“WE were just saying how nice it would be to see a restaurant reviewer walk in!” outside caterer Susie Lemon said to me as I asked if an unoccupied seat at
her table on the shady stoep of a jam-packed Shop Café were free.
“Why?” I asked. “Is it spectacularly good today…or what?”
“No,” she and her husband almost growled together. “The service sucks. Staff don’t know what they’re doing and there’s no visible management. I’ve waited almost an hour for a cappuccino and don’t want it any more,” she added.
The Lemons know their stuff. By sheer coincidence they had handled a lovely party the night before at the Ballantyne Park home of Valerie and John Brownridge.
Valerie is the deputy British Ambassador. Her boss, Andrew Pocock, was at the function briefly. “The media” said goodbye to embassy Press specialist Gillian Dare, moving to Monrovia, Liberia, for her sins and met her successor, an amiable young man named Keith Scott, with just a wee hint of dependable Caledonian burr.
To Susie’s amazement a waiter came in seconds, notebook and pencil poised. On asking for a menu, he told me what I should have remembered: it’s inside on a blackboard.
I’d had breakfast, but was peckish on what threatened to be a long working Saturday: Zesa (or lack of it) having halted most editorial duties Thursday and Friday.
“Can’t eat a full breakfast: I’ll have one of those,” I said, pointing at Susie’s agreeable looking cinnamon, sugar and lemon pancakes, featuring three good sized golden-brown crepes. “And tea, please.”
“You’re served quickly because of who you are,” Susie claimed. I insisted that was nonsense. Waiters were mere kids…probably still at school when I last visited the café at Doon Estate, Msasa, possibly three years ago.
Grub arrived; then maybe 90 seconds later a big, generous teapot, in the sort of ethnic African pattern Doon Estate’s arty-crafty outlets sell.
Soon afterwards her cappuccino came. “No,” she said. “I told you it had taken far too long and to cancel my order. Please take it away.” They paid by cheque — as did apparently 95%+ of the well-heeled, but universally cash-strapped punters and left.
No sooner had they gone than owner Kerry Wallace, passing with a tray of sliced rich, fruity Christmas cake, walked over, making a sardonic comment about the travelling I’ve done in the past few months.
Playing devil’s advocate I repeated the Lemons’ moans. He was candid, saying, unfortunately, they were probably right. The award-winning little unlicensed bijoux restaurant normally opens only during daylight, but had shut the night before at 11pm, serving scores of suppers to seasonal starlight shoppers scrambling for sustaining scoff.
There was a gourmet food fair running round the corner, at which he was also catering and the cafe operated at peak demand.
Can’t argue with such openness. A pal of mine in engineering has a staff of more than 700, of whom 99%, he says, have lost all interest in their careers or the firm’s future and only go to work for a free nutritious lunch! It costs them almost as much to travel to and from the factory as they earn and banks won’t give them the pittance they clear after tax, because they have no loot.
When my bill arrived — wait for it overseas readers — pancakes $2,5 million and $1 million for the cup that cheers but doth not inebriate, a few, very welcome, ripe plums came, gratis, (as they did to every table. not just one where a critic sat.) So a mid-morning snack was $3,5 million, which a year last August was $3,5 billion: a figure which would have bought a house. (But $3,5 million, that day, was considerably less than 50 English pence on the black market!)
Doon Estate’s worth a visit. Apart from Kerry’s excellent organic, mainly vegetarian, health food, there are dozens of little outlets selling gifts, furniture, paintings, carvings, linen, leatherwork, home produce and fabulous Belgian chocolates.
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