At the end of last year, we made sure to have a holiday so we spent a relaxing week doing next to nothing at a seaside town. We took the opportunity to eat at the local Chinese restaurant, the Four Seasons, something we make a habit of when visiting country towns. We made a booking for new year’s eve.
On the afternoon of December 31 I was idly sitting around our holiday park cabin and browsing the internet on my small glowing rectangle, and I decided to check out the restaurant’s reviews. Uh oh! They were almost invariably terrible, alerting the unsuspecting diner to tasteless, stale and sometimes frozen dishes at insultingly high prices. One reviewer, who was Chinese, speculated that the chef had completely lost any passion for life. I had a moment of panic – have we made a terrible mistake? And if we have, is it too late to book something else?
On the other hand, there was a sprinkling of reassuring reviews. Full marks, reliable and solid, would recommend! Oh well, we thought, let’s give it a go and if it’s terrible at least we’ll have a laugh. So off we went. And in the end it was exactly what we had envisaged.
The thing is, country town Chinese is a cuisine all of its own and you can’t expect it to be anything else. Those disgruntled reviewers came looking for something else. They didn’t realise they were there to take a walk down the middle of the road in a land without online reviews.
As a kid, takeaway for dinner from the Sun Hing was a special treat. I always requested the chicken chow mein – mostly for the crispy noodles, but also because the dish itself was plain enough that I was willing to eat it (I was a picky eater, but not to the extent that I would go hungry). Each of us had our chosen dish. I can imagine that it would be hardly worth ma’s while having a night off cooking if it just led to excess whingeing and tears. So Chinese it was.
And so it was that new year’s eve at the large tables around us, half-filled with kids who at worst would fill up on special fried rice after picking out the prawns and Spam. I still had the chicken chow mein for the sake of nostalgia, and decided to extend my palate to the sweet and sour pork. I didn’t pick anything out of the fried rice, not even the prawns, and we didn’t have to ask for chopsticks.
A couple of years ago we were in a different country town and dropped in to visit a friend who is easily the biggest gourmet I know. We mentioned we would be eating at the New China Restaurant that night and she was horrified! As we ate there, I noticed most of the tables included diners over 70. It was probably the only restaurant in town where they could hear conversations properly.
More recently, I ate alone at Toy’s Garden where I experienced the best prawn sesame toast of my life and a minor mix-up resulted in a free deep-fried ice cream. A group of tradies came in who requested a more spacious round table (“got a couple of big blokes here!”) and ordered a round of VBs and their favourite dishes (“ya do the chow?”). I intend to visit that town again purely to eat at Toy’s Garden.
And then last time we visited my home town we went back to Sun Hing for a lunchtime catch-up with my parents and assorted siblings and niblings, a dozen people in total. The place has been trading for nearly 50 years and was packed with customers on a Monday afternoon. And the food was just like normal.