Spanish Restaurateurs–Take Back Your Terraces, We Beg You
No recipes on this post–there is a story that needs telling. We holidayed this year in one of the “white villages” that spill out like tipped-over sugar cubes down the mountainsides of Andalusia. And a very nice time we and friends had too. Our villa was rambling and full of character, the boys spent hours splashing about in the pool, we were adopted by the most loving little black cat who joined us for pre-dinner drinks on the villa terrace every evening, the donkeys brayed their lungs out and the hunting dogs started off the general dawn cacophony at 5 am. Marvelous.
Natch, none of us were that keen on cooking in the heat, so every evening it was the old “where shall we go for dinner” routine: umming and ahing over Trip Advisor apps on our phones, guide books, the villa’s info folder and so on. Every single time we were a tad too disorganised to book anywhere and ended up in Spanish tapas bars, we had great food and a jolly good time of it without breaking the bank. When we did get our acts together to book somewhere that sounded nice, we ended up in largely English-run restaurants on terraces with great views but spending an awful lot of money for poor quality food and a poverty of menu choices.
One particular restaurant stands out for its sheer bizarreness. Our hostess was a large, loud and possibly Irish-American lady (no slight intended to my US readers, just telling it like it was) with a raging ego who confused patronising theatricality with friendly service. She intruded on people’s conversations, asked stupid questions–she asked a little girl in earshot of the entire terrace if the restaurant’s carbonara was better than back home, the little girl was nearly in tears because she had to say no, it was not–and generally annoyed her guests. Our menu arrived along with the cheap, shop-bought bread sticks. And how disappointed were we by the lack of choice and imagination? For main’s it was — I kid you not — “Indian Curry”, steak and chips, spaghetti carbonara or poached salmon and chips. Oh, and the chips were frozen ones, along with frozen peas, sliced carrots that had curled and dried up sitting in water for hours and some flaccid, transparently sliced but admittedly fresh courgette. This, from a restaurant whose recent comments on Trip Advisor included glowing reviews like “a vegetarian’s dream” when in reality there was not a single veggie dish on the menu and some other stellar comment that it should be Michelin starred when it serves tough rump steaks and rubbish chips at a third or more than a chain pub in the UK. Trip Advisor has received my complaint and we await the outcome of that with interest. I will report back on what they say.
If this was not enough already, there was more to come. When our food arrived, so did the English “chef” in his stained overalls. He acted like he expected a round of applause as he dipped from table to table to announce his presence and tell us all about his “secret” ingredients. For steak and chips, this was parsley butter. For “Indian Curry” it was fenugreek. Would you get that behaviour in a Harvester? It was excruciating.
It got worse. We book terraces because it is hot, some of our group smoke and this is Spain we are talking about–smoking is practically compulsory. My friend and I lit up after dinner and our hostess went totally bonkers, raised her voice at us while flapping and projecting to every other diner about her non-smoking policy when the wind was in the wrong direction. There were no signs on the terrace, none on the menu and none on the one-page website I checked later that said anything about smoking, wind-mediated or otherwise. She could not have made us more uncomfortable or embarrassed if she had tried. We asked for an ashtray to stub out, and when that was brought she came back for round two. And to be quite candid and fair, after she noised us up yet again asking very loudly if she had been offensive in any way to us, I did say that we were leaving to have desserts and another bottle of wine and possibly some liqueurs elsewhere. That led to her shouting out that I was “snide” and how dare I say such a thing to her, while attempting to DRAG ME OUT OF MY SEAT to try to show me a tiny notice allegedly hidden at the bottom of the stairs. She did not succeed and we left. It was an awful experience, simply horrendous and not something I have experienced in a restaurant in all my years travelling round the world. My husband got badgered again when he was paying up the bill (over 200 Euros) and he ended up telling her the food was no more than “OK” and not to expect us back.
The next night, she and her chef put out the lights on their empty terrace at 10 pm and leaned over to watch us munching lovely tapas in the rocking bar in the square below. The boys all thought this was utterly hilarious and vastly entertaining. Me, I am still mad as hell about that experience, this was OUR HOLIDAY we are talking about.
My view is the Spanish should take back their terraces (forcibly if need be) and start running nice establishments with moderately sane hosts, a semblance of Spanish food and locally sourced ingredients. I can see that down the Costa del Sol it’s all Brits and fish n’ chips, but up in the hills in ancient villages where people are hiring private villas, this is a totally different type of customer. We all know elBulli lost money, but we would not want such a high fallutin’ experience. Surely there has to be another market for interesting local menus with decent food priced accordingly, or is that too much to expect? I would not be surprised to hear there are such places, but perhaps not in numbers and concentrations to make it worth staying around a particular village area for any length of time. It is unlikely that my friends and ourselves would book a summer holiday like that in Andalusia again because of these food issues–there is only so much calamari and meatballs tapas you can eat in a fortnight–and that is a real shame. Any similar Spanish experiences/disappointments anyone? Or were we just spectacularly unlucky?