MICHELLE TOMPKINS finds things are not what they used to be at the Jade Garden oriental restaurant

The Jade Garden 76 Godwin Court, Old Town, Swindon SN1 4BB Tel: 01793 611199

IT’S been a tough few years for many of Swindon’s restaurants. A nation in recession has meant less money in people’s pockets and therefore less justification for eating out, which is never good news for those in the food and drink industry.

It can’t be easy to see your pride and joy business slide from a position of huge popularity to one with empty tables, where the waiting staff outnumber the diners on a nightly basis.

With that in mind, I will start by focusing on the positives of my recent visit to Jade Garden, where we found ourselves on one of only three tables occupied by paying customers all night long: some of the staff were pleasant and accommodating, some of the food was hot and tasty and the background music was very... well, ermm, let’s call it entertaining.

Sadly though it’s the negatives which stick in the mind most and, on this occasion at least, there were far too many for a restaurant which was once at the height of its game.

We should have trusted our instincts from the outset, when the waiter who met us at the door pushed us in the direction of our table - literally.

“That one over there,” he barked, with a less than warm welcome. “The one with the menus.” And then shoved my partner in the back in case we’d misunderstood.

As we took our seats, I tried to overlook the heap of dirty laundry heaped on the floor behind me, but it was hard to ignore as it grew and grew. I also tried not to notice that our (open) basket of prawn crackers came from the same shelves as the cleaning products.

Instead we focused on the menu, which has an impressive list of dishes to choose from, from the standard sweet and sour chicken (£5.90) at one end to fresh fried crab with ginger (£12.95) or steamed sea bass in black bean sauce (£17.95) at the other.

We decided not to decide and took the easy option of the Thai set meal for two, at £19.50 a head.

The starter was a mixed platter of Thai fish cakes, spare ribs, sweet and sour won ton, chicken wings and seaweed and was - on the whole - a success. The fish cake was chewy when it should have been soft and melting, so I opted out of that one, but the rest was tasty enough. It would have been a pleasant start to the meal if it weren’t for the waiter (that one again) rudely reaching across my partner’s plate for his unfinished glass before he’d had a chance to answer the one-word query: “Beer?”

Thai Tom Yum soup was our next course but we didn’t enjoy that half as much as the starter. The hot and sour liquid was pleasant enough and we managed to dodge the chunks of red chilli, but the seafood lurking in the depths of the bowl was very sorry-looking. I tried a bite of one of the jumbo prawns, but it was rubbery and grey and I spat it into my napkin. The mussels were a definite no after that.

With five mains between us there was always going to be something we’d both like. The sweet and sour pork was a hit, as was the chicken and pineapple fried rice, which was piping hot and had chunks of pork and tiny shrimps (much nicer than the prawns) dotted through it.

I wasn’t a fan of the Thai green curry, but my partner loved it, and both of us enjoyed some of the crunchy broccoli and peppers in the seasonal vegetables.

Prawns fried in hot chilli sauce was the fifth and final dish, but they were cold and looked too similar to those in the soup to seem appealing. When that ‘friendly’ waiter collected our plates he enquired why we hadn’t eaten them. I politely told him they were cold and rubbery, and he glared at me but did not reply.

Having seen the Jade Garden at its very best a few years ago, it was disappointing to have such a poor experience. The swag curtains and tropical fish tank make the place seem dated now, and the plastic tablecloths don’t help.

That’s not to say the evening was a total write-off. The background music kept us and our fellow diners entertained all night, with a bizarre mix of soaring saxophone, some heavy drum and bass and - best of all - classical renditions of pop songs.

It was worth the mediocre meal for the joy of hearing Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty To Me played on a piano... I kid you not.