Chinese restaurant service so bad, it's like they're washing clothes

A restaurant review may have gone a little too far

Published March 8, 2010 8:09PM (EST)

You've got to figure that any review of a little Hong Kong dumpling shop known for being the cheapest place in the world to earn a coveted star in France's rarified Michelin Guide is going to have a comment or two about the level of service being below that of, say, The French Laundry.

But reading the piece on The Sydney Morning Herald's website, I was a little surprised to see this:

"Two hours!" she barks, then shouts something in Cantonese into a tiny microphone attached to the register.

I edge outside, mystified. It's hard to believe I've just made a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant. It feels more like dropping off a shirt at the dry cleaner's.

A dry cleaner's? Really? You went to a Chinese restaurant and got treated so bad you thought you were at Ching-Chong Chan's No-Tickee-No-Washee Laundry? C'mon, you couldn't find any socially awkward computer geeks in Metaphorland?

I'll be honest. It's not really big enough a deal for me to be actually offended: no one's getting passed over for a job, no one's getting beaten in the street. Maybe the writer happens to go to a traumatizingly gruff dry cleaner, and the racial stereotype wasn't even intended.

The (coincidentally) Australian arm of KFC took serious heat a couple of months ago for an ostensibly racist commercial that had a white man making peace with hostile black Caribbean cricket fans with a bucket of fried chicken. It wasn't really a fair controversy -- the racial stereotype of blacks as going goo-goo for fried chicken doesn't really exist in Australia or in the Caribbean. Sometimes totally innocuous jokes go over poorly in other parts of the world. Baggage sometimes gets found in translation.

But early Chinese immigrants in Australia did, in fact, work in clothes washing before graduating to other industries. (In the UK, as well; the piece was originally published by the London Telegraph.) Someone out there's going to be unhappy about this. I mean, could you imagine, "The cooks in that Jewish deli were so bad, it's like they were busy making loans, not pastrami!"?


By Francis Lam

Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.

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