It was just before 8pm on Saturday night when we arrived at China House and it was eerily quiet.
While many restaurants in the city were packed out, the restaurant dubbed Preston’s ‘most problematic’ was virtually empty.
As we walked in, some of the tables in the middle of the room were full of plates despite just one other table of diners.
On first impressions everything looked relatively normal, save for the few untidy tables.
Had we dropped in from out of town there would be no way of knowing that a licencing hearing earlier this month heard that an explosive cocktail of leaking gas and botched electrical wiring had left the restaurant a ticking time-bomb capable of flattening the neighbourhood around it.
Nor would there be any clue that police and licensing chiefs have suspected the restaurant, which was stripped of its licence at the meeting but can remain open pending an appeal, may have been used as brothel and a lap dancing den.
On the surface it looks like any other Chinese restaurant - bright floral wallpaper, Chinese nick-naks on tables and a strong aroma of exotic spices.
The biggest problem we faced during our visit was the language barrier. We couldn’t really understand the young Chinese waiter and I don’t think he could really understand us.
As soon as we walked in, we were told the menu wasn’t in English. Instantly it made the experience difficult. It was suggested we have the ‘hotpot’. We did, but in hindsight we should have protested and asked for something else because, unbeknownst to us, when it arrived we had to cook the meat ourselves at the table.
We took a seat at a booth in the main dining room. Behind us was a television showing Chinese programmes and posters written in Chinese adorned the walls. Moments later we were told to move to another table, presumably because the table to our left was strewn with plates.
We were promptly served our hotpot – something we have never had before. What arrived was a pot of sauces and plates of frozen meat which you place into the pot to cook yourself. Despite never having heard of it before, we’re assured it is a common dish in China.
The waiter was pleasant and helpful and tried his best to show us what to do, but communication was strained.
The food was okay, but had I known I’d be cooking my own food at the table I would certainly have chosen something else. It was a bit of task cooking the meat in the sauces provided as we didn’t really know when it was ready.
China House is nicely decorated inside with a mixture of red and floral wallpaper and both the eating area and the toilets were relatively clean. It was a little bit chilly and there were a few plug-in electric heaters dotted about the dining area.
But then again, police and licensing bosses were never that concerned with what you could see at China House, it was more about what went on behind the scenes.
Husband and wife management pair Wen Qiang Cai and Yun Qin Weng have previously argued the restaurant has now addressed all the safety issues.
Only time will tell if licencing bosses are convinced.