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A load of crêpe!


I’ve been in the wars again!

After having been on a luxury cruise ship which was attacked by heavily-armed Somali pirates off the coast of the Seychelles and then blown off my bar-stool in the Dominican Republic by the same earthquake which killed 300 000 people and made two million homeless in neighbouring Haiti, the latest problem was minor by comparison.

But damned painful . . . and quite embarrassing just the same.

Deep in conversation with a chestnut-haired beauty giving me a lift, neither of us noticed a “sleeping policeman” otherwise known as a speed hump, across the road. (Why are they invariably built in deep, day-long dark shade and almost never with warning signs?)

She isn’t exactly a timid driver and – as usual — my seatbelt was “unclunked”! We took off like Blue Streak and, on hitting the tarmac, I, stupidly, bit nearly through my tongue and some of my cheek.

For over a week it was painful to talk and agonising to eat or drink almost anything.

Although, on the plus side, I must have lost pounds in weight in seemingly the blinking of an eye, a monosyllabic journalist unable to ask questions, merely grunt replies and incapable of telling telephone callers what’s the problem, is not seen as a good thing in the Fourth Estate!

When that hack specialises in restaurant reviews and analysing food and booze, the challenge is intensified. And when said reporter needs to file six reviews in as many days, for three papers, before getting away on a Kariba mini “sanity break” assignment/holiday, the situation is extremely challenging.

Soprano’s at Avondale now shuts Mondays, which was new to me. There must have been 40 or 50 cars outside 40 Cork Road, which didn’t augur well for a restaurant where the service is never exactly swift . . . and it’s unlicenced.

I have often been intrigued, driving past 40 Cork Road, with no room to park, to next pass Café Espresso, four or five doors lower down to often see not a single vehicle outside: not even the owner’s!

Obviously there must be a reason. When I last visited, soon after it opened, five or six years ago, the cause was quite clearly the prices: which were truly, ionospherically, horrendous!

Surely nowadays, with a US-dollarised economy, almost everything available and much more competition, everyone charges about the same? I thought. Hmm!

Well I don’t know anywhere – outside the West End or Manhattan –(and not many places there) where $8 is the cost of tomato, mushroom or butternut soup. . . except Café Espresso.

A soup’s got to be very special to justify an eight-buck price tag (I could make a bathful of the stuff for a tenner!) Most restaurant soups in this country cost $1 or $2, quite unusually, $3.

This grossly over-priced potage was, I assumed, merely one reason why I was for some time the only punter present and all told they served but three light lunches on a hot summer’s day!

I decided against soup! Breakfast all day, but with only ONE egg was also $8, egg-on-toast $5, minute (mini?)steak roll a tenner and citrus or fresh fruit salad $8.

Do the proprietors totally ignore their main competitors’ tariffs? Simple-sounding sandwiches were the by now monstrously monotonous $8 and if you wanted “wedges” with them (nothing as common as “chips”) that’s another five bucks . . . thanks very much!

Fillet steak with rice or wedges were $14, as was grilled Mediterranean chicken (at that price, a whole one, I should hope: but doubt) and grilled or pan-fried (what the hell else would it be fried in: a dustbin lid?) bream fillet $13. Oh and sauces are another two bucks a pop!

I very gingerly sipped the first Pilsener in six days ($2) through the “other” side of my mouth and settled for chicken and mushroom crêpe (a rolled pancake) at $10 (don’t think there was anything much cheaper!)

Ordered because it was (presumably) soft. . . and bland . . . and creamy, I reared back in horror when a dollop of unannounced and unexpected searingly hot chilli hit the still ragged, torn soft flesh inside my gob!

Gulping cold beer on top of that caused an instant headache from hell and brought involuntary tears to my eyes!

Summer had returned that day (at least until dusk). It was far too hot to sit in the quite pretty garden.

On a shaded verandah, I first heard very raised voices from inside the building, to be replaced by a tenor I should have recognised, warbling Italian light opera at volumes ranging by the second from about strength minus one, to strength 15 plus. Why?

The old character-filled building is lovely, with Oregon pine stripped floors and nice tiling, but the spotless loo had no towel or large tissues and a hot-air hand dryer (as they usually are) was kaput.

To avoid the truth and trying to explain why my body language periodically screamed “I’m in agony” from Quasimodo-like stances, I scribbled at the back of a notebook “Sorry. Mouth ulcer.

Too sore to speak” and showed it to various people asking how I was enjoying the meal. (Must remember that wheeze in future!)

A very sweet waitress then said she had herbal tea, which was just the ticket for ulcers, sore throats, laryngitis and the like.

Talk about opportunism!

Actually, the stuff was very good, sipped warm, rather than piping hot, with a spoonful of honey and squeeze of lemon.

At $2 a large potful . . . it was definitely the bargain of the day and one gastronomic line that may just get me back to Café Espresso inside the next five or six years!


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