(The second of my holiday posts)
Dining out is part of the holiday, for at least some of the time. On the whole, the food has been good and the service great. There have been those odd occasions though, when things have seemed a little, well, odd.
Take the other night.
The guest book recommends a nearby hotel for food and drinks. Lisa and I are sceptical. We both recall a holiday to Italy a few years ago. My sister was with us at the time. We decided to check out a hotel that looked very inviting from the roadside. We enquired at the desk if non-residents were welcome to dine there. Their surprise should have been a warning. In England one can walk into a good hotel and expect there to be a top chef employed. Non-residents are as welcome as residents and the food is generally outstanding.
The opulence of the foyer in this Sorento hotel, led us to expect the best. The marble floors and the bar over-looking the ocean, were delightful.
“Do come for a drink first!” implored the receptionist once she had wiped the surprise off her face.
We joked that perhaps the hotel was not used to non-residents wandering in. Surely not!
At eight o’clock, we returned, dressed in our finery. My sister, it should be pointed out, is quite the connoisseur of restaurants and fine dining. As well as being a good cook in her own right, she expects the best wherever she goes. (I am joking Beverly – well, half-joking)
The receptionist smiled at us and we were ushered through to the bar. The panoramic views of the ocean, as seen through the glass walled lounge, stunned us. The waiter plied us with the drinks we had ordered and hovered attentively. It was some time before we realised that he wished us to go down to the dining room now. Our pre-dinner drinks were not to be lingered over.
Collecting our glasses, he placed them on a tray and led us through to the dining area at break-neck speed. It must be said that the dining area bore little resemblance to either the foyer or to the bar but it was clean and it was busy. I likened it to a travel lodge canteen. Our fellow diners and presumably, residents of the hotel, eyed us with slight suspicion.
We were settled into a table by a pillar. The four of us dare not meet one another’s eye! No sooner had we sat down than the first waiter approached. We were to order quickly. Our first course arrived a few seconds later. To say it was not cordon-bleu would be fair, to say it resembled anything other than a tired lettuce leaf and a piece of melon, would be a kindness. Still, we ate politely. No sooner had our forks been laid down than the plates were whisked away and our main course delivered. This was no better than the starter consisting of overcooked beef and soggy vegetables. No sooner had we finished than the plates were whisked away and we were shown the dessert menu. Indigestion was the rule it seemed.
Feeling we should do the set meal justice, despite our misgivings, we ordered the mousse.
As we ate, it should be said, the activities around us were causing us some hilarity, not least the slowness of one of the waiters, causing another to berate him continually. As we tried to keep straight faces, we saw, yet could not quite believe our eyes – a waiter wheeling a sweet trolley up to our table – such as those seen in “Faulty Towers”. On this trolley sat a tray of upturned individual mousses which the waiter proceeded to scoop up like old school dinners and slop on our plates. I fully expected a soggy biscuit to be included on the side.
We avoided eye contact with one another and within forty-five minutes of entering the hotel we were out again, having been fed, watered and ejected.
We vowed not to make the same mistake again.
So, why then do we allow Dave to cajole us into going out to dinner at a hotel near our villa tonight? Well, to be fair, he has read a recommendation in the guest book. Apparently, the food is wonderful and the manager always pleased to welcome guests who are staying at ‘John and Simon’s Villa’. All we have to do is mention their names and they will be only too happy to welcome us.
We walk through the opulent foyer and into a pretty little bar overlooking the sea. We down pre-dinner cocktails before walking the five steps into the dining room.
“You must pay for the drinks before you dine,” the bar maid tells us kindly. We do this of course. There is no Tab here it seems.
Eagerly, we introduce ourselves to the Maître de, as guests of John and Simon, expressing our wish to eat here. To say he looks surprised would be an understatement, slightly flustered even. To his credit it he recovers, smiles broadly and assures us we are most welcome.
There is much scurrying around as he orders an extra table to be prepared for us.
We are seated by a pillar.
The first waiter hands us a menu. We browse it and think it looks quite good on the whole.
“Excuse me, we also have the à la carte menu?” pipes up a second waiter and hands us this with a smile.
The first waiter returns almost immediately.
“You are ready now?” he enquires, PDA at the ready (no notepads and pencil these days)
“Um, we have just been given the à la carte menu and haven’t had time to look at it yet,” we reply sweetly.
The waiter’s face darkens,
“Ah, the à la carte will take longer,” he warns and steps back.
We are just deciding whether this is a problem when the Maître de returns.
“Is everything to your satisfaction?” he enquires, “You have ordered yes?”
We shake our heads.
“Oh, I see you have the à la carte menus,” he frowns. We close them guiltily.
“No, no, we will choose from the set menu, no problem,” we assure him and relief floods his features.
Within two minutes, the first waiter is back and with evident relief, takes our order and disposes of the à la carte once and for all.
Behind us, there is a cafuffle.
“If you wait, a table will become available shortly,” we hear.
As we non-residents sit waiting for our meal, a young couple, evidently resident at the hotel, are made to wait. This seems a little unfair but there is little we can do.
The starter arrives and the waiter asks if we would like to order a drink. My friend and I order water. No problem. Dave asks if he may have a cocktail.
The waiter looks flustered. He crosses to the bar and whispers to the bar maid who brings over the cocktail with the bill and tells Dave he may either pay now or afterwards. As he is now eating his starter, Dave opts to pay later.
A piano is played throughout and a middle-aged couple who have been eating nearby, abandon their table to dance in the moonlight. They provide an impromptu floor-show which is widely appreciated and applauded by all.
The starter is at least edible. The main course is a disaster. We decide not to ask for a dessert. We request the bill. The Maître de is charming and if it was not for the panic on the bar maid’s face, at the thought of us leaving without paying for the cocktail separately, we might not feel so much like wrong doers. We are pleased to see that the young couple, who have been sitting on a low wall, waiting patiently, have at last been given a table at least.
“Do come back on Thursday night, we are having a barbecue! You would be most welcome,” pleads the Maître-de as he bids us goodnight. We say we might be back. We really don’t think we will be.
A couple of afternoons later, remembering how friendly the Maître de was, we decide to go down to the same hotel for a drink at the bar while Dave has a swim in the sea.
There is a bar on the beach which we think looks inviting. The staff are friendly and take our order while Dave braves the ocean. The beach is littered with white banqueting chairs, there has been a wedding reception here it seems. We ask the staff.
“Oh the wedding will be on the beach in half an hour,” they tell us brightly.
We look over to where Dave is swimming out to sea, oblivious to the fact that in a very few moments, the bride and groom will be taking their vows, leaving him, clad in only his swimming shorts, heading for the shoreline.
It is a scenario we have to smile at. We hope Dave will emerge before the bride and groom.
The wedding photographs might be interesting otherwise.
Our drinks are duly delivered to our table and we settle back to enjoy the scenery. Around us there appears to be some commotion as waitresses begin clearing tables and stacking chairs.
“Would you like us to move?” we enquire. Head waitress shakes her head and beams at us,
“No, you will be fine there. We just have so much to do we are starting early, really,” she tells us.
We sit back again.
The table next to us is picked up and carried off somewhere. In fact, all the tables appear to be leaving. We feel in the way despite staff protestations to the contrary. We are thankful to see that Dave has emerged from the ocean and is heading our way.
We can see the wedding guests gathering to our left and are aware of our incongruous position on what we assume will soon be the dance floor.
We pay and we leave.
“Do come back for our barbeque!” It is the Maître de. He has spotted us and of course remembers us. We smile and say we might.
We can only wonder at the insistence of the staff that we stay, when surely all they wanted was for us to move on. As we turn to leave the bar, our table is whisked away and no trace of us remains.
It is as we are walking home that we notice a second hotel to the left of the first. We compare the two hotels. The penny drops. This hotel is surely the one mentioned in the guest book we realise. Oops, we have been going to the wrong one – no wonder they seemed so surprised to see us each time. They have probably never heard of John and Simon!
Our culinary experiences must surely improve we think. They do.
We are particularly eager to sample the delights of a beautiful restaurant in Lindos itself. It is a shame that one of our party is suddenly unwell and having sat down at the table, is unable to eat. The rest of us gulp down a starter, a main course and forego the pudding so that we can take our pasty-faced friend home. She apologises to the owner, a lovely lady, who doesn’t quite understand and asks if something was wrong with the food.
“Oh no, it is just me tonight, I feel a little ill…” our friend pats her stomach and the woman nods knowingly. It is only afterwards that we realize she probably thought our friend was saying she was pregnant.
Not to be thwarted, a couple of nights later, ill friend now recovered, we go to a second restaurant in Pefkos, a town not far from us. This happens to be on the same day on which we had finally climbed the steps to the Acropolis and had been so desirous of a cold drink on our way down that we had stopped at a shady bar called ‘The Captain’s House’ to cool off. When I say, ‘shady bar’ you must understand that I use the term literally. It was a delightful place and out of the sun. It was not frequented by dodgy pool-men.
The restaurant overlooks the bay and we can appreciate the stunning view as we eat. Our waiter brings us the menus.
“Hello again!” he says with a smile, now looking directly at Lisa, “We have met before,”
We all know that Lisa is frantically trying to remember her last visit here fifteen years ago with a group of other single friends and hoping that this waiter does not in fact remember her from those days.
“I served you in the Captain’s House this morning,” the waiter explains and we give a collective,
“Ohhhhh!” as though it explains everything.
The waiter is chatty and tells us his life story between courses. Meanwhile, Lisa has decided she does indeed recognize him from fifteen years ago, albeit now with his beard and moustache. She believes he is the waiter her friend had a fling with. (She is adamant he was not with her.) Further questioning reveals that he was indeed working in Lindos fifteen years ago.
We think she should ask him if he remembers her friend. She is chicken. So, we decide we will take a photograph of him when he isn’t looking. The idea was to get him in the background of one of the shots we were taking of each other. This cannot really be counted as an invasion of privacy can it? Alas, he never quite makes it into the frame and she is too shy to request a photograph.
The meal is superb and when we leave, we determine to check out the identity of the waiter when we get home.
I could go on about the lovely meals we ate or tell you about the sandwich Lisa ordered up a mountain –
“What sandwiches do you have?” asks Lisa, looking for a menu. The girl at the bar smiles,
“You can have any of these fillings…” she waves her hand across the tubs of fillers, chicken, tomato, ham, cheese, salad, sausage and much more. Lisa frowns having found a menu,
“And what is “a Special Sandwich?” she asks.
The girl smiles broadly,
“All of these,” she says, indicating the entire line-up of fillers.
“I’ll have a special then,” Lisa says.
We all look at her oddly. We know she wont be able to eat it. She shrugs and we sit down to wait for our order.
I have cheese and tomato, Dave has ham and cheese, Lisa has – everything.
She cannot eat it.
Some people never learn…
Back in England, Lisa pulls out her old photograph albums and emerges triumphant, waving a snapshot of someone who is, it must be said, the image of the waiter we met in Pefkos, minus moustache and beard.
“See, it was him!” she laughs.
I wonder if somewhere in Lindos, that very same waiter is trawling through his own photographs and has produced a similarly unflattering photo of Lisa and her friend and is, at this very moment, saying to another,
“You see, I knew it was her!”