Even though I am Portuguese, I never understood the Portuguese rooster thing. It could be a deficiency linked to the fact that my blood is not 100% Portuguese. I like to think that I am half Portuguese, half citizen of the world, especially since I feel a bit African too. Until very recently I looked at the rooster as a colorful folkloric symbol, strange to any other possible meaning.
>Well, a new restaurant opened only 500m away from my house. It would be impossible to miss the gigantic roosters at the entrance, not to mention the exterior pavement covered with stadium green grass as a reminder of the Portuguese football tradition.
The first time we tried to go there, the place was so full we couldn’t even pass the roosters. We passed the opportunity. At least we learned that, besides the restaurant, there is a bar and a patisserie. We had a very disappointing lunch in another optional restaurant, where at least the views worth all the money we pay. To make up for two disappointments in a row, Paul suggested a stop at the new patisserie. I gladly accepted, more out of curiosity than gormandize.
My first impressions of the new patisserie was positive. The décor was of a functional simplicity and the cakes… oh the cakes! Visually, they were very appealing. A nice Brazilian assistant helped me. Besides two different types of mille-feuilles, I picked a traditional cheese tartlet from my birth region. If you want to rate pastry, nothing like starting with those you know by heart. That first visit I noticed a couple of Mozambican attendants and a Portuguese man who seemed to be in charge.
I returned to the same patisserie because I was still curious about a few other baked treats. The same Brazilian assistant rushed to take my order. While I picked the new pastries, I involuntarily passed the cheese tartlets commenting that they were not up to my taste. “Even mine taste better,” I said. In fact, the Brazilian attendant was clear from the start that they mainly sell frozen stuff coming from a catering factory/distributor in Portugal. It’s not a surprise that at least half the pastries I picked were disappointingly tasteless.
The third time I went there for bread. I got the bread and a couple of unplanned pastries. I was ready to leave when the Portuguese man approached and to my surprise said:
“I’ve been trying to ask you to bake something for me.”
I believed he was referring to the tartlets I had mentioned before.
“Well, I don’t cook professionally. It’s home baking. But the next time I bake my tartlets I’ll bring a couple for you.”
I confess I was a little perplex. It feels a bit strange when someone we don’t have any familiarity asks us to bake something for him. After all, I had been forced to take a good look at the man’s face. He was a perfect replica of someone I met not long ago, someone who likes to sing about sitting in other people’s walls. The pâtissier was a rather attractive man, with honey-like eyes. Personally, what I liked in him was the fact that he didn’t hide his grey hair. On the contrary, somehow he used it to add to his attractiveness. I left a little puzzled. Imagine how disastrous would be to fall for a pâtissier! Worse than that, imagine how catastrophic would be a pâtissier fancying me!
I confess that the fourth time I returned to the place I had more than pastry in my mind. This turn I was helped by the very own attractive pâtissier, only to confirm his flirting mood and a slight unnecessary touch of skin while he was giving me the change back.
Curiously, I returned to the same patisserie for pure and simple need. That Friday night, Paul wanted to cook something requiring a specific bread. I asked him to park the car and fetch the bread himself, but he refused to go. At 10am I was forced to pick the bread he needed for his cooking that Friday night. I found the place quieter than all my previous visits around 5pm. Only half personnel were visible, probably because they had just opened. At some stage of the process of buying the required bread, the already mentioned pâtissier moved from the opposite corner to where I was standing, near the bread counter, and, with a charming smile, pronounced the following words:
“I was already missing you…”
I paid for the bread and left. It’s days since I don’t go there. After all, it was only five visits to a patisserie near my house and only one of them was of a doubtful nature. If that man missed my presence at 10am, when previously I only visited in the afternoons, the case was getting pretty serious… for him, I suppose.
The next Sunday Paul insisted on returning to the restaurant. We left home early to avoid the crowds, even so it took them five minutes to find a free table for us. New restaurants always attract the curiousity of a volatile clientele. The restaurant is independent from the patisserie and my back was turned, so I am not sure if my presence was detected by the main pâtissier. At the table we had at least 3 roosters: one decorative, one holding the napkins and a third whose function I cannot remember.
When I was editing a weekly newspaper, I enjoyed the restaurant reviews but I got fatter and fatter because of them. There’s nothing more dangerous than eating for free. Rating a restaurant must take lots of aspects into consideration. This one failed too many. It’s not that the food is definitively bad. It’s this and that. For instance, the prices correspond more to what the restaurant pretends to be than what the restaurant truly is. I asked for the restaurant book to leave my impressions and, believing in the face of the waiter, they don’t have one. He ended up calling the owner, who listened to my observations with a retaliating attitude. According to him, someone had rated his Brazilian feijoada (been stew) as the best in Maputo. I had said enough, so I didn’t advise him to visit Hotel Polana, just 200m away, where a real Brazilian feijoada is served. He should.
When ladies are not sure of a meal, they always order a dessert. A wonderful dessert can make up for a lot of bad things. Not this one, unfortunately. It was a gluey, frozen slice, with no taste at all.
When we left, 4 or 5 families were standing in line waiting for our table, an evident signal that the bar is not working as it should. It is not nice to see people waiting inside the restaurant, when there’s a place where they can sit and wait comfortably.
I left thinking that sometimes I feel like having a restaurant of my own. It’s only a thought, I know. Restaurants are the hardest business to run. Having this in mind, being critical is not being destructive. It’s a shame to see people who work so hard losing the perception of their own mistakes.
When I was crossing the entrance, I looked at the two gigantic colorful rooters and knew that I won’t return so soon. And finally the meaning of the Portuguese rooster clicked into place: he only talks!