The people of China – or at least the 22 million of them who live in Shanghai – finally have a chance to get cultural payback for every time westerners have ordered dizzyingly inappropriate combinations of dishes in Chinese restaurants.
Last December, Londoner Harry Spencer opened what he claims to be China’s first authentic English restaurant. It has seen scores of diners ordering dishes that don’t strictly go together.
“Quite a lot have insisted on combinations like prawn cocktail, bangers and mash, fish and chips and bread-and-butter pudding with custard all at the same time – and then eating it all together,” says Spencer, 28.
Mr Harry Authentic British Restaurant, in a shopping mall next to the city’s main branch of Marks & Spencer, has been the Shanghai restaurant scene’s surprise of the year, with customers – most of whom are local – crowding in to try exotic specialities like full English breakfast, cottage pie, apple and rhubarb crumble, and cream teas.
More than 150 locals booked for Christmas Day, with turkeys almost flying out the kitchen as fast as Scottish chef Paul Mair – latterly chef de cuisine at the Duisdale House Hotel on the Isle of Skye in Britain’s extreme north – could roast them. And this culinary dark horse is about to start deliveries and takeaways.
“I’m very confident they’ll have a significant impact on the business,” says Spencer, speaking as he tries to explain mushy peas to a fashionably attired but baffled Shanghainese lady.
“We get a lot of expats and tourists coming by – the DJ Goldie came two days running when he was in Shanghai – but it’s the Chinese customers who have asked most about home deliveries. We even had a man proposing over Christmas lunch. He and his girlfriend had studied together in the UK.”
Part of the challenge for Spencer and Mair has been getting hold of British ingredients in China. They are having to make their own sausages, bacon and black pudding, and spent months tracking down an Icelandic fisherman who would ship cod to China.
Bills are on a par with western restaurants – a full English or fish and chips is 10 pounds sterling (HK$130), steak and chips, 17 pounds, a sausage bap, 5 pounds, a cream tea, 8 pounds. But there are plenty of superb Chinese restaurants in the vicinity where you can eat for 2 pounds or less, so Shanghai diners are clearly voting with their wallets.