Did we like it?
A fabulous, startling beginning to a four-part series focusing on the stunning West Lake restaurant in Changsha, Hunan province. We’d love to see Gordon Ramsay try and survive at this place. That would take him down a notch or two. Would be unfair on Jamie, though. He’d be crying in the corner within five minutes. Marvellous.
What was good about it?
• We loved President Qin Linzy, and not just because her name sounds a bit like Thin Lizzy. Here was a sort of beaming, hyperactive mother-figure-cum-dictator who has established, in comfortably less than a decade, the most enormous restaurant on earth and her own personal fortune into the bargain.
• Just hearing the figures involved in this enterprise was simply incredible: space for 5000 diners (it’s often full) and with 100 separate rooms. 700 chickens, 200 snakes, 5600kg of veg are consumed each week, plus 200 ducks per day, all cooked by 300 expert chefs.
• The restaurant itself was a sight to behold. Different sections, ponds, waterfalls, suites for emperors (or at least esteemed guests), stunning architecture and traditional dance.
• Qin’s seemingly limitless zeal to find new and better dishes. We saw her out in the country inspecting an ocean of ducks and we observed her ordering staff to collect water from a specific location in a remote village to improve the quality of their tofu.
• The frankly awesome sight of a special chef competition. If you think they have to work quickly in The F-Word, pah! First we saw the best chef (safely) handle a live snake, remove its head, innards and undesirable scales, chop it up and present it along with the rest of the dish, ready to eat, three-inch chopped bits of snake still writhing. In one minute and nine seconds. Next the same chef grabbed a live carp, de-scaled it, gutted it, fried the body in deep oil while still holding on to it’s head, and slapped it down, ready to eat with a spicy topping and while it still gulped its last few breats (if it hadn’t been breathing it wouldn’t have counted). In 54 seconds.
• Fascinatingly, Qin runs the restaurant almost like a mini communist community, bright songs and mottos for the staff in the morning, a huge emphasis on teamwork, drills and solidarity. Everyone seemed remarkably content.
• The formidable General Manager Xiao, a microcosm of China itself – confident, frighteningly ambitious and not taking no shit from no one. We liked her, even if we were afraid. And perhaps even strangely attracted.
• And fantastically – no commentary. Wonderful to not have the all-too-common sarcastic, unnecessary voice of God telling us what is or isn’t funny or interesting.
What was bad about it?
• Well, we can’t say we enjoyed watching a chef demonstrating the quickest way to kill a duck (‘They’re quite hard to kill’) by inserting what appeared to be a chopstick into its breast and then reaching in with a finger and thumb to pull out a pulsating heart. But who are we to judge?