steak ($21.50) promised on the menu to be spicy hot. The crash of woks started almost immediately, with our dishes arriving as we’d barely got stuck into our first glass of wine. The steak is indeed tender and tasty, though the promised heat only vaguely threatens under a mask of too much sweet.
A quick word with our friendly waitress saw some chilli soy sauce arrive to balance it into something I enjoyed eating against savoury but slightly gluggy Special Combination Fried Rice ($10.90/small). Serves here are family-sized so two dishes and a small fried rice are plenty for two eaters, as our waitress helpfully elucidated.
This caused my ever-hungry dining companion to narrow down his more extensive list to the leftfield Volcano Pork ($21.50). With tender pig, star anise, fermented soybeans, bright, fresh baby corn cobs (these really went a long way to removing my hatred of this ingredient), juicy green capsicum, fancy-cut carrots, tiny straw mushrooms, re-hydrated shiitake mushrooms, onion and garlic, this was a really tasty, well-realised dish. This time the promised dried red chilli offered a creeping heat that made it hard to stop coming back for more.
Despite the childhood fascination with regional Aussie-Chinese, I was never quite bitten by the Fried Ice Cream ($8.80) bug. My dining companion, on the other hand, appeared to enjoy the large, golden crumbed dome of ice cream, turned somewhat fancy with squiggles of caramel topping and whipped cream both dusted with silver.
Staff have a warm, friendly regional charm that will make you want to come back to Dragon Palace.
528 Peel Street, Tamworth
Ph: (02) 6766 6999