A butch Australian man sits at a bar overlooking the golden beach of Hong Kong’s Big Wave Bay. After taking another sip of Tsingtao beer, he explains to a couple of gormless students that the best place to eat Chinese food in the whole region is off the vibrant, bustling Nathan Road in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. He’s been going there for twenty years.
Spring Deer restaurant does not stand out. To get to it, you must first be confronted by numerous gentlemen trying to sell you a tailored suit. Then, if you don’t walk straight past it, you enter and take the first, conspicuous stairway on the right.
You are greeted—sort of—by the host, who will ask if you have a booking. If you don’t, then you will wait. Three small stools in a tiny corridor, facing all of the awards that the restaurant has obtained over the past few years. You sit there, anxiously.
The food must be amazing.
We turned up only fifteen minutes after Spring Deer had opened and were lucky to get a table for two. The condition was that we were to return the table after an hour. We were hurriedly led through the scores of diners and took our seats.
The service was, at best, terrifying. We had three different servers during the hour. One was a tall, intimidating lady wearing a black blazer and trousers, and a ruffled white shirt. Her role was to forcefully pour our drinks and approach us relatively frequently to complete the most menial tasks, including, but not limited to, moving the napkin from the table to our laps. Her sour expression almost suggested that even our being there was a nuisance to her.
Our personal favourite, however, was the waiter who would often come and pay us a visit. He would say nothing. He would walk to the table, and then pause, just for a moment or two. He would look around. And leave. He was our favourite because his service stood out in comical value.
Let’s talk prices. Bear in mind that there is a Michelin-starred Dim Sum restaurant just up the road from Spring Deer that offers dishes which rarely cost more than £2 each. Here, I ordered a small dish of sweet and sour pork, for just under a tenner.
I hate to draw comparisons with the Chinese food that is available to take away in the UK, but it is easily possible to order an even larger portion of sweet and sour pork in batter (albeit much thicker, greasier batter) for around half the price of what I paid in Hong Kong. When it comes to value for money, I think I’d rather have the takeaway. The meal didn’t even come with rice, or noodles. That cost extra.
I’m sure that if you were willing to pay a fair amount for a full meal, you would get some good food in return. The quality of the pork wasn’t that bad. In fact, we did witness one table having the freshly cooked meat carved in front of them, ready for their unique dining experience. I guess that would be a nice touch.
But it’s not the food itself that left us scratching our heads upon leaving. My dining partner summed up the atmosphere of the meal in one simple, panicked expression when our new friend, the waiter, was walking towards us, again: “Ah, he’s coming!”
I’ll remember that more than the food.