Monday, 16 May 2011

Dining out on Business Travel – Part 2

You would have thought they might have learnt wouldn’t you? Having nearly poisoned us on dog they nearly went one stage further. Our German Vegan lady was already talking about needing counselling after one ethnic meal but the second one definitely made her mind up. If you have no idea what our culinary ‘Chinese doggy’ experience was see part 1.

Our hosts in Hong Kong were still keen to show us just how nice a truly local Chinese meal could be. To do this they remained determined not to take us to a tourist restaurant but one that well off locals might go to. This time they promised no doggy treats (and I am not talking biscuits here) but a fish feast instead. What could go wrong? Hmm I thought as shark fins and jelly fish flashed through my mind. ‘Don’t worry’ they assured us as only fresh fish and shellfish would be used in a pre-ordered set feast.

We arrived at a fantastic place. The whole of the large restaurant had a giant aquarium built into the wall which was teeming with beautiful coloured fish and even sea horses. Absolutely magical especially when lit up with various shades of discreet lighting. Everybody felt good, except for our German Vegan lady who somebody had unkindly nicknamed Helga the Hungry Hun. Again she did not know what the hell she could or could not eat.

Language was a problem again but it did not matter so much as the meal had been carefully chosen to suit western palates and we had a fantastic corner table right by the biggest part of the aquarium. The only uncomfortable feeling we had was when we were eating our main fish course we could imagine fish in the tank saying ‘oh my God that’s my friend Cyril on that plate!

Much to the consternation of the management ‘Helga’ was only eating plain boiled rice. ‘I will not get caught out again’ she vowed. Also she had made a new friend. It was the most gorgeous fish in the tank and it would not leave her alone. She would tap the glass and the fish would do all sorts of somersaults and headstands while staring at her intently with wide eyes. He became her friend and the table mascot. We even gave him the name Herman. Herman was one cool fish and Helga became besotted.

The waiter came over with the wine and Helga could not resist trying to find out more about Herman. She pointed him out and asked what kind of fish he was, how big he would grow, how old is he etc. It was obvious something was lost in translation because the waiter replied saying that it was an unusual request but he would speak to the manager.

I realised something very wrong when behind Helga’s back I saw a large net descend into the pool and scoop out Herman. ‘Oh no’ I thought, ‘please not Herman’. But it was too late and yes, it was Herman. He arrived with a flourish on a plate, in a bed of rice and with bit of garnish sticking out if his gills. He was no more and he was placed by the manager, with great ceremony, in front of Helga. She screamed as Herman lay there with his now blank eyes staring reproachfully at her.

‘What is wrong’ the manager asked as Helga fled to the taxi rank. ‘We did our best’ he continued. ‘We do not normally cook our aquarium fish for guests but the VIP lady asked so we made an exception’. He went off shaking his head and muttering in an inscrutable way about ungrateful foreigners while we asked for a bag to put Herman in.

We eventually left as our hosts were keen to placate Helga and a few of us weaved our way to the waterfront outside the Grand Hyatt hotel. We buried Herman at sea and got some very strange looks in the process. The bag was weighted with two ‘stolen’ items of cutlery and we slid him into the deep off a KFC carton we found on the way. One sentimental colleague imitated the playing of ‘the last post’. We filmed it all in the hope that it might give Helga ‘closure’. But it didn’t.

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