Saturday, July 19, 2003
Service: * * * 1/2
Food: * * * *
Ambience: * * * *
Babe Count: * * *
Juacqui-Babe Count: * * * * *
We're taking a chance on the Question Mark. In recent years it turned into a bit of a drug-addled dive, with cruddy food and useless staff.
But Jacqui and I are totally surprised at the transformation.
There's excellent art on the walls, along with a catalogue and price-list. Two of the artists are sitting on a brand new funky couch nursing cocktails. And the menu is enormous. It's like we've discovered a brand new restaurant.
"Wow," I say to the maitre d' hotel, a young man with what could possibly be a wisp of moustache tickling his lip, "this place has changed!"
"Yes," he says, "it used to have somewhat of a communist slant before."
Jacqui and I look at each other. Two things are clear. Firstly, it's possible English is his second language. Secondly, he probably only knows the word 'communist' from Apartheid propaganda days, and is a little out of his depth. After all, he's only about eighteen, and can't be expected to know what such things mean.
I figure he means that because the old place used to have a load of Soviet-realist film posters on the walls, this could be construed to mean that the previous owners were Soviet-realists themselves. In a limited field of experience, this could be interpreted as being of the communist persuasion. But it's fine. We kinda figure that he means that the old Question Mark used to have somewhat of a Bohemian slant.
Jacqui orders the oxtail with veggies. It arrives in a small potjie, and smells delicious. I've ordered the bacon and avo burger, "Welllllllll-done," I tell the waitress, "with no fat on the bacon, and please toast the insides of the bun."
"Is jy eintlik Afrikaans?" she asks.
"No," I say, "I'm English."
"Oh," she says, "you speak with an Afrikaans accent, so I thought you were actually Afrikaans."
"I had an Afrikaans girlfriend," I tell her. And in fact, that's why Jacqui and I are at the Question Mark. We're catching a bite to eat before heading across the road to Tokyo Star for Antoinette's welcome-home party. She's been in New York for several months working on her masters degree and being with her new husband, a writer and filmmaker.
But frankly, I'm baffled. Many people ask me if I'm British, and I'm not aware of having any serious Afrikaans in my vocal makeup. In fact, one of Antoinette's favourite laughs was to ask me to say the word 'strikkie' whenever her other Afrikaans friends were around. And while my spoken Afrikaans is pretty damn good for a scurrilous half-Jew like myself, my mouth just cannot bend around the rolled-R coming after the ST. Yeesh. Hilarity ensues whenever I try that. (But just try getting Antoinette to say the Yiddish word, 'Schmooze'. We'll see who's laughing then.)
My burger arrives just after Jacqui's dish, and I wish I'd ordered hers instead of mine. But the burger's great.
"Would you like a taste?" she asks. I nod, and she assembles an assortment of the veggies and some of the tenderest oxtail I've seen trembling off a bone. The gravy smells divine. She prods the fork into my mouth. And it's delicious.
"Everything all right?" says an older gay-looking man of the straight-looking, straight-acting variety.
"This oxtail is worth coming here for," I say.
"Thank you!" he says. "We're rather famous for it nowadays. I'm Ivan, the owner." He goes on to tell us that he bought the Question Mark in September, and got back from Malaysia, where he owns a factory manufacturing hand-drying machines, to find that the managers he'd installed had run the place into the ground. They'd gone so far as to steal plates of food to get enough money for their next drug fix.
"I love the art," says Jacqui. Which gets us a guided tour around the gallery, and an invitation to the next drag show on Wednesday.
"A very classy act," says Ivan. "And your R120 includes dinner and the show."