Like moths to the flame, Matt and Cat were drawn one evening to the enticing pink and purple glow emanating from China China, a most exciting-looking venue on Cowes Parade. The outside of the building is a sight to behold; not only for its sexy lighting but its granite furniture and the pair of stone lions flanking the passage to some mighty red and gold studded doors.
It seems that no expense has been spared converting the erstwhile Globe pub into this surprising uber-restaurant. The materials used, mainly glass and stone, are expensive-looking and well executed – nice etching and bevelling. The attention to detail is remarkable. On entering the palace, Matt and Cat were greeted at the counter and led out of the capacious ground floor up a crystal staircase (ok, enough hyperbole – it was plate glass!) to the equally spacious first floor with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors opening onto the north-facing terrace; perfect for watching the Solent traffic. Rather confusingly, on the way up, the waiter deputed to accompany them seemed to forget he had guests in tow, and almost led them into the kitchen before doing an abrupt u-turn and waving vaguely at a few tables.
The tables were works of art; with etched-glass tops a writhing mass of dragons and curlicues, linen napkins folded artfully into pirouetting swans and cutlery and chopsticks balanced on porcelain rests.
Expectations were running high, as Matt and Cat plonked themselves down at a table with a stunning view of the sea and the mainland beyond; the reflections of the purple lights giving the night sky the look of a permanent psychedelic sunset. Soon menus were proffered along with a complementary bowl of prawn crackers.
Unfortunately Matt and Cat were not able to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat set menu (£14.80 a head, minimum of two diners) as it is only available Monday to Wednesday. However, there was plenty to choose from in the multi-paged menu; everything was helpfully sectioned into themes such as ‘seafood’, ‘beef’, ‘chicken’ (you get the idea). China China has some unusual main ingredients not normally seen on a Chinese restaurant menu – including squid, green-lipped mussels and tofu – of which more later. Forgoing starters, Matt and Cat made their choices, M choosing chicken in a creamy satay sauce and C breaking from tradition with her choice of tofu with ginger and spring onions. After giving their order, your reviewers supped their Tsing Tau beer and Coke respectively whilst watching the Red Jet bounce its way off to Southampton.
Soon enough the waitress was back with plate warmer and plates. And within the blink of an eye, the meals were delivered. What Matthew would describe as meagre portions, Catherine thought were just right. Her tofu dish volunteered huge chunks of slightly watery tofu, big slivers of ginger and some lightly fried spring onions in a pleasant sauce. Matt’s chicken satay was perhaps overgenerously supplemented by tinned pineapple chunks. It was quite gentle; not as spicy, nor as creamy, nor even as satay-y as he anticipated, but certainly tasty.
An even more modest allowance was the egg fried rice, and yet more interesting was its serving dish. After being agog at the expensive fixtures and fittings of China China, your reviewers were left open-mouthed at the rice’s container – and not because of its superlative nature. The rice came in a stoneware dish of the sort your granny might have at the back of her kitchen cupboards; jaunty transfer carrots and swedes cavorted about the cracked lid, and the dish’s handles were all but gone; smashed off, leaving stunted broken crockery flanges. What a contrast to the rest of the beautiful wares.
This anomaly did not prevent Matt and Cat scoffing their meals. Cat was particularly pleased with hers and, for once, did not wish she had chosen something else! Matt, on the other hand, was underwhelmed with his chicken, which was not bad, as far as it went. He would have preferred a little more potent sauce, after all, the menu did flag this meal up with one chilli to indicate a certain degree of spiciness.
After clearing their empty plates, the waitress flapped the dessert menu under Matt and Cat’s noses in a lackadaisical and resigned manner – presuming that they would not be interested in her sweets. And she was correct – they asked for the bill.
It has been mentioned by Wendy, a regular reader of this blog, that restaurant customers increasingly have to wait for the bill. China China was no exception. In fact, whilst they were waiting, M and C idly thought that they might measure the time it takes from asking for the bill to getting it in each eatery they visit. On eventual arrival the total bill was more modest than expected. Matt and Cat paid up and left, spilling out of the purple womb of China China, onto the chilly streets of Cowes once again.
China China has an undeserved reputation locally for being fearsomely expensive. Certainly it’s not bargain prices, and the impressive venue and the unrivalled location in the heart of yachtie-heaven would lead one to expect the worst. However the price of a meal, plus drinks, at China China was no more than Matt and Cat have paid elsewhere in Cowes. Whilst there are some startlingly expensive items on offer, the prices are clearly laid out and some of the dishes are really not that expensive. So, be assured, careful ordering will ensure that you don’t damage your wallet.
What to make of this tautological Oriental behemoth? It seems a fantastic place, able to cater for vast numbers of diners and, on the night Matt and Cat visited, there was no fault in the food. However, the attention to detail wavered when it came to the rice dish and the waning interest of the staff. These failings might not have been so noticeable had China China not set itself such remarkably high standards. To make it a perfect experience, the proprietors might buy some new serving dishes and perhaps do something about their website.
China China, Cowes