LISTENERS to a Hangzhou radio station were quite emphatic when polled about the most-recognised names in the lakeside city . . . Mao Zedong, Marlboro and Have-a-Bite. The last in the list is hardly likely to strike much of an international chord, but among Hangzhou people, the Have-a-Bite has become an institution, for many years the only place in town which served Western-style fast food. Ironically, Hangzhou was one of the first settlements in China to be introduced to European-style fare; gourmet globetrotter Marco Polo passed through in the 13th century on one of his leisurely jaunts around the world. The argument still rages among some foodies as to whether the peripatetic Italian brought pasta to China - or whether the explorer sneaked the noodle recipe back to his own country. It is not a topic which engages Hangzhou people for any length of time - they are far too busy wolfing down the Have-A-Bite food; the restaurant serves a total of 4,000 people a day, around 500 of them opting for the house speciality of miniature pizza. Have-a-Bite is actually located in - and run by - the Shangri-La hotel, drawing on the expertise of international chefs such as Singaporean Lawrence Foo. But its separate entrance and lack of promotion among in-house guests, means the majority of customers are locals. ''I have adapted the taste slightly for the local palate, using cumin and other Asian spices,'' says chef Foo. ''It is something different for people; they say it is good food and makes them full. On a hot day we sell 2,000 ice creams. We get every age group coming in. ''This summer we introduced sangria at nine yuan (about HK$12) a glass and at night we have cocktail hour and table service with candles on the table. There is also music.'' Candle-lit dining is pretty sophisticated stuff for Hangzhou, a metropolis which is a few economic-boom steps behind nearby swinging Shanghai and cosmopolitan Beijing. Nonetheless, it has an ever-sprouting population of yuppies rolling in renminbi. Slick Chinese restaurants serving local specialities are quickly opening up to cater for the emerging dining-out business. Among the newcomers is the Hangzhou Grand restaurant, managed by former chef George Wang. ''They like it because the restaurant is clean, the food is good and the staff are disciplined,'' says Wang. ''We employ 15 waitresses and even before they start work we give them 20 days training. We have a lot of private businessmen coming to dine herewho spend 100 yuan per person on average. Good quality is hard to find.'' Wang, a dapper and articulate character, came into the catering business by government decree rather than design. During the Cultural Revolution years, he was sent to the fields to help peasants - and ordered to learn quickly how to rustle up a rice-and-meat dish. In subsequent, more easy-going years he worked for joint-venture operations, listening and learning until sufficiently confident to run his own restaurant show. The Hangzhou Grand reflects the general manager's outward-looking philosophies, featuring private rooms decorated in American, French, Thai and Japanese styles. In past years that kind of luxury-laden gourmet dining was only available to fat-cat cadres and visiting dignitaries from overseas. Shangri-La banquet manager Sam He has been charged with organising spreads for many big-cheeses from home and abroad, including Chinese premier Li Peng, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, ANC leader Nelson Mandela and former US president Richard Nixon. Pride of place on the VIP menu goes to West Lake fish, named after Hangzhou's most famous tourist attraction. The fish, prepared in a wine, sugar and vinegar sauce is not necessarily to everyone's taste. ''Western people like fish without the bones,'' says He. ''We serve it tender and fresh, the colour is beautiful. Another of our specialities is fresh-water shrimps with long-jin tea; they are sauteed in oil and for the last few minutes we put fresh tea leaves in.''