Now I have heard and read bad things about almost every Chinese restaurant I’ve ever patronised in over half a century. I’ve stayed in a b&b in Croatia (then Yugoslavia) where kid goats were slaughtered each dawn by having their throat slit while hanging by fetlocks from a washing line over a cabbage patch. It didn’t stop me enjoying “veal schnitzel, roast veal, veal cutlets, veal kidneys or veal liver”, which were just about the only non-seafood dishes on the menu.
I have knowingly (after originally unknowingly) eaten baby camel… and frogs’ legs, eels, snake, grey squirrel, wild and tame rabbit, oysters, snails and even — on one occasion — a local delicacy, Mopani worms, which are really awful caterpillars.
Entering the now lavish faux-Chinese gates of China Garden, I was a little uneasy, though, because the last time I was there: ages before they recently spent oodles of noodle-profits on a complete refurb, there was a horrible, overpowering odour of putrefaction.
I shudder to think what was putrefying or for how long it had been in that fetid state, but the pong was appalling, maybe worsened by someone trying to mask it with incense, joss sticks and cheap air fresheners.
To be fair that was three or four years ago. Since then it has had a complete makeover and (reportedly) several owner changes.
I have no real objection to eating goat but as it wasn’t on the menu under that name, they could only get away with it by serving it as mutton, I thought. Several items were listed as mutton or lamb on an illustrated menu apparently “liberated” from the Huan Yuan Hotel, somewhere in China.
“Somewhere” doesn’t really help as a mere glance at Professor Google’s inestimable facts shows that “Huan Yuan” is about as common a name for a China hostelry as (say) The Crown is in the UK!
The place was packed and at one stage I was the only non-Oriental eating: usually a good sign in a specialist eatery. There are no chop-sueys or chow-meins listed and no popular soups at the beginning of the carte.
I subsequently found shangtang wanton, but it was at the end where pudding (which they don’t serve) would be in most restaurants.
I thought I’d be safe with pulled noodle chicken and Taiwan chicken.
The first dish was greasy and oily and the flesh in the second plate bore absolutely no resemblance to any chicken, member of the poultry family… or indeed avian I have ever shot, slaughtered, plucked, cooked, eaten or possibly even seen.
Bones were — to say the least — unusual and meat was beefy-lamby (goaty?) dark and again nastily greasy, although the dish was so scalding hot that the vapour, there from, steamed up my camera lens for a minute or so.
I happened to have a magnifying glass in my camera bag and closer inspection of the illustration of Taiwan chicken showed it had a similar unusual bone structure to the dish laid aside with a shudder after two nibbles of fat, gristle and sundry horrors.
I checked Taiwan chicken with Dr Yahoo to ensure it wasn’t one of those culinary items whose names bear no resemblance to the item cooked (Like Bombay duck, which is the lizard fish! And savoury ducks, which folk in British West Yorkshire call the sausage-like dish, faggots: as they are named elsewhere.)
All Yahoo recipes, descriptions and images indicated conventional huku was used in Taiwan chicken!
As I perused a book and sipped a Pilsener, it occurred to me that there were probably more Chinese people in that particular restaurant at that particular hour than there were in the whole country at Independence. And from Glenara Avenue to Chisipite there are now at least six other Chinese restaurants including the Shangri-La,
which is almost as big as the Albert Hall.
Good, really: I usually love Chinese (especially Cantonese) grub.
But: Zimbabwe will never be a colony again???
The new-look China Garden is, cover-wise, not much smaller than Shangri-La, but shoe-horned into a tiny 1930ish stand.
Sadly for residents of “Roland” (Rowland) Square the parking lot opposite and parts of the square itself are ankle deep in polystyrene takeaway packages.
For the adventurous, you can work your way through pickled cabbage and pork tripe soup, chicken feet with pickled peppers, shredded beef jerk, sliced earpiece, sliced pork in tea, double tripe with hot soup, cold pork jelly in garlic sauce, dry-fried belt fish, braised small yellow croakers with pepper, cold jellyfish, two different main courses featuring duck heads or one with crispy duck intestines, homesick! pork and north-east hodgepodge… among other delicacies.
The illustration for fried mutton chops may have been more appealing had the nyama been cooked. Pale dead pig, straight from the fridge, just doesn’t do it for me. But I should add that colleagues who go there regularly say that the food has been consistently good so long as you know what you are ordering.
One chicken and noodle dish, Taiwanese “chicken” and two local lagers cost $16.
17, Rowland Square,