Let’s start at the end.
“Please could I have the bill?”
“Yes, of course.”
The bill arrives, with a generous service charge added. Fair enough. The service had been OK.
The waitress returns with the card machine and prints off a receipt with a space for a tip and a final total. She gives it to me, along with a pen.
“Just fill this in”.
I copied the amount from the bill, including the service charge onto the total line before giving the receipt back. I don’t pay service charges twice.
The waitress looked at the receipt. She looked at me. I looked at her. I could tell she wasn’t happy. She grunted.
She actually grunted.
Then I paid and left, feeling as if I’d narrowly escaped a mugging.
The meal I’d had was fine, too Anglicised, unadventurous, but acceptable, if completely unmemorable.
I started with a Mongolian dish of shredded lamb served with pancakes, cucumber and spring onions. The lamb was a quite fatty, but I secretly like it that way, and there’s always something messily enjoyable about eating Chinese food in pancakes.
My main course was a Szechuan chicken dish, which was unexciting and bland. The chicken was tender enough, the vegetables were fresh, there was plenty of chilli, but it didn’t quite work, didn’t quite convince me that it was a genuine, authentic Chinese dish. Maybe it had been toned down for the huge tourist clientele milling around Gerrard Street.
The best part of the meal was a bottle of Tsing Tsao, which was served cold and was quite good, but the competition wasn’t that stiff.
As I happened to be eating alone, I also got the restaurant’s duff table, the one right next to the edge of the bar, with the various bits of rubbish needed to run a restaurant – spare plates, business cards, glasses in boxes, dishes of sauces ready to go – all in plain view.
This is the common lot of the solitary diner, and came as no surprise.
There are dozens of restaurants in Chinatown, and I felt as if I’d made a mistake choosing this one. Better luck next time.