Eating out with Dusty Miller
I have a very short fuse and it hissed, sparked and spat perilously last Thursday.
Having queued increasingly impatiently for 57 minutes, I finally reached the ATM only to have it pay me just $90 million in $10m bearer cheques of the half-billion urgently needed, before the damned thing crashed.
A slack-jawed cretinous security guard announced almost gleefully it would take at least an hour for the cursed machineâ€™s â€œcustodianâ€ to ameliorate the situation; I stormed away fuming.
Thought Iâ€™d try Barbourâ€™s silver service restaurant again, as the last time I went there they had, literally, almost no food. A month earlier, Iâ€™d been offered skanky-looking and scandalously dear, boney huku stew with rice; or baked beans or scrambled eggs on pancakes, as theyâ€™d no bread to toast! I ate well, however, at the National Gallery cafÃ©.
Barbourâ€™s is even less well stocked than it was then and still only one of three lifts â€” and that jammed with spotty teenagers â€” worked. Legged it to the third floor, only to suffer criminal assault and battery by CD as the disc concession blasted out the township Top 10 at about 50 000 decibels. The cafeteria is still closed â€œtemporarilyâ€. Itâ€™s now nearly seven months since it last served so much as a tea. Why?
Really fancying a large pot of Barbourâ€™s excellent coffee, as I urgently needed a sugar blast, I ordered one ($45m) and, from the still largely fictional A5 leather padded menu, pork chop and chips at a dearish $250m.
To my amazement the waiter brought a bill for $295m, dropping it on the table as I fiddled with my spy tape-recorder.
â€œExcuse meâ€¦I havenâ€™t actually eaten yetâ€¦and Iâ€™ll probably have pudding, after, so keep that.â€
He looked at me as if I was an abject idiot looking for a village in which to drool.
â€œNo. (I assume he forgot â€œsirâ€.) You take this down to the cash point on the ground floor and they swipe your Visa card and issue a receipt which lets me serve you. Thatâ€™s the procedure.â€
â€œNo, son! You take the card down and then back up six flights of stairs, having swiped it and then serve me.â€
â€œI canâ€™t do that. Itâ€™s not procedural.â€
This young man could have a great future in the civil service, I thought.
I am afraid I queried the legitimacy of his birth, scooped my little clutch of debit and credit cards and for the second time in a month left that same restaurant hungry, thirsty, tired and vexed.
â€œHow the hell can Meikles Africa have anything to do with running this Mickey Mouse joint?â€ I asked myself leaving the building, snorting (having carefully counted the zeros, twice) that deodorants, selling at three for a pound in Oxford market (just over 33p apiece) were $235 million EACH!
â€œAh, Meikles,â€ I mused. â€œThey also brew good coffee.â€ And I thought I might bump into some of the journos staying there whoâ€™d snuck into the country heavily disguised as tourists to cover elections and streets running with blood they fully expected, a la Kenya. (What they found was more mass fiddling than youâ€™d see in all the worldâ€™s orchestras.)
And I had lovely strong filter coffee, but some time after I had enjoyed the flavour and texture of a thick home-made cream of vegetable soup, strong in butternut content, with warm brown sesame-specked buttered wholemeal rolls. As on so many hotel buffets, though, the soup could have done with being a wee bit warmer.
Then cold meat (ham, a tiny bit of tongue and salami â€” passing on poisonously pink plastic-looking polony) pickled fish which could have come straight from District Six and a wide range of fresh crispy salads
The hot section had tasty, tender minute steaklets, griddled to order, which I had with sautÃ©ed potatoes and an anonymous dark green vegetable (Swiss chard? kale? rape?). There were also various stews and curries, macaroni cheese and more cooked vegetables.
Puddings included strawberry jelly and cream, diced apple and oranges, and mini-cheesecakes (far too sweet for me.) Then the much anticipated nectar of great coffee!
If Iâ€™d eaten at Barbourâ€™s, had pudding, and maybe a second coffee, the bill would have topped $400 million and Iâ€™d have climbed the equivalent of Mt Mwenje sorting out â€œproceduresâ€.
Five-star Meikles Hotelâ€™s carvery/buffet breakfast, lunch or supper, in The Pavilion Restaurant with its fabulous views and faultless service is $351 million. (Or was a week ago!)
Donâ€™t know if it were coincidence, but all the chefs and cooks I saw were female and most â€œwaitronsâ€ were waitresses. Whatâ€™s happening with the guys?