Eating Out: It’s just not on, chinas!

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WHY can’t Zimbo Chinese restaurants serve one plate mixed specials for people dining alone, as they do in every county where you’ll find a chop-suey joint?

Report by Dusty Miller
I knew I’d be left with an embarrassingly large amount of graze after lunch at Shangri-La, Enterprise Road, recently. Re-warming stuff is problematic, given the continual ongoing Zesa outages/outrages and could be dangerous as one of my dishes was, allegedly, seafood chow-mein.
(Not that there was an awful lot of fish, shellfish or other former marine life in it. The one served at Great Wall roundly knocks it into a cocked hat in terms of quality and quantity of ingredients, cooking and value-for-money.)
Alright, I shouldn’t have gone alone. Justification:  my erstwhile guest gave back word at the 11th hour and I had an awful lot of restaurants to visit and write about in those last few days before going on an overseas five-and-a-half-week working holiday.
I shouldn’t have started with a ginormous steaming bowl full of very acceptable chicken-and-sweetcorn soup, which proved an effective appetite depressant.
Justification: the president for life of Soupaholics Unanimous (me) just can’t say no to this starter.
Perhaps I should have ordered from a brand new Japanese sushi menu, like two barrister friends, who sat down at the next table 10 minutes after I was served.
Justification: I went Chinese to eat Chinese; not Japanese. And I’ve always been very wary of eating raw fish 1 600 km from the ocean. Incidentally, at least half the courses the lawyers ordered, subsequently (10 minutes later) proved unavailable.
The gentlemen who wear wigs to work were vexed, arguing 1) In present day Zimbabwe, there’s no excuse for businesses not having anything and 2) If ingredients are — unforgivably — out of stock, waiters should be told so clearly at pre-service briefing. Hungry professional men, in a hurry to get back to chambers and start charging clients by the Nano-second, shouldn’t have to wait ages or go hungry!
(They’d already been to Mekkah at Borrowdale, a sushi joint which claims to open for Friday lunch, to find it locked… and fuses were getting shorter!)
Author James Hilton described his fictional Shangri-La in his novel (turned film) Lost Horizon as a utopian Himalayan valley, bathed in permanent happiness.  Hmmm!
The Enterprise Road restaurant is an attractive place in an architecturally odd, rather naff way, with what I thought looked very suspect Mickey Mouse extensions to what had once been a classically elegant double-storey gentleman’s residence (to quote estate agents).
I know it was classically elegant, because my pal Ivor Davies who, despite having a quintessentially Welsh name, was a leading lay member of the Jewish community in Nairobi and Harare (when we had a few more Talmudic-types around) used to own the place and I’d dined at his home, en famille, many times.
He’s now a leading lay member of the Hebrew community in Jo’burg, although many of his flock seem to be busy fleeing Africa —allegedly (and probably unfairly), I’ve heard — clutching pathetic little bundles of Krugerrands, quicker than you can say Julius Malema! Nationalisation! Perth! or Bondi Beach!
Pale boundary walls have been rather vulgarly decorated with garish advertisements for the restaurant which, design-wise, seems a larger version of the Great Wall in Belgravia and the awful China Garden in Rowland Square.
Water features, rather like a scaled down copy of the neighbouring Amanzi, appeal.
I’m never sure what happens in these Chinese restaurants springing up all over the shop, but inscrutable Oriental gentlemen wheeling expensive luggage kept arriving. (Is it residential?) and part of Ivor’s former garden is now a shop which, tautologically, sells “drapes and curtains”.
They also seem to have bought the property next door (there must be hoboes of profit on rice and noodles! And massive alterations are taking place.)
I chose a verandah table, slightly protected from a biting wind. Indoors there’s a banqueting hall the size of the Albert Hall and various private rooms where (I suppose) ministers and other so-called members of the great and the good do deals, outside the gaze of mere hoi-polloi without letting the electorate see what they get up to (or down to!).
An excellent bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup would have easily fed two. As always in local chop-suey houses (why?) I’d to demand soya sauce; when it came, it tasted unappetisingly of …Marmite? But the advocates snaffled it.
There was little “hands on” supervision and in any case most Chinese restaurant proprietors I’ve met recently speak almost no English, even less Shona.
An added frustration is one Chinese dish tends to become boring, but only Desperate Dan or Homer Simpson could finish two!
Old favourite sweet-and-sour pork was tasty and more-ish, but the batter could have been much crisper. As earlier stated, there wasn’t much seafood in an eponymous chow-mein, but the soft noodles were excellent.
Few Zimbo Chinese eateries offer chafing dish-type plate-warmers, which are standard overseas. Even in the hottest days of October or November food cools too quickly. In late July, it was unappetisingly flat cold in seconds.
It was a sin to leave so much grub, especially when I finally got the bill: US$28, which, granted, included two lagers.
There was sufficient nosh for two punters.  (But if two of us had gone, we would probably have ordered enough for four or five!)
I’ve previously bleated…obviously unsuccessfully… about Shangri-La’s alleged “fresh fruit salad”. Despite having a plethora of some of the world’s finest, freshest fruits available at attractive prices, they insist on serving cheap tinned fruit cocktail in sugary syrup!
It’s just not on, chinas!
Two-and-a-half Stars late July 2012.
Shangri-La, 155, Enterprise Rd, Lewisam. Tel 443263/4.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

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