Last night we took the office team out for dinner at the restaurant across the road from the office park. We were seated in a private room with a HUGE round table that easily accommodated all 14 of us. A representative sample from the staff and the bosses trundled off to order our meal. Not from printed menus but from brightly-lit photo displays, arranged in multiple aisles, of every possible dish. At a rough guess I would say that there were about 150 to choose from – about 50 cold dishes, 100 hot meals, and that is not counting the fish and seafood swimming in the tanks or lying in wait on a bed of ice, ready to be cooked and served up
You stroll through the displays, discussing the merits of each potential dish with the waitress who holds a tablet PC to record your menu selections – I was disappointed – it would have been so much more fun to actually click on the display photo, have it light up with a corresponding musical accompaniment and trigger an immediate flurry of chefs in the kitchen. But no, we did it the old-fashioned way: waitress selects item on tablet based on what we told her to add. needless to say: it took a long time to make decisions and to finalise the menu.
We selected about 8 cold dishes – a miscellany of cold chicken, goose liver, smoked fish, cold butternut chunks with lily bulbs, beef with ginger, some type of funghi and I can’t remember what else. We turned down the options for donkey, frog, eel and anything OTT spicy. Cold dishes are an essential part of any Chinese meal because they can be served immediately so that the guests can get stuck in right away without any awkward social moments of not having anything to talk about. As soon as the food arrives on the table, there are many potential topics of conversation. Usually one can get stuck in straight away, but of course, our team had to wait for us to get back from ordering the food (we are the bosses and the hosts!), so they could only sit and stare at and discuss the food selection while waiting for us.
14 hot dishes made their appearance for the 2nd round – again a mixture of veggies, pork, beef, chicken, duck and fish. No monkey, dog or cat dishes were selected (not sure there were any of these available anyway). Dishes arrive over the course of the meal – piping hot, fresh from the wok. And then empty plates get whisked away as they clutter up the available space so that room can be made for new dishes. Getting hold of your food when dishes are spinning around on a lazy Susan being driven by 14 hungry diners can be quite a feat – and good chopstick skills are a key requirement so that you don’t come away still hungry. Oh – I forgot about the soup – each meal has at least one soup dish, served in and amongst everything else, not at the beginning of the meal like in the West.
Once all dishes have been served, a plate of fruit is presented – usually watermelon – this signals that no more food will be served.
Food on the whole was tasty, not too spicy, well presented and the entire bill for 22 dishes + a bottle of local wine, a few beers and cooldrink came to under RMB 1000 (less than £100 or R1200)!
Oh, I nearly forget – because we were prepared to forgo an official invoice for the meal, we got a free bottle of wine!