Dragon Castle: Struggling to find positives (December 2016)

Elephant & Castle is a depressing enough part of London to go to at the best of times. Exiting the underground station, the eye is confronted with an excess of cars and concrete. Those brave enough to navigate the roundabout can find themselves at Dragon Castle, a cavernous Chinese establishment that has been here for some time. Maybe it’s the best in the area, but it’s certainly not worth the journey from elsewhere. On pretty much all counts, diners can do considerably in either Chinatown or Bayswater. Begin with the atmosphere and, in a nutshell, it could be described as palpably absent. Despite it being a Friday, the place seemed only half-full. Our group was shoved at the back, with virtually no diners behind us. Looking onto the raised stage area at the very rear of the restaurant, it was almost as if we were at a show, waiting for an act that was yet (or never) to perform. The serving staff did little to liven things up. They seemed to operate on a very business-like basis, lacking in humour and performing to rote. Wine pouring and serving skills in particular could have done with some improvement. Onto the food, and it would best be described as blandly middle-of-the-road, certainly in no sense ground-breaking. Several of our group had eaten a la carte here in the past and praised the inventiveness of Dragon Castle, yet none of this innovation was evident in the set menus that we were forced to share (the restaurant refusing to offer a la carte for large groups in December…). Rather, it was like stepping back in time; rewind the clock to what Cantonese food tasted like when you maybe first experienced it in the 1980s or early 1990s, and this is what you get here – think prawn toast, sweet & sour pork, beef in a black bean sauce etc., all doused liberally in MSG. The Szechuan soup was a relative highlight and the vegetables were also generally executed competently enough, but there was little about which to get excited. Admittedly some wine was consumed, but at c£45/head all-in, Dragon Castle could hardly be described as good value, especially given the overall experience.