Address: 91A Percy St, City Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RW
If you ask most people in Newcastle where to find the Happiness Inn, they’ll reply with ‘where’s the what?’ However, it is unfair to say that the Happiness Inn is hard to find, seeing as it is situated very close to Haymarket metro station. Almost hidden in plain sight on a very busy street, this establishment could be considered the underground of Chinese restaurants.
The Happiness Inn is very traditional in style. Everything from the interior design to the menus give off a sense of genuine Asian culture, a nice change from the noisy streets of Newcastle. Even the music playing was all traditional Chinese music. On entering the restaurant I was given the option of an English menu or a Chinese one which was both flattering (that someone would assume I might be bilingual) and intriguing for a themed food joint.
Once seated at a table, my friend and I were given a complimentary basket of prawn crackers. As well as being free, they were very appetising and a perfect starter to put one in the mood for Asian cuisine.
An initial observation was how fairly priced the food was and then once it arrived how generous the portions were. As Chinese culture encourages, we bought both starters and mains to share between us.
To begin with, I ordered the chicken and sweetcorn soup whereas my friend ordered the alternative crab flavour at £3.50 each. Although presented carefully and beautifully in delicate Chinese dishes, the soups themselves, a watery looking yellow substance, did not appear visually appetising. However, the old saying is true – do not judge a book by its cover! I was taken aback by how flavourful the soups were. Not a usual advocate of soups as a starter, the tender chicken and sweetcorn flavour has persuaded me to think twice when scanning the menu in future. The crab soup, whilst not my favourite flavour, was so well cooked and seasoned that it almost made me forget my dislike of seafood.
For our mains we ordered a selection to share of salt and pepper chicken, and king prawns in black bean sauce with a side of curry sauce and egg fried rice. At less than £6 for each main, we were more than pleased with the quality of the food. The meat was cooked to perfection. The assortment of peppers, chillies and other vegetables with each dish were both soft and crunchy in the right places. The salt and pepper chicken consisted of chicken pieces in breadcrumbs which were then seasoned with a mixture of spicy vegetables. For any lover of spicy foods, as I am, this is the perfect meal and I recommend this highly.
The king prawns in black bean sauce were crunchy and firm, and the sauce thick and flavourful. Again, as someone who is not overly fond of seafood this dish would not usually appeal to me. But this was no sub standard dish – clearly quality and time had been put into it.
The egg fried rice was deliciously light and fluffy with one side being enough to share adequately between two people. Although the curry sauce was flavourful and made with a variety of spices which seemed to complement each other, the texture was lumpy and started to dry out within ten minutes of eating.
The service could leave more to be desired, with staff not saying much and hurriedly taking our orders. However this was likely due to a language barrier more than a lack of hospitality. It is said that timing is everything and that certainly runs true with this dining experience. Despite an initially speedy waiting time between each course, service began to delay. After we finished our mains, we waited for a little over thirty minutes for anyone to come over and ask if we were ready for the bill. At this point we were the only customers in the restaurant.
When someone finally came to relieve us of our wait, we asked for the desert menu, a little awkwardly, as they seemed to want to close up soon. Like blood out of a stone, we managed to finally grab the menu. This was followed by our waiter informing us the only item that could be prepared today was (ironically something that did not need preparing at all) a small plastic toy on the kids’ menu which had ice cream in it. We passed.
Although the service was definitely below average for any restaurant, the food quality and atmosphere more than made up for it. For this reason I would rate the Happiness Inn a high 8 out of 10. Their motto is ‘All happiness depends on good food’ and if that sentiment is true, I am certainly happy with this restaurant.