In an unassuming building on the Banbury Road, just north of the bustling parades of Summertown, the delights of the New Dancing Dragon await. The restaurant has undergone a monumental transformation since it was last reviewed on here: it is now a far cry from the cheap-and-cheerful buffet it previously was, but I would argue that it has changed for the better.
The decor is now sumptuously classy with authentic touches to finish: sleek dark wood tables, leather-backed chairs and low lighting, decorated with lanterns and oriental art. Gentle jazz playing in the background set the mood for an elegant evening, though the two birthday party groups suggested that the restaurant also makes an excellent setting for a celebration. Indeed, it was pleasingly busy for a Monday night, a testament to the quality of experience that was to follow.
I went with my partner, who is difficult to coax into 'fancy restaurants' because the portion sizes are too small. He needn't have worried here! Firstly, the drinks were very generous - my small glass of house red lasted the entire duration of the meal, despite being very drinkable. But the main event was of course the food.
We opted for the set menu - two courses for £20, with the second course actually consisting of three different dishes. This was a great way of sampling more of what the menu had to offer without breaking the bank. However, without prior knowledge of the portion sizes I was nervous that there might not be enough, as we both have large appetites and had been for a run earlier, so we also ordered a side of spring rolls. This was a rookie error, not because they weren't delicious (they were), but because I did not have quite enough room to finish everything else.
The starter of duck and pancakes was perfectly prepared: delicately flavoursome, awesomely crispy without being tough, with hoisin sauce that was sweet rather than cloying. The mains were sweet and sour chicken, beef in black bean sauce and lamb with ginger and spring onions. While none of these were an overly adventurous choice, they were all really well executed: the meat was tender and evidently of good quality, the sauces were well-balanced, and each dish contained (almost!) enough fresh veg to counteract the decadence. The standout dish was the lamb; juicy and rich, with the spices playing off each other beautifully. All of this was accompanied by lashings of gorgeous, golden egg fried rice and an insurmountable heap of prawn crackers.
The service was great: very accommodating, the waiters swapped our crockery around with encouraging resourcefulness when it appeared not everything would fit on the table, and no-one batted an eyelid when I wimped out and switched from chopsticks to a spoon.
Overall, the restaurant combined quality and quantity, so that even though it's not all-you-can-eat, you feel like you're getting a steal, with the food, service and glamorous surroundings not let down by a hefty Summertown price tag: our feast (including drinks and service) for two came to £62.50. The old New Dancing Dragon is no more: long live the new New Dancing Dragon!