LOOKING like a character in a science fiction film, Raymond Chu approaches a tall arch-shaped machine in a wall of mist, illuminated by ultra-violet light.

A robotic voice speaks his temperature as he slowly revolves, emerging from the blue fog.

He is wearing a face mask, but is clearly smiling – as well he should be.

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Mr Chu and his business partner Alan Shek own Oxford’s Paddyfields Chinese restaurant and have, they say, the best protection against the spread of coronavirus at any restaurant in the country.

Oxford Mail:

The pair have spent more than £5,000 on technology and a similar amount on chemicals to ensure the Hythe Bridge Street restaurant offers the best safety and hygiene money can buy.

While many eateries have gone for discretion, Mr Chu and Mr Shek have chosen to go the other way, investing in technology to turn the popular dining spot into a safe space, where no virus dare tread.

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“As far as we know, we are the only restaurant in the country to have this equipment,” says Mr Chu proudly, as he demonstrates the decontamination arch which he has had shipped in from China.

The arch, common in Japan and Korea, sprays anyone entering the restaurant in a light mist of hypochlorous acid – a weak, safe acid that forms when chlorine dissolves in water, which is claimed to be100 times more effective as a disinfectant than bleach, killing germs and viruses instantly.

Oxford Mail:

At the same time, guests are zapped with an ultra violet light sanitiser, before being requested to disinfect their hands in the standard manner to which we have all rapidly grown accustomed.

It also has an electronic speaking thermometer.

Around the restaurant, disinfecting mist drifts gently from devices and powerful air conditioning keeps the air fresh.

Diners are seated at tables walled off by transparent screens; tableware and chopsticks are steamed prior to use, new disposable menus are used with each sitting and waitresses don masks and goggles.

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But if it sounds obtrusive and overly clinical, it is not.

As well as peace of mind, the measures add a touch of theatre and fun – reinforced by the cheerful staff who are well rehearsed in the choreography of decontamination, and to whom this brave new world is very much the ‘new normal’.

And the food, of course, is delicious.

Oxford Mail:

While settling down to one of their trademark ‘steamboat’ banquets, in which fresh seafood, meat and vegetables are cooked at the table in a rich broth, Mr Chu and Mr Shek told me more about the equipment –

and why they thought it was so necessary to help the restaurant – thought to be the oldest in existence in Oxford, and famed for its Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine – bounce back.

“Even before lockdown, we had seen business fall,” says Mr Chu.

“We rely on tourists –including those from China – and numbers drastically had dropped. then came the order to close, which was a shock. We had never closed in 38 years – not even at Christmas or Boxing Day.

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“When we closed, we gave all our perishable stock to the community and to charity as we didn’t want to waste food. And then we spent time getting ourselves ready, so that when we were able to reopen, we could do so in the safest way possible. We wanted people to feel comfortable and safe and to know they could come in and enjoy their favourite food in confidence.”

He said that being a Chinese restaurant had focussed their energies, with a need to overcome an unfair cultural stigma arising from China’s role in the pandemic.

Oxford Mail:

“People still associate the virus with China and we want to put that to rest,” he says. “Lots of people are still not confident but we hope that will change once they see the measures we have put in.”

Mr Shek says: “We are doing everything we possibly can. We have fewer kitchen staff on and they are all in masks and goggles. Even the chopsticks are being steamed before given to customers.”

Mr Chu adds: “We are the only ones doing this in the country, though you will see this equipment in Japan and Korea, where the arches are even used in the street. You can expect to see more of them here in the future, but for now, we are the first.”

And how long did he expect the measures to remain in place? “It will take at least a year,” he says.

“Until then we are doing what we can to help people feel safe.”

  • Paddyfields, Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford.
  • 01865 248835.
  • paddyfieldsoxford.com
  • Paddyfields is participating in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme