Insight & Reflections

From Gong to Mandalay

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A reckless comment on social media can quickly lead to anger, contempt, and hatred. This little story is about the opposite. It is about how maturity and kindness take the sting out of criticism and create good vibes. 

It was a great relief when restaurants started to open again after the most severe Corona measures were lifted. Going slowly back to normal life is a big step towards a more secure future for many in the hospitality industry. It has been a challenging time. Efforts to help and cheer up have been greatly appreciated. A Facebook group called Eating Out Orihuela Costa in the province of Alicante, Spain has done its best to inspire us to dine out by allowing only positive comments. It is a page for sharing good experiences, and critical voices are firmly told to stay away. When my husband left a little critical comment about one of the most praised restaurants here, Gong, he quickly got some nasty comments. But the owner, Lorraine, interfered pragmatically in the discussion and later invited my husband for a dinner on the house to see if he would change his mind. 

Lorraine is clearly proud of her Gong concept. Half Thai-half Irish with art education and love for food, she has used her background to create fusion dishes with flavors from the Southeast Asian Kitchen. With a customer base consisting mainly of expat seniors and tourists who have dozens of Asian restaurants nearby to choose from, it is a difficult task. The key to success in most businesses is understanding your customers’ needs and Lorraine has elegantly cracked that code. The many enthusiastic reviews on Facebook show that Gong is a success story, but as she mentioned in correspondence with my husband: “I understand that my interpretation of food is not going to please everyone, and I’m ok with that.” 

The food philosophy is of course very important when you are running a restaurant, and if you also understand the concept of kindness and good customer service, the chance of success will greatly increase. 

We accepted Lorraine’s kind invitation, ordered a sweet ‘Gong’ cookie from the Giant Cookie Factory as a gift, and headed for our second meal at Gong.

A fusion version of Peking Duck
An inventive taste of the Far East

I asked my husband to finish the story since he started it with the following Facebook comment: “Gong is ok, but not very good”. Did our second visit change his opinion? 

Here is his answer: 

“Well, Lorraine’s invitation made me curious. She is dedicated, hands-on, seating people, serving, clearing the tables, wiping the floor, and also has time for her customers in an almost full restaurant when we arrived at 7 PM. She is also confident and proud of her concept, so yes, I’m more positive. Lorraine and I have long experiences with Southeast Asian food. Her mother is from Thailand and I have worked periodically and lived in Asia since 1963. The difference between us is probably that I’m drawn back to food experiences I had earlier in life as a sailor, having my first chilly chock buying street food in Tampico, Mexico in 1962 and after that, challenging the hottest Southern Indian and Ceylonese dishes before the mild curries in Burma opened up a new and gentle flavor palate for me. I remember arriving in Rangoon in 1963 after months in India. The contrast was enormous. The chaotic struggle for survival in Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta replaced with calm and clean streets only served by some tricycles and minibuses was mind-blowing. So was the food, mild and gentle as Supijawlat—the girl in Kipling’s poem On The Road to Mandalay. The taste of Burma came back to me eating the tasting menu of Gong recommended by Lorraine this time. It also included features from Hong Kong and Malaysia (which are both former British colonies) and of course, Thailand. As Lorraine advised me: just concentrate on the flavors rather than the origin. I did. 

The dumplings in a mild green curry that took my husband back to Burma

Her food has a lot of flavors the British have long experience with and she has found a fusion formula that hits the mark in her target group. It is in itself a feat: “For the wind is in the palm-trees and the temple-bells they say – Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay”

Congratulations, Lorraine. You are open-minded and one of a kind. 

Restaurateur Lorraine and me
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