Serving up rare specimens

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 November, 1997, 12:00am

We were sitting in the Regal Hotel's roof-top restaurant, the urban jungle of Causeway Bay unfolding below us in all its neon glory.

'It's so romantic,' sighs my guest, Pamela Pak Wan-kam, the agony aunt known for her no-holds-barred radio call-in show.

'Umm,' I reply.

'Do you know, you could almost be Dodi and me Diana,' she whispers, with a giggle.

And so my evening with Ms Pak began. I was left speechless as she happily chatted away, worried I had brought only the one 90-minute tape for our interview.

'Are you sure that's enough?' she asked.

Just for the record, the agony aunt is carving out a new career for herself as a restaurateur while still dabbling in chat shows - for a Chinese audience in Canada. It followed the plug being abruptly pulled from her slot at Metro radio in January.

She glances over the menu enthusiastically, considering the many Mediterranean-inspired dishes.

'Usually I don't care much for Mediterranean food,' she says. 'I like Californian food - particularly the seafood.' She opts for the duck livers ($158) to start with and prawn kebabs ($238) for an entree.

'I like things with a lot of cholesterol,' she said, her infectious giggle springing back to life. 'I believe in having what you want.' I decide on the vegetable soup ($78) and grilled sea bass fillet presented with pesto and grilled peppers in a caper sauce ($218).

Ms Pak tells me she is adventurous with food, but draws the line at eating game or endangered species.

'I remember going to China on one occasion. The government gave us these lizards called babyfish. They're named that because they cry like a baby.

'We told them we wouldn't eat an endangered species but they killed them anyway.

'The Chinese are very cruel,' she adds with a shudder.

'They like to eat things alive. They believe if you eat them it'll do you good.' She tells me how Chinese men like to eat raw monkey to make them macho.

'They put them in a hole in the ground and bury them up to their neck then they slit the throat,' she explains.

Feeling a little queasy, I lose the gist of what she is saying but manage to ask how she had come by this information - 'Oh, it's common knowledge' - before initiating a swift change in the conversation's direction.

I ask her how she came to be an agony aunt.

She had read communications at a university in California then went on to study telecommunications but it was her stint for Commercial Radio in 1986 that was to launch her broadcasting career.

'Chinese people are very hypocritical. A lot of things they do they won't admit to.

'I want them to admit to having a problem. If you don't get to the root of it you'll never solve it.' She sees her role as listening, reading between the lines of what the caller says, then offering choices. And what of her advice? 'For example, if a Hong Kong man has a mainland mistress, I would ask his wife if she is financially independent, has children and whether she would divorce him if he admits what he has done.

'If she's not financially independent and wouldn't divorce then I would advise her not to disclose to him that she knows. She has his money, and should take precautions.' But she concedes: 'Youngsters don't agree with me, they think I'm a male chauvinist.' All this soul-searching smacks of Oprah (Winfrey, the American talkshow host), I venture. 'Oh, I think I can be better than she is,' Ms Pak replies with a chuckle.

The duck livers arrive and gain her immediate approval. They certainly look tempting, a deep reddish brown and glistening in their juices.

'They're great,' she announces. 'Really tender and juicy. These are the best I've had in Hong Kong. Usually they tend to be overcooked.' The soup is a treat. Filled with a diced selection of crisp, tasty vegetables, the consistency is more like a broth and somehow perfect for nights that are drawing in.

Seeing as she mentioned the Diana and Dodi saga, I ask her for her comments on Diana's death.

'I think it was the best thing that happened to her,' Ms Pak says, characteristically pulling no punches.

'Her biggest mistake was to lose her husband. She didn't try hard enough. Once you marry it's give and take.

'If she and Dodi had ended up together, she would have ended up divorced again. One day she'd be old and dumped by a gigolo or somebody.' I throw in the fact that there were supposedly three in the marriage.

'Ah well, that's different. A king should have so many queens but if you're to be a queen you should be loyal.' She hands me one of the plump prawns that have just arrived accompanied by a selection of vegetables. 'Umm. They're good,' she says. 'Also, I love zucchini - these aren't overcooked. I like things a little raw.' The sea bass is glorious in its simplicity. Fresh and beautifully prepared, it smells and tastes wonderfully of its maritime origins and falls apart effortlessly.

The roasted peppers and caper sauce make a pleasant contrast, both in texture and piquancy.

Has she ever been married? 'Oh yes. I divorced,' she says. 'It was like being in jail and being let out on parole.' The dessert trolley is wheeled by and she settles for the strawberries ($68). A simple dish, they are perfect for cleansing the palate at the end of a rich meal.

Has she ever regretted advice that she has given? 'No, not yet. I hope I never do.' What's the best advice she has given? 'I couldn't judge but if the receiver thinks it is the best then that's the best.' Intrigued, I consider whether I would have ever called her show and ask her whether she thinks I am the type to benefit from her advice.

She hesitates briefly before replying.

But that, as the saying goes, is another story.

The Riviera, Regal Hongkong Hotel, 88 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay. Tel: 2890-6633