11th March 2011
Gibraltar. It really is quite a strange place. A tiny isthmus dangling off the bottom of Spain which is nominally part of the UK. Since the British captured this giant rock 300 years ago the Spanish have been trying to get it back. In practical terms it seems that they may finally have succeeded. Thousands of Spanish workers cross the border every day. The streets and shops are filled with the sound of Spanish conversation. Even the Post Office and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs employs Spanish workers. Is Gibraltar still British? Not really…
And so it was that Man and I decided to take a short break in Gibraltar. Yes, there is a lot of history to take in and things to see, but I’m going to write about the food!
The grill at Gauchos
We ate at 5 different restaurants for our evening meals. Our first meal was at an Argentinean restaurant called Gauchos. When we arrived the place was almost empty. By the time we left the place was full. I had a veggie lasagne while Man had a chunk of meat cooked over a giant open grill. I have to say that the meat they were serving was top class, but we will remember the restaurant for other reasons.
I had a Caesar salad as appetiser. When it came it was a pile of lettuce with a pile of cheese dumped on top and topped off with a couple of anchovies. I’m always prepared to allow artistic licence but this was not a Caesar salad. It was a pile of ingredients in a bowl. Was I supposed to mix my own salad? If so, where were the croutons? Where was the oil and the pepper? I couldn’t help thinking of the Fawlty Towers sketch where the American guest requests a Waldorf salad. Basil Fawlty’s response? “I think we’re out of Waldorfs…”
And the service… It took 20 minutes to get our order taken even though there was hardly anyone in the restaurant. We had to have two attempts to order extra drinks during the meal, and after waiting ten minutes for the bill we got up and walked to the counter. The bill hadn’t even been prepared.
Dinner in the Pizzaghetti Italian restaurant was a reasonable experience. The food was typical Italian fare served in a fairly efficient and friendly manner. Then on Sunday evening we ventured to an Indian restaurant called L’Aziz. Once again we had poor service. For example, having cleared the table of the main course we were left alone for about 15 minutes. I eventually had to flag down a waiter to ask for the dessert menu. The place was not busy…
As for the food, well my suspicions were aroused when the main course arrived. I had ordered a prawn tikka masala and Man had ordered a prawn vindaloo. The consistency of the two sauces was identical and not unlike tomato ketchup. My sauce was orange and Man’s was more red. I tasted them both. Mine was fairly mild. Man’s vindaloo sauce tasted like my tikka masala sauce with a couple of tablespoons of chilli powder added, and the chilli powder taste was quite raw. I immediately imagined a giant vat in the kitchen containing “curry sauce”, and all curries are created by adding extra ingredients. Adding cream makes a tikka masala sauce; chilli powder for vindaloo; lentils for dhansak; fried onions for dopiaza, and so on.
On Monday we went to a small place called Made in Mexico. The food was good, the service was good, the price was good. Bravo! This place gets a Titli Thumbs Up!
Then on the final night we decided to try the Thai restaurant called Lek Bankok. Try saying that 10 times quickly. No, better not.
The food was OK but the service was chaotic, and not just for us. This really was Fawlty Tower-esque! The waitress had to ask us a couple of times what we had ordered to check we had received everything. The highlight for me, though, was an episode on the next table. Six young people of Oriental origin (could have been Thai or Korean) were having an evening out. At one point the waiter appeared with a bowl of soup and put it down in front of one of the men. The guy looked at the soup, then looked at the waiter with a quizzical expression. The waiter walked off. The guy then bent over to inspect his soup more closely, poked it a few times with a spoon before picking it up and carrying it back to the kitchen! Clearly his expectations of the soup and the reality of the presented soup did not match.
There was another common theme running through all the restaurants which I can’t remember experiencing before. In every restaurant bar one (Made in Mexico) we were shown to our table and asked what drink we would like to order before we had even seen the menu or taken our coats off and sat down! What is that all about? At least let me get my coat off and see what you have on offer!
It may sound like we had a lot of bad experiences during our stay in Gibraltar, but we took it quite light-heartedly. We had to in order to avoid becoming frustrated and angry. But the message is a simple one. It doesn’t matter if your food is amazing; if your service is rubbish people will remember that more than the food and vote with their feet. I know I do.
21st March 2011
Better late than never! What with driving my mother around to various medical appointments and travel at the end of the week to Geneva and back, my blog has been a little delayed. Add to that a bug in my website which suddenly prevented me from uploading anything, but Super-Ed at Freethought got me up and running again. Then I started having problems with the sound on my camera which I finally tracked down to a loose connection… it hasn’t been the most lucky of weeks!
I flew back to Geneva on Thursday for various meetings and to take yet another step in closing down all the administration from the last seven years in France and Switzerland. I took the opportunity on Thursday night to take Jen and her Man out for dinner to the Thai restaurant we first met in.
The food there is always good and the service is smiley and efficient. I started with a prawn soup and enjoyed noodles with seafood for a main course. Somehow we got talking about service in Chinese restaurants and Chinese waiters in particular. I remembered the Jaspar Carrott sketch on this topic, but it seems that Jen has had similar experiences too. The basic premise is that waiters in Chinese restaurants are generally impatient of their customers and talk very quickly.
I was reminded of an episode many years ago in Leicester Square in London. One street in particular is filled with Chinese restaurants. A group of four of us went into one of these restaurants and was shown upstairs to a series of very long tables with benches to sit on. The idea was that you sat down at one of the tables next to complete strangers and ate your meal. Most of the tables were full, but one of the tables had room on the end for about 8 people. My friend turned to the waiter and asked if there was a small table just for the four of us. The waiter scowled at my friend and very curtly replied, “You no like? Bye-bye!”
On Friday I met up with Jen again and another of her friends who works for the ITC in Geneva. The obligatory sushi lunch was consumed while Jen, Jackie and I put the world to right.
On the evening I had the opportunity to have dinner with a colleague. Vladimir is from Moscow and used to work for me, but in February he began a new job within the company. Vladimir and I have been to dinner many times together, but this was the first time we had not been out as “boss and employee”. Instead we had dinner as friends. With barriers and protocols removed I felt able to tell him about my plans for the future, as well as my frustrations with my current job.
Accompanying this new-found openness was dinner in a Persian restaurant. Valodia had an enormous kebab which he struggled to finish (most unlike him) while I had a Persian lamb stew. It was heavily flavoured with lime and while not unpleasant I don’t think I’ll be cooking it for myself. As we say in English, it was an acquired taste!
The climax of the evening came at the end of the meal. Normally, company protocol dictated that I should pay for the meal, but this time Vladimir offered.
I flew back home on Saturday morning and arrived back over the UK in cloudless skies. I took some photos to share with you.
Clouds over English Channel
London City Airport
Finally: Saturday morning, Birmingham city centre, clothes shopping… bad idea. Saturday morning, Birmingham Indoor Market, halal butchers… I got some ox tail! Guess what I’m cooking this week…
25th March 2011
Flowers in the Garden
Spring is definitely here! The evidence is overwhelming; temperatures are rising, the sun is shining, flowers are appearing in the garden, and I can dry my washing outside. All my fruit trees and bushes have little shoots on them, and Man mowed the grass for the first time this year. I had no choice, but to plant some seeds for the coming year.
Outside I have four raised beds for growing veggies. One of them is full of strawberry plants. In fact many parts of my garden have strawberry plants in them. After they have finished fruiting this year I’ll dig up the stray plants and give them away. Back to the plot… (pun intended…) I’ve dug over one of the beds and planted some seeds. This year I’m hoping to grow spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and leeks. Based on my limited knowledge of fruit bushes I seem to have blackcurrants, raspberries, tayberries and gooseberries growing in the garden too. My rhubarb crown which I thought was dead has incredibly thick shoots coming out of it. My apple trees all have little shoots on too. God willing I’ll have a bumper crop of fruit this year!
In my greenhouse I’ve also sown seeds for two types of tomatoes and three kinds of chillies. When I get a chance I’ll plant myself some herbs too.
By the way, following a mis-reading by a newsreader on Al Jazeera the other day I realised that the word “produce” can be pronounced in two different ways depending upon whether it is a noun or a verb. The verb is “pro-DUCE”, while the noun is “PROD-uce”. The fun thing is that you can produce produce! No wonder people have trouble learning English as a second language. There must be other words like “produce” which have different emphasis depending upon context, but I can’t think of any right now…
Amusing story. I got an email from my friend Mr B asking if he could borrow my shredder. I guessed that he had a lot of confidential paperwork to shred, so no problem. The arrangement was that I would drop it off at his place of work in Birmingham next time I was passing.
And so it was that about a week ago I was in the area and we arranged to meet in his work’s car park. I opened the boot of my car for him to lift it out, as I did so I warned him that it would only take about 3 sheets of paper at a time. More than that and it would jam. He looked at me with a very strange look. I looked back at him with a strange look too. “Err…”, Mr B began, “I meant your garden waste shredder…”
Moral of the story – there are shredders, and there are shredders.
Tonight one of our local restaurants is having a “curry night”. Man, Mother and I are going to go and see what it is like. I’ll report back next week, God willing. Then on Saturday afternoon I should drive to Birmingham to catch a plane. I’m booked on a flight to Frankfurt, and from there to Johannesburg. I haven’t been there for almost 18 months and I’m looking forward to seeing my colleagues again, God willing. But the thing I’m looking forward to most is that the overnight flight from FRA to JNB is on an Airbus 380! Woo hoo!
I always enjoy the food in South Africa, especially the fish called kingklip. It’s an eel-like fish with white meat and a distinctive taste. I find the general cuisine to be very cosmopolitan. Last time I was there I bought my tava from an Asian part of Jo’burg. Let’s see what I come back with this time!