Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Baglio's, Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Service: *
Food: *
Ambience: * *
Babe Count: * * *1/2

Burp. B-b-b-burppp! Yulp. Uhmp.

This is so uncouth. This smaller-than-life-size, yet extremely huge statue of Nelson Mandela is watching me attempt not to retch.

Now why would I be doing such a thing in Sandton, the swishest lap of luxury this side of Cape Town?

Well, it could have something to do with the delicious chicken kebab I've just eaten. Or the nicely cooked, tasty, rice. Nah. I don't think so. Could it be the slice of lemon in the white Grapetizer? Nah, doubt it.

Ah! I've got an idea. Maybe it's the side salad I've saved till last? Yeah! That could be it!

I'm out on the piazza, where the little oil lamps burn, and the babes sit with their equally babeish friends. It's dark. And the lamps flicker gently enough for me to be able to get through a good few pages of Salman Rushdie's THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET. I'm about halfway through when I start on the salad which I've healthily decided to save for last.

And because I've been trying to spot if it's an engagement ring or a wedding ring on the slinky black-haired Italian-looking cashmere babe two tables away, I'm not entirely observing the state of the salad.

So I pop a slice of cucumber into my mouth and chew. My teeth slide off it. This cucumber is so rotten that my teeth can't actually get a grip on it. Jeeeeeeeeeeeez!

I retch a bit. Get it under control. Sit there staring at the salad for a while. Move the oil lamp closer. The tomato quarters are in exactly the same state of putrefaction. This "salad" may very well have been sweating under a gas heater since the restaurant opened for breakfast this morning. Or, even more likely, it was taken out of the fridge at lunchtime, where it may have been stored after being ignored last night.

The whole pile is rotten.

B-b-b-b-b-burppp! Hands over mouth. I don't want the raven-haired beauty with the dimples to see me vomiting. Far too unslick.

I sit and stare at the salad for a few more minutes. Sip some Grapetizer. Amazing how things lose their taste, isn't it?

Read a Rushdie paragraph eight times.

There's a waiter clearing away some plates. "Excuse me," I say, very politely, very quietly. I'm not at all in the mood for causing a scene tonight. "Could you please ask the manager to come to my table?"

He nods, sees my almost empty plate, and attempts to clear it. I go into tai chi mode, and deflect his hands away, using his own energy to spin him away from the table, in the direction of the manager. He turns again, and tries to take my plate. I try the ice-hockey goalie stance, basically covering the plate with my entire body, praying that my beret will be protection enough against head-injury.

He gives up and goes away.

No manager.

Another waiter. "Please call the manager!" I say.

He also tries to take my plate. But this time it's no more mister nice guy.

I raise my finger, glare at him, and say, loudly, "Uhnhuh!!!! Bring the manager! And leave this plate ALONE!"

The Italian looks up. I burp into my hand. Smile at her. She smiles back. It's definitely an engagement ring.

The manager comes. He's got an alcoholic's nose and cheeks -- red lattice of smashed veins, snarled pathways to confusion and oblivion. A toilet-brush of a moustache.

"Yes sir," he says, in what may very well be an accent he hopes will make me like him. Some kind of faulty upper crust British accent. "How may I be of assistance?"

"I was going to ignore this," I tell him, "but I've decided not to. The rest of the meal was delicious, and I left the salad till last. And took a bite of cucumber. And it's severely off. Fermented."

"Oh my goodness, Sir. I do apologise. Yes. I can see from here that something's amiss. I do apologise. I'm going to follow it up with the kitchen staff and report back to you. But is there anything else I can get for you in the interim? A salad, perhaps? Or something else? A drink?"

His nostrils flare a little when he says "drink". I can tell what he's going to do when this little emergency is over.

I say, "No, nothing thanks. I've lost my appetite."

He goes away. Comes back. "The kitchen staff apologise profusely, Sir. And I do too. I'm really very sorry. This is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. Can I get you anything else, Sir?"

"No," I say. "I don't want anything else. I'd like to leave now, thanks."

"Well, when you're ready to leave, Sir, please just call your waiter to settle the bill."

"I'm assuming you're adjusting the bill?" I say.

"Oh yes, Sir."

There are several things I can say at this point. I could say, "You actually expect me to pay ANY part of this bill? Are you crazy??" Or I could say, "Nah, an adjustment won't be necessary. The kebab was lovely, and I like the way the retching brings the taste back to me." Or I could say, "Yes, well, can you bring me my adjusted bill then?"

It's the last option I choose.

"Oh, yes Sir," he says.

And my waiter brings me my bill.

"Douglas," I tell him, before opening the bill, "I'm not going to be tipping you tonight, and here's why. It's YOUR job as my waiter to make sure that the food on my plate is edible. Your job is to make sure that rotten food doesn't make it to my table. Now I normally tip 20%, and next time I'm here, if you serve me, and you make sure that I don't get rotten food, you'll get 20%. But tonight you're getting nothing from me. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"I get you," he says. "And I'm sorry."

He brings my change, and I leave. And all the way, the black-haired, midnight-moon, love-puddle keeps eye contact with me. How on earth does a dude capitalise on a look like this???

I smother a burp, nod goodnight, and I'm off.

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