In many years of reviewing restaurants I can’t remember ever before even faintly recommending one where I didn’t actually enjoy the food!
For decades I didn’t knowingly review a restaurant until it had traded three months. This allowed proprietor and staff to settle in new surroundings, using alien equipment, sometimes cooking (to them) strange dishes for a previously unknown clientele.
Ok, I know if everyone avoided a new outlet for 90 days, few would survive. But food critics are different; our opinions –– like it or not –– can make, or break, an establishment. It has been my argument that (unless invited) it can be very wrong to inflict one’s feelings before a three-month settling in period is over.
Sometimes a new outlet can be apparently so ropey, maybe it shouldn’t survive the first quarter’s trading. On the other hand, newcomers to the sector often start with such high endeavours that 12 weeks are needed to bring them down to reality.
Thanks to reader Richie Gunner (I once knew an artilleryman called Gunner Ritchie!) who sent a snap of an Oriental restaurant at Mt Pleasant (near Arundel Spa) where signage announced a China Town “Restaurace”. He wondered if they specialised in fast food?
I’d had only one Chinese lunch ––- at Don Fang, Chisipite –– since two fabulous Cantonese meals in Genoa, Italy of all places, close to the docks, after cruising from Durban in April/May.
Fancying another MSG-fest, it was hey-ho to the “restaurace” seen on e-mail.
Chinese communist-style gold-on-blood-red signage repeats the literal several times. The restaurant is housed in a large, fairly modern, former family home opposite the entrance to Arundel shops, behind a precast wall painted an improbable and severely unlovely shade of mottled pink. (Somewhere between nipple-pink and coral-pink?)
Someone has spent a fortune on makeover from dwelling to commercial eatery, but the place, unfortunately, still resembles a scruffy building site and an obviously once-loved family swimming pool is rank and stagnant, notwithstanding a gaily coloured brand-new toddlers’ rubber boat floating there.
An enormous Chinese man, looking a bit like a champion Sumo-wrestler in slacks and golf shirt, was presumably the proprietor. He certainly looked proprietorial, ducking head and neck to clear doorways.
By grilling the Shona Girl Friday, “Susan from Masvingo”, inexplicably speaking English with a “B” movie Chinese accent, I learn the giant is “Mister You”. No, not Mr Wu, immortalised by George Formby, along with his legendary Chinese laundry, but Mr You. (Did You get that?)
The place was amazingly full as it was quite early, but there were few cars parked (presumably one was Mister You’s?)
Always a good sign, there are several Chinese punters wolfing rice, drinking green tea and bellowing at one another in sing-song snarls. I am given a menu full of magazine pictures of what look like hideously complicated Chinese dishes, with hieroglyphics handwritten at the side.
A second menu offers — at first glance –– a more conventional bill of fare. I search unsuccessfully for old reliable favourites, but find no sweet and sour pork, no beef and mushroom chop suey.
Chicken and sweetcorn broth with noodles and egg whites is ordered. When it comes (after the main course!) it is in a massive square tureen, which would have served four, five, maybe six, ladies who lunch.
It’s too oily for my taste. Maybe the flavour would have been better if I hadn’t already started on chicken chow-mein? And that was certainly filled with lots of shredded white poultry, some pleasant al dente vegetables, but the principal, ingredient is noodles and these were again oily, unctuous even, starchy and overfilling.
I left the vast majority of the soup and about a third of the chow-mein, declining doggy bags. Doggy bag…for soup???
It took six attempts to have soya sauce delivered for mains, and when it finally arrived, it –– unusually –– contained (I think) crushed garlic cloves and ginger. Quite horrible!
It also took six tries to establish how long the place had been open. Just five days was the eventual answer!
So I’m sorry, Mr You. If I can’t be more gushing about your establishment. Put it down to teething troubles.
My feeling is that if the owners adapt to what the average Zimbo wants from a Chinese restaurant, their style of cooking and presentation will change. It is also affordable enough to return to several times and experiment with eclectic menus. I forecast it will be a popular hang-out in three months (less five days!)
They must do something about even the more conventional menu, however.
Just what “sliced stewed pork with pices” are beats me. I was also unhappy with “dong po steamed pork’s joint”; “engplant chongging style”; “fried and stewed hairtail with soy sauce”; “spicy hot dream curd”; “poack balls with hot chili”; “sauté pork cudelets with hot pepper”; “caute pork green pepper”; “sauté rope with mustard”; “stewed croakes in brown gravy”; “fried justetine in chili sauce”; “greed onions omelette” and, perhaps my favourite: “ickled tuber with mustard pork”.
When Susie from Masvingo (speaking just like a latter day Suzie Wong) announced the restaurant did not do pudding, I don’t know who was more disappointed, me or two youngsters from the nearby Harare International School lunching with Oupa.
One excellent thing about this “restaurace” is the prices! If the food wasn’t great (to my particular, and possibly peculiar, palate) it was at least cheap! A soup to fill six; mains that would feed two, and two beautifully chilled Pilseners cost just US$8.
If they get their act together soon, it could (and I suspect will) be one of the most popular places in town.
Oh, and the bill’s in Chinese characters! Can’t wait to see the faces of our number-crunchers when I submit expenses!
Open lunch and supper daily. Bookings (if you speak Mandarin/Cantonese) Mr You: 0912 771 771, otherwise Susan: 0913 628 548.