(This may be the closest I get to writing a bad review.)
Going back in time, I must comment on a meal I had last Sunday. I was with C, a mainland-born, Canto-, Mandarin- and English-speaking friend, and we decided to have lunch at Nuocmam in Mongkok. It was about 11:30, and we were the first ones there. I spoke to the hostess (in English) and we were promptly seated with our menus. We ordered a bowl of pho, some spring rolls, and a chicken vermicelli (typical, I know), and waited.
First, some cursory comments on the food: it was generally quite good, especially the pho broth. It had a bit more mint than usual, giving it a kick of freshness. We ordered the rare beef pho, which came out as two entities: First, there was a bowl with noodles, beef, and sprouts. Then, the waiter came with a tea kettle of broth, which he poured in front of us. I’d never seen this done before, but accordingly, the rare beef cooked before our eyes. Very neat! The spring rolls were nice, too, with mango (quite original!) and chives.
The food was yummy, yes, but the thing that really stood out about this meal was language discrimination. That’s right, we were slighted based on our speaking English! Like I said, we were the first ones there, but soon, families and couples filled in around us. We noticed everyone else had a blue sheet with boxes to tick; I was craning my neck the whole time to see what they were, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of our meal, C asked the captain in Cantonese for a copy of the sheet. We found out that, on Sundays and public holidays, Nuocmam has a deal where, for $75 HKD a person for an hour-and-a-half, you can order as many items as you like off the blue menu! Naturally, we demanded why we didn’t get a menu and the captain initially said, “maybe they forgot you” but we immediately dismissed that – we were the first (and only) customers for a while. She then admitted that they thought we only spoke English and, as the buffet menu was all in Chinese, we wouldn’t understand it. I was slightly miffed. C asked ever-so-nicely if we could get a discount on our meal. No dice, but the captain said she’d bring out free desserts (which were good as well).
Fortunately, our bill was about $80 HKD a person, so not an egregious difference, but still! We felt slightly cheated. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth (figuratively), but the buffet is quite a deal, so as much as I’d like to remain indignant, I may be back sometime in the future with a Canto-speaker.
Still, this kind of language discrimination surprised me. I’m used to people giving me short shrift when I speak Mandarin, but never before had I missed out on something great simply because it was assumed I/we only spoke English. Hmmph.
Shop C, 6/F, One Grand Tower
639 Nathan Road
Cost: ~ $80 HKD/person