I tend to compare Chinese restaurants with the Westernised ones that I used to go to in England as a teenager, when they used to be all the rage for office and birthday parties. Naturally, they were full of Chinese themed knick knacks, billowy lanterns and red velveteen walls. They also used to help the Westerner by offering meals for groups of four or six, so that you would be able to order easily. However, although The Great Wall lacks a cohesive theme on the decorating front, I suspect that it might be closer to actual eating houses in China than my earlier experiences.
Also the fact that the place was completely packed speaks for itself. It is obviously very popular with big family groups and I wondered if this restaurant would not be better off in the Family Restaurant category. Throughout the evening many people came for takeaways, so the restaurant seems to run on a huge scale.
The menu offered a bewildering choice with some beautifully poetic dishes, such as shark fin soup, fried chicken with wood ears, angel hair noodles and drunken duck. However, my husband had been seduced by some of these very exotic choices before and he was determined to keep us on the straight and narrow. He rather pragmatically depended mostly on the advice of the waiter and past experience of the restaurant.
However, after reading Mao’s Last Dancer I was on a quest to try the dumplings and I was delighted to see that they did have pork filled dumplings similar to the ones mentioned in the book. I was not alone in this mission, apparently after reading the book, one Canadian reader travelled all the way to the Qingdao district and pretended to be one of the author’s friends in order to convince the author’s mother to let him try her famous dumplings.
My husband tried to steer me away from them and grumpily scoffed that I had let my imagination run away with me but it was no good — I had to try them! They were like delicious little purses, certainly the ultimate comfort food and practically a meal in themselves. My teenage son wolfed down as many as he could
Next time I think I would not bother with the starters, as we had to wait rather a long time for them, it seemed to make more sense just to order the main meal like everyone else. However, I had wanted to try the spring rolls. Their spring rolls were surprisingly good, light and not too oily, although I still would have loved to have some bean sprouts in them.
The most successful dishes we ordered were the sizzling beef with garlic and the sichuan chicken, and the meat in both dishes was tender and succulent. The teenagers enjoyed the crispy duck which they smothered with the sauce, but we found the taste a little bland.
The waiter suggested a plate of vegetables which my husband particularly enjoyed, in that the vegetables were perfectly cooked, crispy and a good combination of carrots, beans, broccoli and cauliflower. The spicy rice was a perfect combination to balance the meat dishes.
My husband was impressed that they offered most imported beer such as Hansas at the same price as the local beers. There is also filtered water available, which was very welcome. We were replete at the end of this feast but the teenagers were still ready to soldier on, so we just tried a mouthful of their desserts.
The poor waiter was looking a bit exhausted at this stage and said that the pan grilled bananas would just take too long, as my husband had been champing at the bit whenever he had to wait for anything.
The waiter was clearly overstretched that night because of the sheer number of patrons! The crunchy bow ties and ice-cream were a great hit with my daughter and my son enjoyed the lychees and ice-cream, which were a refreshing finish to the meal.
We noticed the swings and slides outside were very popular with the young ones. The Great Wall is an ideal place to take the whole family for a treat, and save for one major area of weakness, this restaurant would have pipped a 4 Plate rating; the toilets were awful! Restaurants neglect these at their peril, for little can spoil a great eating experience more, than unpleasant bathroom facilities.
Expect to Spend US$15 to US$20 per head
94 East Road, Avondale, Harare