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HeiHei, it's the place you'll want to return to; taste OF THE NORTH EAST table 2 HeiHei, Newcastle.

Byline: GEOFF LAWS

SOME people love going to the same place for their holidays. They find their winning formula of sand and sea or hills and dales and repeat it annually.

Restaurants can fit into that package. Some folk find a favourite and visit it weekly, often having the same dishes each time. Now, there's nothing wrong in that, except they may be missing out on exciting, new experiences, which is where HeiHei on Newcastle's Dean Street comes in.

The phrase, 'Let's eat Chinese' takes on a whole new meaning at this cutting-edge restaurant. Yes, many of the reassuring favourites are there, but you have to search for them among eye boggling dishes like marinated chicken feet, bitter melon and spare ribs and, most boggling of all, spotty grandma's tofu.

Although one-liners under the banner titles explain a little of what you can expect, words can never fully describe the eating experience, but here goes anyway.

Once the boggling had settled down a little, we decided on a sampler package of our own making and ordered three main dishes, with reservations on dessert if things went well.

Traditional prawn crackers appeared alongside a bowl of deliciously sweet-pickled vegetable sticks. The wine was opened, sampled and accepted and we waited for the trio to arrive.

They were escorted to our table in swift succession and chopsticks came into play. The slippery aubergine, green pepper and tofu stuffed with minced prawn and pork presented a bit of a challenge initially, but we soon got to grips with the soft, mini-bricks of pan-fried tofu glazed with a savoury black bean sauce and the chunks of capsicum and chargrilled aubergine slices sandwiched with the minced filling. The balanced combination of delicate flavours and textures was a delightful introduction to the refreshing way HeiHei interprets Chinese cuisine.

The same qualities shone in the drunken chicken clay pot. A light flavour, rich wine broth, studded with earthy red dates, held chunks of poached chicken on the bone and floppy black mushrooms. Chopsticks were set aside in favour of fingers and much discreet sucking of bones and finger licking followed.

The crispy seabass with sweet vinegar was a bells and whistles dish. The whole fish was expertly cut, lightly battered and fried to produce a frilled effect. It lay arched across the plate, with cherry eyes staring heavenwards and tail swishing at the clouds. A gloriously colourful sweet-sour sauce with pineapple pebbles made this a 'look-at-me-dish' par excellence. Soft, fragrant rice played a supporting role and there were smiles all round as these delightful dishes disappeared.

Desserts kept things on the same smooth track, with owner Mark Yip's own red bean and green tea ice cream recipes providing an excellent finish.

What can I say? HeiHei brings a whole new meaning to Chinese cuisine and has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Go now!

Don't wait and then you can go back again and again!

A dining extravaganza

Where is it? HeiHei, 46 Dean Street, Newcastle.

Tel: (0191) 222-1882.

Open: Monday-Saturday noon-2pm, 5.30pm-10.45pm.

Directions: Going down Dean Street, on the left side.

First impressions: An unassuming frontage belies the dining extravaganza inside.

Welcome: Light and friendly.

Style, design and furnishings: Bold colour scheme of bitter chocolate and muted carmine walls with a mushroom ceiling. Striking canvases with ironic pictures of Chairman Mao in his younger revolutionary days and youthful devotees looking to the future.

Cuisine: Authentic Chinese dishes with local producer Risi providing the ice creams.

Wine: A light Chablis (A.C.Domaine Defaix pounds 19.50), with its characteristic mineral base coming through well.

Service: Polished and with a light touch.

Value: pounds 56.90 for this refreshing interpretation of Chinese cuisine was excellent value.

Parking: Some bays on the street and plenty more in the nearby multi-storey.

Disabled facilities: Fully accessible.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 20, 2007
Words:639
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