It's been so long since I've ventured out, beyond the safe confines of my local french bakery and fancy french restaurant, it was time. Last night we took the plunge in a big way, following some brave friends to a Chinese spot, just around the corner from Papaye.
Hangzhou Chinese Restaurant. Best Chinese food in a long long time - perhaps EVER!
Now let me qualify this statement. This is not a raving review, wherein I intimate that you would take your most important business visitors to Hangzhou. I don't think they could handle it. Shame though, they'll miss the most amazing food.
We parked in a dark alley and walked into what looked like an old concrete house, through the window we could see we were going to be the only patrons. A small Chinese woman rushed over to welcome us and find us a table. Meanwhile we looked around at a room, painted a long time ago a dull non-descript colour - possibly oatmeal beige, which had long turned a brownish grey. The main features were dusty posters promoting China, Chinese food and various electronics. A huge crack cut one wall down the centre, threatening to collapse the building on top of us. A huge palm tree grew straight up through the corner of the room, the ceiling cut neatly around it to free the palm fronds somewhere above. On the centre wall was on old fashioned TV, showing a Chinese talent show. A small wooden chair was placed directly in front of the TV. This is where our host retreated to, between serving us.
Our table was covered with a plastic lining, printed in flowers and lines, faded and torn in parts. The menus bled photos of food into the writing, to create a pinky swirl of unreadable water colour art.
It turned out quite lucky there were photos, as our host and waitress and most likely proprietress all-in-one, could not speak any English. A question "How long has this place been open?" was met with a blank stare and pointing to the menu. We realised our interactions would have to be limited to fingers stabbed toward the menu photos and reassuring nods.
We lost our adventurous spirit when it came to the deep fried camel hump, but I loved the menu's offering of "chips and fired chickens"!!! (Just had to snap that!)
While our food was being made outside through the side door somewhere, we marveled at our surroundings and threw out wild assumptions about the restaurant and who (apart from us) ate here. Indentured labourers? Underground gangs? We wondered if we’d get sick, and other ethnocentricities… shame on us for sure.
The food arrived, the plates, one by one, huge portions, amazing smells… and then we ate. OMG. The food was amazing. A friend’s suggestion of cucumber plate was a great starter – fresh yet salty and addictive. Spring rolls were small and dainty and so different from the usual… Fried noodles with pork was a huge steaming plate of soba type silky noodles, veggies and small tasty bits of pork. Moreish all the way. Other plates followed, including shrimps with cashew – huge buttery but crunchy cashews and tender seasoned shrimps, and the pork dumplings – to die for…. Basically everything was great. We washed it all down with Ghana’s famous brews, Gulder and Star.
In the background our host was mesmerized by the couple singing the theme from the Titanic in Cantonese on TV. Only when we turned to watch too, the English subtitles showed lyrics that were definitely the invention of someone other than Celine Dion! “I am the honeybee, you are the flower” the petite female singer cooed, and was echoed by the bespeckled grinning guy.
It was a great ending to a delicious meal. It was only when the bill came that it got better. Or rather unbelievable. The whole feast, including all our drinks came to about GHC16 per head, or roughly $9.75.
Not sure how indicative of the real Hangzhou in Eastern China this place is, but it gave us a new found appreciation. I wonder if the woman misses home and what brought her to Ghana? There is a story behind all expats, and hers will be forever a mystery. I for one, am glad she came. If you find yourself in Accra and love good food, check out Hangzhou.
Afterwards, a lively night of drinking and dancing Ghana style awaits, just around the corner at Accra's biggest spot under the stars, opposite Papaye.