North­west wel­comes Stella’s bub­bly kitchen en­ter­prise

The Press - Zest - - Reviews -

It’s a long way from Hong Kong to New Zealand. For Stella Li, it is also a fair step from cen­tral Christchurch to Pa­panui. Li left Hong Kong for Christchurch in 1986 for a bet­ter life and made a name for her­self as the owner, with hus­band Wes­ley, of The China Kitchen, which was tucked away in an al­ley be­tween Cathe­dral Square and Here­ford St.

The Fe­bru­ary 22 earthquake ended that en­ter­prise, and The China Kitchen has left the red zone and re­opened in larger premises in Main North Rd. The in­ner-city restau­rant had nine ta­bles and seat­ing for 40. The new ver­sion has 16 ta­bles and seats 70 cus­tomers.

The menu has been up­graded and fea­tures 104 dishes, all monosodium glu­ta­mate-free.

Stella Li says the in­ner-city restau­rant at­tracted English-lan­guage stu­dents, cen­tral-city work­ers and tourists stay­ing in nearby ho­tels, but now fam­i­lies and cou­ples from the north­west sub­urbs help to keep the three chefs and four wait­resses busy serv­ing scores of take­away and eat-in dishes each day.

Li, 45, who has a 22-year-old daugh­ter study­ing bal­let in New York and a 12-year-old son, was not tempted to leave Christchurch af­ter the Fe­bru­ary quake.

‘‘My life and my cus­tomers are here,’’ she says. ‘‘We plan to go back to the cen­tral city when it re­opens, and still keep the Pa­panui place.’’

Which brings us to the food, which is de­li­cious and rea­son­ably priced.

The China Kitchen is known for its ter­rific dumplings – pork and chives, chicken and spinach or veg­e­tar­ian which are ridicu­lously cheap at $5 a half-dozen. The restau­rant makes about 600 dumplings a day, and we could have been tempted to or­der a cou­ple of dozen and ig­nore the rest of the menu.

The China Kitchen

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The crispy prawns ($1 each) are an­other tasty starter.

Also rec­om­mended are the spicy kung bo chicken, the crispy le­mon chicken, Sichuan chicken, beef with black bean sauce and the honey bar­be­cued pork, ac­com­pa­nied by any one of 43 rice or noo­dle dishes.

Li says her favourites are the ‘‘very tasty bar­be­cue pork-teriyaki chicken dish and the very nice teriyaki salmon’’, and they are, in­deed, taste sen­sa­tions.

There are 17 soups or ap­pe­tis­ers, rang­ing in price from $3 to $8, 10 chicken dishes ($17), nine beef ($17 to $22), three lamb ($18), seven pork ($17 and $18), nine seafood ($18 and $20) and six veg­e­tar­ian dishes ($10 to $17).

The restau­rant is BYO ($5 a bot­tle) and li­censed, with a lim­ited wine list that ranges from an $18 Marl­bor­ough pinot gris to a $50 Cen­tral Otago pinot noir.

Li is thrilled with the re­sponse to her new ven­ture. ‘‘About two-thirds of our long-term cus­tomers have fol­lowed us out to Pa­panui and it’s been nice to greet new ones from out this way,’’ she says.

The China Kitchen is a bub­bly place, full of chat­ter and laugh­ter and a wel­come ad­di­tion to the north­west’s post-quake restau­rant scene.

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