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Friday, 21 July 2006

zen and the art of fine dining


3/5 of our girly group (Julie was busy and Heather abandoned us for New Zealand last year. I mean honestly, beautiful and scenic NZ over us?! The woman has no sense of priorities.) went out for a meal at the Peking Restaurant in Cambridge, and it was fantastic. If you ever go, don't let the prices scare you (e.g. £11 for fried noodles) - three of us shared one plate and still went home with leftovers. If you know us, then you are aware that the word "leftovers" doesn't usually apply to our meals. "Seconds", yes. "Leftovers", one of us must have the flu.

What made this a terrific experience for me was not only the food, but also the service. The Happiest Man in Cambridge served us and, going by some of the things he told us, is part of a family-run business. We hesitated over what to order and he asked if he could make some suggestions. One of the dishes suggested was created by his father for his sister and himself, and he went through an array of other dishes and rated them according to spiciness. He laughed and joked with us, he was a man who obviously enjoys his food. As we left, I said that I wanted to "hug him and squeeze him and call him George". I was only half joking.

We talked about how service can affect a dining experience and that on the most part, bad service can completely ruin a perfectly prepared meal. I did, however, think of one exception: Kam Shing restaurant in Montreal. Kam Shing is notorious for having the surliest waiters in the northern hemisphere. They look at you like you've just walked into their homes during suppertime, trying to sell them low cost telephone packages. When my friends and I used to go there, we usually got the same waiter, who never really acknowledged us despite the fact that we were there on a fairly regular basis. He'd shuffle over to our table, staring down at his pencil and pad, and we would have this exchange every single time:
Friend: "I'll have the chicken chow mein."
Waiter: [eyes narrowing with an expression of mild loathing] "That's with bean sprouts, you know."
Friend: "Um...yes, I know. That's okay."
Waiter: [scribbles furiously]

Every. Single. Time. But the food was amazing and they always had lines out the door, even in the dead of a Montreal winter. I cannot think of another exception to this rule; the food has to be pretty spectacular to overshadow bad service.

No soup for you.

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