By Alexander McCowan
This establishment opened in 1989 and has been feeding residents of the capital with its own special versions of the world’s oldest and most sophisticated cuisine. The restaurant is situated on rising ground in Kallipoleos street, and on a Thursday night in the middle of the holiday season, presents a welcoming aspect. The tables are well spread and under shady trees but there is light aplenty; the surrounding lanterns are draped in white linen which gives off a most pleasing ghostly aspect. Surprisingly, there is not a hint of the Orient, no Chinese waiting staff or a single chop-stick. But no matter, there are whole families here, at least three generations on one table; quiet gatherings of young women, at least three such groups, and some very well behaved children.
The companion congratulates me, she likes the setting, there is a welcome breeze and we haven’t had Chinese in ages.
Menus arrive which are extensive and require serious attention. First item on the card is my all time favourite, the hot sour soup, which according to Lin Tsuifeng is perfect for the summer, as its piquancy will accelerate the appetite. There are 17 items on the soup and appetizer menu and apart from the soup we choose the fried egg-plants and the deep fried ribs. The main dishes offer beef, chicken, duck, pork, prawns and fish; I even spot a sea-cucumber but was told it was out of season; so all forms of the traditional dishes are presented as sweet and sour, shredded, with various sauces, ginger and otherwise. I select the three types of sea-food and the companion wants the sweet and sour prawns with a side dish of spinach in garlic sauce.
We order drinks and settle down in pleasant contemplation of what is to come. The only jarring note at this stage is that the jasmine tea I have ordered to accompany the main course is served at the same time as the gin and tonic. A full 30 minutes elapses before anything arrives, a plate containing what resembles fried bandaged fingers and another loaded with battered discs, but no soup. The batter is so dense it resists the knife; tempura it is not: it reminds me of those boy-scout campfire delights: the damper.
My soup arrives, hot certainly, sour slightly, with uncertain vegetable contents, could be carrots. It seems that the digits conceal the ribs which we abandon after two attempts. I explain to the companion who is no longer in congratulatory mood that the aubergines are best tackled without the cutlery, finger style, and they are quite good.
The main courses are served onto a turn-table; dishes brimming with interest. The prawns are bathed in a startling red sauce, they are large, shelled and for some reason, battered, which renders them glutinous. My seafood is also submerged but again battered, the fillet was quite pleasant. The portions are massive and gloopy.
We resist the sweet menu.
The staff are very pleasant and the ambience attractive, clearly a favourite venue for our countrymen, who it must be declared all seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. On reflection I fear I missed the real essence of Chi Hsiang, which is a completely unique variation on the traditional Chinese technique: Cypriot fusion. Long may it flourish.
WHERE Corner of Kallipoleos and Ipatias St. Nicosia