I’m not that much of a pretentious guy — at least, not anymore. Sure, I do enjoy fine wine and food, and I’d rather sip overpriced whisky at Captain’s Bar at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel than slum it in some local watering hole. But I do try accommodating others, especially if they are footing the tab.
If the catch-up is over lunch at a local Hong Kong street food shop, or late-night drinks behind closed curtains in Wanchai’s famous Lockhart Road, I’m all game. Even so, I do like to maintain some standards.
However, one chap took things a bit too far recently. A rather senior loans banker at a Chinese firm was keen to have afternoon tea — giving him the perfect excuse to leave the office early on a particularly quiet day on the desk.
I was thinking tea at the famous Peninsula Hotel, or even Four Seasons. But he had other ideas, asking me to meet him at quite a vague address, without telling me where we were heading.
Suspecting nothing, I played along, only to find myself absolutely out of my element. Why? Because the guy took me to Café de Coral, a local fast food restaurant chain — think McDonald’s but with a Chinese twist.
The place was anything but cosy. We shared a table with two loud-speaking strangers slurping their meals, while the tea set was unimpressive. The only “good” thing was the bill, which barely set my friend back a couple of hundred Hong Kong dollars.
He placated me afterwards by saying that variety is the spice of life. That's true, but only if the spice is bearable.