Slice of Life: Tasty dishes and bad apples
So here I am, red wine in hand, lace napkin on lap, at the most beautiful Hong Kong restaurant I have ever stepped foot in. The saltshakers here cost more than my soul. Everything on the menu is either whipped, glazed or souffléd. The staff is so attentive you start wondering if they’re robots. It’s perfect. But there’s one problem: I’m absolutely miserable.
My beef? The guy I’m on a date with has the looks of a model, the height of a basketball player and an ego the size of Mars. And he’s a rover all right. Throughout the entire dinner, I listen to him ramble on and on about how great he is at his job, how much he loves drinking fine Scotch whisky and how bloody good he is at dating pretty girls. (He keeps giving those sorts of looks which say I should be on my knees thanking him for deeming me aesthetically pleasing to his oh-so finely-calibrated eyes). As I half-listen to his droning, I swallow my whipped dish of something, trudge through my glazed bowl of something else and daydream about smashing my head into the soufflé. When the bill arrives at the end of the meal, I take a quick peek. The amount leaves me flabbergasted. Not because it’s so high. Oh no. But because it’s so high and I’m so low. I don’t remember enjoying one bite due to Mr Perfect’s wonderful company.
It should come as no shock to hear this but in a city like Hong Kong where good food is central to our culture, just because you’re paying a lot for your food doesn’t mean you’ll be enjoying your food a lot. Not in all cases, anyway.
In this city, our options for food seem limitless. We have some of the most fabulous cheap eats available anywhere in the world (as this issue can attest to), some of the sauciest curry beef briskets and most satisfying egg waffles. There are also plenty of hidden private kitchens and award-winning celebrity-chef-backed fine dining establishments. Yet I’ve known many a hopeful eater who’s fallen under the lure of trying to get a great meal only to be immensely disappointed by their below-par experience.
Why is this? The food could be champion and the surrounds perfect. But it’s all about the company. The secret ingredient to a great meal is not what’s sitting atop a dish but, rather, who’s sitting around the table. I think back to the best meal I’ve ever had and it was at a McDonald’s one afternoon. Seriously. My parents, my sister and I had just spent a whole day travelling in a car together and, just like any other family who’s been together a whole day, we’d been bickering most of the time. However, the pit stop at Mickey Ds was the peace treaty to the end of our war. I remember sitting at that fast food joint, sipping on a Coke and stuffing fries into my mouth, thinking how ridiculously good the meal tasted. The right company can make even the most generic meal amazing, the wrong can destroy even the most cultured gastronomy.
So next time you are booking a reservation for that hot new eatery with a waiting list of over six weeks and menu prices worth more than your month’s rent, also take into careful consideration who you’ll be dining with. Because I guarantee you, no amount of succulent truffle or tender foie gras will ever take away the sour taste left in your mouth after being bored to death by your dinner companions or suffering through a meal with people you can’t stand. Especially if it’s someone you’re meant to be getting to know but all he’s doing is treating you like a piece of meat… Janice Jann*
*Still open to accepting requests for fine dining dates!