I’ve been in Shanghai for three days now and a combination of tiredness (on Monday) and laziness (yesterday) has led to the wholly unacceptable situation whereby I have eaten dinner exclusively at the hotel. If this were not bad enough, the hotel restaurant leaves much to be desired. Things had to change.
So it was that I strode out of the lobby and resolved to keep on going until I found a place I wanted to eat at, which in this thoroughly depressing foreigner ghetto part of Pudong wasn’t necessarily going to be easy.
After yesterday’s trip to Al Casbah I had another opportunity to sample a restaurant that I’d wanted to visit for some time.
Strada opened a few months back with a decent amount of publicity. Our house in Beche Court got a flyer through the front door offering free wine to celebrate the opening. I didn’t go but the advertisement did its job; I kept the restaurant in mind whenever I was in town and feeling peckish.
Unfortunately I never actually managed to get a table. One time I went with some friends and it was clearly fully booked. Another time it looked fairly quiet but the staff declared that it was in fact booked up.
Last month at a meal given in honour of a CSR staff member who was moving on, a colleague continually sang the praises of Strada, saying how much better the dishes were than those at the restaurant where we were eating, and waxed so appreciative that other members of our party asked if she was a shareholder or had some other vested interest in directing people to Trinity Street.
When I announced that my parents were visiting and that I had booked a table at Strada, she reeled off a list of recommendations and promised that we would love it.
The starters were delicious. The mains were delicious. The pizza we shared was delicious. A proper freshly made thin crust pizza; exquisite. The desserts were delicious. The service was courteous and efficient.
Twice in one week I had built up my expectations for a good meal and twice in a week I had not been disappointed. It’s like being back in Hong Kong.
Every time I passed Al Casbah on Mill Road, which was especially often when I was commuting to Maidenhead, I looked inside and asked myself why I hadn’t been in there yet. Always full to bursting, and issuing mouth-watering flavours from the grill at the front of the restaurant on which pitta bread and snacks are prepared in front of diners, the place had an appeal strong enough to overshadow the fact that it is – and there’s no getting away from this – an Algerian restaurant called Al Casbah.
If I can eat at a Lebanese place called Beirut and an Indian called The Curry House then surely Al Casbah has to be worth a look.
Rebecca and I arrived to find the place jam packed as usual. Indeed it looked as though we might not be able to get a table. Luckily for us the staff were able to manœuvre some chairs around and cram us in. Finally I would eat at what I was soon to learn is the most dangerous restaurant in Cambridge.
Yes you read that correctly. Dangerous. As our waiter laid the table he dropped a knife which bounced right on the edge of the table and flew towards me at a fair pace. I tried to catch it but wasn’t quick enough. I succeeded only in parrying the blade in the direction of the diners to our right, giving the poor lady at the head of the table quite a fright, though thankfully not causing any actual damage. Later in the evening the gentleman opposite her had a narrow escape as the head waiter spilled a bowl of soup … almost over his trousers.
I leaned over and declared that I couldn’t be held responsible for that incident – a reference to the earlier lighthearted suggestion that the flying knife act was of my instigation – and all concerned laughed heartily. It’s the kind of place where you can relax and have fun, thanks to the laid back atmosphere created by the staff.
None of which counts for much if the food on offer isn’t up to scratch. I am happy to report that it was. Every dish from the fresh bread through the starters and main course was freshly and expertly prepared. The meal had been just as good as I’d expected it to be.
Last night I had dinner at the Curry House in Cambridge. Now I know a thing or two about getting a decent curry, having studied in Birmingham and gone to work in Manchester. There are lots and lots of places to get a bad curry but outside of those cities there aren’t so many places to get a good one. With a name like Curry House you would be forgiven for thinking that the restaurant in question would be just another mediocre Indian. In fact it’s an excellent little place and I always enjoy my visits there.
Another subject I know a thing or two about is customer service. It’s very easy to knock what passes for customer service in the UK, especially if you’ve lived overseas as I have. It’s true that we Brits don’t tend to go in for the whole "the customer is always right" thing, preferring instead to believe that the customer is always a dollop of maggot-infested faeces at the bottom of the shop’s litter bins, and must be shooed away lest his mere presence infect us with his filth and cause us to have to do some work.
Well, at the Curry House I was greeted – by the guy whom I always refer to as the Cool Old Guy, not knowing his actual name – with a shake of the hand and the observation that it had been a while, as indeed it had. And when it came time to order drinks he correctly announced what I would be drinking before I had the chance.
As usual the fare was excellent and the service polite and efficient. A pleasing, if by now unsurprising, change from the ordinary.