I had driven past East Villa's sign boasting 'Fine Chinese cuisine and World famous Steaks' on my way home many a time, thinking it was a bit far fetched. Chinese food (or what we get in the Western world) is like entry-level Asian cuisine, I remember eating a fair bit as a kid and teenager but then losing interest in it after that. I always favour Thai or Japanese. Nevertheless, out of curiosity and for the greater good of Nassau on A Plate, I decided to put these wild claims to the test.
I arrived first and walked in. I was greeted with the smell of stale smoke and a mildly surprised reaction when I asked for a table for two. The inside was a real car crash in bad taste, with some dodgy neon lighting, varnished pine ceiling and a really unhygienic-looking carpet. I was given a wide choice of tables to pick from, as the restaurant was largely empty. An enormous laminated fold out menu was placed before me, which was almost as big as the Sunday Times. Uh oh. Too much choice did not bode well. Had these people never watched Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares? There were some Continental dishes such as lamb rack and the celebrated steaks but I ignored that section to concentrate on the Chinese food. Typical dishes such as Lemon Chicken ($18.50) and Sweet and Sour Pork ($12.50) featured.
The Juggernaut waltzed in, looking mildly concerned. I ordered some baby friendly jasmine tea and J had a Tsing Tao beer. We were immediately brought over a bowl of dried cardboard strips, which resembled hamster food and some dips, one of which was incredibly strong mustard, made from powder. How very random! And wrong. There was some sort of sweet mango thing too. I wasn’t remotely tempted to try them but J was the guinea pig and dipped a tentative fingertip into the sauces.
J said you could judge a Chinese restaurant by its spring rolls, so we ordered some vegetable ones for $5. After studying the menu for a while, we settled on Schezuan shrimp with scallions, ginger, red pepper in rice wine sauce ($23) and Moo Shoo chicken- shredded and combined with wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, cabbage with pancakes and plum sauce ($18.50) and some baby bok choy ($11.95).
The Spring rolls, arrived, one each. They were okay, crispy enough and well fried but clearly from a packet. A bit bland if I’m honest.
A while later, our main courses arrived. This was the real test. My shrimp were smothered in a disturbing red gloop. What the hell was this? I tried one. Lukewarm prawns in jam. It reminded me of the so-called Mango chutney at the Taj Mahal. Some spring onions scattered on top for decoration. In fact, to say it was like jam is an insult to jam! There was no ginger to be found; I think it had left the building. I ate one more to be sure and then pushed the offensive creatures away. What an undignified death for those poor shrimp. J declared it the worst Schezuan dish he had had in his life. It came with a vat of plain rice, which was a welcome respite from the sickliness. The Moo Shoo chicken was nothing to write home about; a sort of fried mess of chicken and vegetables; there were no discernable flavours here. The plum sauce it came with was an unctuous treacle-like tar, to be used with extreme caution. The ‘homemade’ pancakes were quite good though. The bok choy was sort of a saving grace, crunchy with a generous amount of garlic. Everything had a liberal sprinkling of MSG over it. My poor unborn baby’s first experience of Chinese was not great. Sorry Peanut. We managed about half of our dinner before emancipating ourselves from culinary induced depression. The discarded plates of gloop stared sorrily back at us whilst waiting to be cleared. I realised that there were no Chinese people eating here. The fact that there were other diners at all was a small miracle. The staff were surprisingly buoyant considering the dreary atmosphere that pervaded the room. Later on that night, it all came back to haunt me in a bout of fever. I really only have four words to sum up East Villa; Do Not Come Here.