Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Taste of Italy? I Beg To Differ!

On a day when the air-conditioning at the office packs up, forcing you to swelter and twitch all day like a bloated Christmas turkey, the last thing you want to deal with when you finally break free of the oversized oven that your office has become, is bad food, bad service and an all-round bad attitude.

I was on edge when I arrived at at Manuela’s on a Monday evening. First because of the nightmare day I had had, and second because of the aggressive traffic I had had to wade through to get to the restaurant. Nonetheless I replayed the rave reviews of several friends in my mind, reassuring myself that the trip would be worth it.

On my arrival I was informed that the pizzeria (the sole reason my friend had wanted us to eat at Manuela’s) was closed and that I would have to make do with either toasted sandwiches or pasta at the Gazebo. The menu wasn’t extensive and so it didn’t take long to settle on fettucine pesto for me and pasta carbonara for my friend. To keep us occupied until the food arrived, we ordered two cappuccinos and sat back to take in our surroundings.

It was my first time at Manuela’s and I was far from impressed. The décor appeared to be aiming for quaint à la Il Sorriso but fell far short of that, landing instead at outdated, fuddy-duddy and just plain cheap. The Gazebo at Manuela’s isn’t a restaurant; it’s an open-air hut with a thatched roof and adjoining bar. A space that should be intimate with small, cosy tables is instead unwelcoming and canteen-like with tables seating more than 4 people each, faded dining table chairs and cheap (yes that word again) tablecloths. The atmosphere was rendered all the more unappealing by the confusing selection of music on offer, ranging from Sean Paul to ‘80s R&B, and all the more unimpressive by the laminated menus (reminiscent of dodgy Arab cafés in London) and the lazy corn-rowed waitress dressed in full French-maid regalia, complete with frilly white apron and ridiculous head scarf.

Our waitress, the only member of staff assigned to the Gazebo, was slow and quite unpleasant, taking a good fifteen minutes to whip up two cappuccinos and making faces at us when we finally did get her attention. When the food arrived, thirty minutes into our visit, she refused to provide any parmesan or other cheese with which to eat the fettucine, stating that it was not the restaurant’s policy to serve pasta with cheese (I almost choked on my first bite of tasteless, flaccid fettucine on hearing that).

A plate of pasta costing N2,900 should be nothing short of exquisite. Sadly by my third bite of the fettucine pesto I decided I would rather go hungry and avoid adding to the day’s calorie count, than labour at eating cold, flavourless pasta minus cheese (pasta without cheese, seriously, are they smoking something?). A forkful of the slightly warmer but equally dreadful pasta carbonara led me to the conclusion that my friend and I would have been better off making the pasta ourselves than forking out a grand total of N12,650 for food that might as well have come from a can. (The price includes two plates of pasta, two cappuccinos, one side order of chips and peach juice. Hardly a feast!)

Manuela’s appears to suffer from stingy chef syndrome, whereby ingredients are mized and flavour is compromised to save the restaurant’s owners a buck or two. The pasta carbonara, instead of being doused in a rich creamy sauce teaming with bacon and parmesan, appeared to have been dipped ever so lightly in liquid and then topped with barely visible white flecks masquerading as parmesan. It was dreadful! The only saviour of the day was the side order of over-salted but well-browned and crunchy French fries, at the whopping cost of N1,500.

Annoyed and hungry we left the restaurant, only for me to find myself being forced to exchange words with an oaf of a manner-less gateman for reversing out of the parking lot in the most logical manner, which as it turned out was against their “reversing policy” – a policy that I was supposed to have acquainted myself with by making reference to their very invisible and altogether non-existent signboard.


Two days after the article above was written, I was dragged kicking and screaming back to Manuela's by the same friend. The pizzeria was open this time. I walked in and... fell in love *sheepish grin*. A more fitting review will follow shortly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pesto, Salmon, Pasta And A Bucket Of Cream

Piccolo Mondo
(Italian/Lebanese/Night Club)
Idejo, Victoria Island

One of the restaurants in Lagos with which I am currently conducting a love affair is Piccolo Mondo, though it would be fair to say that our honeymoon is over and that we’re slowly getting a little sick of each other. Piccolo Mondo, like Roberts, is yet another one of my homes away from home. Perhaps the comfort is in the high-backed armchairs in bright colours ranging from dark pink to lime green with neon swirls? Or in the friendly banter with their brilliant team of very capable waiters? I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it is clearly not something that is felt by me alone, as Piccolo (well upstairs at least) is consistently full, even on a Monday night when most people are to be found at home, mourning the fact that the weekend is 5 days away.

On Monday at Piccolo, I faced a tough decision. The fettucine pesto or the pennete al salmone? At least I think that’s what they’re called. I couldn’t decide what I was in the mood for. Cream? Or cream with a bucket load of pesto thrown in for good measure?

The pennete al salmone is penne pasta, cooked to perfection (just a little softer than al dente), smothered in a creamy, lightly cheesy sauce and topped (very generously I might add) with salmon and onions. I think it is perfection! The formula never changes, and it is exactly the same each time.

The fettucine pesto on the other hand is a little more temperamental. Some days the ratio of pesto to cream is just fantastic, and the diner is presented with a deliciously moist plate of flat (but not thin) fettucine, covered in grainy, dark green cream (because the chef has been oh so generous with his dollops of pesto). And on other days, the diner’s bright red bucket (those things are neither bowls nor plates) comes bearing thin, awkward noodles interspersed with pale (and almost invisible) green flecks, that all the helpings of parmesan in the world couldn’t turn into a decent plate of pasta.

With all this running through my mind on Monday, you can no doubt imagine that the decision I had to make, was killing me softly. I was clearly in the mood for cream (heck I’m always in the mood for cream) or else I would’ve been looking to the deep fried calamari as my friend Olu was. But what I wasn’t in the mood for, was mediocre pasta. I wanted the fettucine pesto, but the fettucine at its absolute best! The little piggy in my head was teasing and taunting me, “go with the salmon pasta, you know they won’t mess that up, but… oh! the fettucine on a good day is so much more wonderful!”

The waiter arrived, and I did something I haven’t done in a while – I took a gamble and went for the fettucine. Ok it wasn’t exactly a gamble, as my friend Rukks had settled on the salmon pasta and so I knew I would be able to just lean over and dip my fork into her plate if I ended up with Grade D as opposed to Grade A fettucine.

The wait is never long at Piccolo, and so fortunately not much time was spent wringing my hands in anticipation. My huge bowl arrived shortly afterwards, and what did I find nestled within? Fettucine... just as I had dreamt it would be! Delicious, creamy, grainy pesto, making sweet sweet (and very generous) love to a helping of perfectly-cooked fettucine pasta.


P.S. Did I mention that I had a caipirinha with my pasta, that I could actually drink? I was shocked out of my wits! Any Piccolo Mondies out there will appreciate just how momentous an occasion that was.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Friday Night Live!

My Friday nights in Lagos just seem to be getting better and better and better!

I came on here to talk about the brilliant time I had two days ago, but then realised I never blogged about the Friday before - Halloween!

On October 31st, I put on my daddy's black bowler hat and bright red tie, drew a moustache onto my face with some eyeliner, and headed out to meet up with friends (prizes to anyone who can guess who/what I was meant to be). I picked up my friend Carmen who had drawn a nose and whiskers onto her face, and wore a pair of ears made out of a black alice band and some paper. We looked ridiculous!

Auto Lounge
(Lounge/Night Club)
Agoro Odiyan
Victoria Island

First we went to Auto Lounge, because I had never been before and was curious to see this relatively brand new place that had received such lukewarm reviews from friends. Walking in though, I understood why. Auto Lounge tries too hard to come off as cool and classy, and so ends up looking disjointed and a little confused. Each individual piece of furniture is cool to look at on its own, but when put together with the others, the collective result fails to impress. Needless to say, as soon as the friends we were waiting for arrived, we were off... to Piccolo Mondo.

Piccolo Mondo
(Restaurant/Lounge/Night Club)
Victoria Island

Piccolo Mondo had gone all out for Halloween, with plastic cobwebs and all sorts dangling from the ceiling. Pity it was almost completely empty, apart from a group of very young white kids dancing to some very bad music. Upstairs in Piccolo, we chatted with friends for close to an hour and then decided Suites XVIII was the place to be... and how right we were!

The Penthouse
Suites XVIII
(Boutique Hotel)
62 Adetokunbo Ademola
Victoria Island

If you've never been to the penthouse at Suites XVIII before, then my poor attempt to describe what it looks like probably won't do you much good. The penthouse is split over two floors, with a bar and lounge on the top floor overlooking the main floor of the penthouse, which has been divided into clusters of sofas, art deco coffee tables and quirky paintings (all painted by the owner Akhmed).

Apart from a few groups of girls dressed in bridezilla and Princess Barbie outfits, there was no other indication that it was halloween. (By this point though I really didn't care, and had wiped off my moustache seeing as Lagosians, being Lagosians, just weren't getting my get up!) And once the whisky began to flow and the DJ began to heat things up, I too kinda forgot why I was dressed up.

The DJ was absolutely amazing! My friends and I danced non-stop for two hours to songs as varied as Bille Jean, I'm Coming Out, My Dream is to Fly (no clue what that Bob Sinclar song's actually called) and Igwe. It was faaaantastic!

Goriola Street
(Night Club)
Victoria Island

Roundabout 3am we decided to change things up a bit and head to Calienté, where a very grown up halloween party was in full swing.

Right from the gate we were greeted by an array of super heros, alcoholic beverages and furry creatures. However we ended up in what I call the old papa room (I know it has a much cooler name than that, something like Belvedere), sitting around yet another bottle of whisky and chit chatting. The DJ just wasn't good enough to get us going - He never is! I really think the good citizens of Lagos should put a petition together demanding his immediate dismissal! He is rubbish!

I say this after having subjected myself to his pitiful routine two Fridays in a row of course. Because where did I end up last Friday (i.e. two days ago) if not Ca-flippin'-lienté. It never ceases to amaze me that clubs in Nigeria give their bouncers, glorified gatemen, the power to decide who is worthy of getting in, and who isn't. It is ridiculous. I walked up to the gate on Friday and was subjected to a full body assessment before I heard the most local accent ever grunt, "Let her in". What's more, when you do finally make it into Calienté, you're met by a horde of working girls in tight nylon hotpants and shiny plastic bag weaves, and groups of gay perverts standing on tables, winding, grinding and stroking themselves!

It makes no sense!

Please don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against homosexuals. My problem is with perverts of any sexual orientation. If it had been women dancing the way those men were dancing on Friday, it would've been just as disgusting. Believe me!

I had wanted to talk about No. 10 next (currently my favourite club in Las Gidi), and about our brief run in with Sisqo (he of 'Thong Song' and 'Unleash the Dragon' fame) on Friday night, but this post is already too long as it is, and I'm running late for a very important date!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Waxing Philosophicalish: Obama, Change For Nigeria And Some Comedy Grasshopper Drama

Moyo Ogundipe is a man? Are you kidding me?

I'm surprised for two reasons:
  1. Because my friend (who I am going to tell off after this) said he met Moyo and that "she" was really impressive, and
  2. Because his paintings are so appealing to the female eye! I know next to nothing about art, but his choice of colour, and the delicacy and overwhelming prettiness of some of his portraits had me totally convinced he was a woman.
On to a more poignant topic now... I feel today should be a public holiday. 'Obama Day' has been so inspiring, and has really given me (and the rest of the world I'm sure) such abundant hope. I can't wait till its our turn in Nigeria to celebrate as Americans are celebrating right now. There will come a day when the Nigerian Oprahs and Jesse Jacksons will stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other Nigerians, tearing up and cheering on our own beacon of change. And it will be incredible!

Things are changing here, however slowly, and one has only to look at the number of returnees or 'repats' flying home in their droves, to see that they are. I know several people who have come home determined to be agents of change because they believe, for the first time, that they can be effective and make a difference.

The change in Nigeria can be seen in the big things, like the gradual move towards transparency in our government or our dramatically improved freedom of speech, and in the littlest (and comparatively insignificant, I knooow) things like the improvements in the Lagos nightlife and social scene.

A lot of people seem to have forgotten, but I remember a time when night clubs were places patronised only by women of the night and their prospective clients. The only decent club worth going to was Pancho Villa (which by the way I've heard is coming back from the dead. Double yaay!), and the bar with the widest selection of drinks was Tribes. Now, on a Friday night, it may not seem like much, but we have a ton of choices! No. 10, Caliente, Bacchus/6 Degrees, Piccolo Mondo, Saipan, Churrasco, Suites XVIII, Auto Lounge, Volar... Speaking of which, I was at Volar last night to be part of the live audience watching 'The Comedy Club: Live in Lagos', a new comedy show to air soon on M-Net.

(Night Club)
Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island

Walking into Volar, it was great to see how much effort had gone into transforming the erstwhile dungeon of darkness into a smooth, sexy and cool comedy spot. The decor gave me high hopes for the show, which was to feature a newbie called Ogbolo, Teju Babyface, and the Sharp Band, but I was soon to be found gazing longingly at the exit 5 minutes into Ogbolo's opening performance. His 'unique talent' is making fun of disabled people it seems, telling jokes about blind, and deaf and dumb girls, and worst of all, parodying a disabled but horny man with his hand and feet gestures. It was humorous at moments, but oh so inappropriate. Teju Babyface was significantly better, but in between the two performances the audience was forced to endure long gaps of silence when literally nothing was going on and we were left to twiddle our thumbs. What started on a high (the effect of IK Osakiedua's hilarious MC-ing) ended on a disappointing low. Actually I tell a lie, I didn't make it to the end, so I can't say exactly how it ended. By the time the director was yelling "Cut!!" I was lip-deep in a raspberry mojito at my home away from home, Bambuddha.

I couldn't get out of Volar fast enough really. Did I mention that before the comedy show began, a clumsy waitress sent a ton of glasses containing the foulest, most disgusting, florescent green "Grasshopper" cocktail known to man, flying onto my lap, my watch, my phone, my shoes and into my handbag? Luckily for her I had literally just downed a pretty potent margarita, and so only took in the full force of the damage 10 minutes later when she was safely out of sight, and I was in Jade Palace territory wiping my legs down with a hot towel gratefully received from my faithful Chinese homie in Lagos, Akin.

Thanks Akin!

Tonight was supposed to be my night with the girls at the new-ish grill at K's Place, which I'm sure would've provided ample blog fodder, but I am far too tired from all this night-hopping and am looking forward to a moochie night in. Hoorah!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Two Jewels & A Lion

Terra Kulture
Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island

I bought 'The Lion and the Jewel' a year ago, during one of my many "let's get down with Soyinka" phases.

I never made it past the first act.

At the time I attributed my impatience with the play to Soyinka's writing, judging the plot to be too creepy crawly and the language too long-winded, for a quick brained chica mohita like myself. Last night however, I saw it come to life at Terra Kulture, and I loved every second of it. It was snappy, downright hilarious at points, and brilliantly acted. I found myself wondering halfway through, if the actors, who were so clearly at home on their little wooden stage, would come off as well on screen. Based on my few and gladly forgotten experiences of Nollywood, I have always walked into plays in Lagos expecting a shambolic show. I suppose judging Lagos' theatre scene by the quality (or lack of) of the country's movie industry, is a silly thing to do. But I wonder if those few theatre actors, you know, the ones that can really act, ever get pissed off at the fact that their productions are poorly attended, as last night's was, whilst the likes of Aki and Paw Paw bill millions of naira a month!

The second pleasant surprise of the night, also at Terra, was 'Kaleidoscopes', an exhibition by Moyo Ogundipe, who I had never heard of until yesterday (shows how cool I am). I loved her work simply because it was so different from anything I had ever seen before by any artist anywhere, not just in Nigeria, which is a huge feat for a contemporary African artist.
Her use of colour was inspired, and in every nook and cranny of her paintings (some of them enormous) was a geometric pattern or sequence, each one different from the next. Her paintings must take hours to create! I plan to bid for one of them at the second Art House auction, which comes up on the 19th of this month. Somehow I don't see myself getting very far on my measly corper budget :(

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bora Boras, Banana Bread & Brown Sofas

Robert's Café
(Café Grub)
16B Akin Olugbade, Victoria Island
01 2702606

My friend, Udeme, is a great man. The first time we met we didn't get along. My friends and I took a little too long to decide what drink would go best with our cakes, and were treated to a performance of eye-rolling, note-pad flapping and dramatic sighing. The next time I had the privilege of being waited on by Udeme, his reception was even frostier! Perhaps because he remembered me as the girl with the time-wasting friends? I'm not sure, but dude was cold, so cold! Until I did something I scarcely do, but am determined to make a habit of, and asked him what his name was, where he was from etcetera. That little trick, plagiarised from Iggy, earned me a smile and some friendly banter. And we have been buddies ever since! Now when I walk into Robert's Café, even if he isn't the one to take our order, he somehow ends up serving me and my friends, with a big grin on his chubby face and a jolly Santa Clause-like jiggle in his (ever growing) belly.

I wouldn't attribute my permanent presence on the sofas at Robert's to the service (fond as I've become of Udeme), nor would I attribute it to the food. What does it for me at Robert's, is the level of comfort. With my butt ensconced in one of their brown sofas, I might as well be at any friend's house, hanging out in their living room with a warm slice of cake. I am that comfortable there! Plus it helps that I happen to have fallen in love with two items on their menu. The Bora Bora, which I believe is a fruit cocktail made from pineapple juice, grenadine and a ton of pink sugary goodness, and their banana bread (think warm, textured nutty cake with chunks of soft, but never gooey or sickly, banana). My Bora Bora and banana bread combo is literally heaven on earth.

Today though I stepped a little outside my comfort zone and ordered a toasted ham and cheese croissant. My verdict? Yummy! The toasted croissant was light and crisp, and not the chunky, crunchy mess that I have been presented with in some sandwich places in London. Don't get me wrong, I have tried other things on the Robert's menu before, especially during the good old days when Doctor Robert himself, the genius baker, could be sighted in the corner giving a telling off to some poor waiter or the other. But I have always gone running back to my banana bread and Bora Bora. Even after my croissant today, I ended up indulging in my usual with half a slice of carrot cake thrown in for good measure. My friend Tosin, who copied everything I ordered unashamedly, liked the carrot cake, but I wasn't impressed. The raisins killed it for me. Putting raisins in carrot cake is as bad as eating jollof rice with ketchup in my world.

The carrot cake aside though, I have found that Robert's is king, when it comes to cake - unless of course you happen to catch the last slice of a loaf baked the day before, in which case you're in for some still decent, but very dry mouthfuls. Their chocolate cake however I am still yet to catch on a bad day. Consistently moist and rich (my mouth is watering now just thinking about it), it is absolutely divine. The only complaint I can muster up after thinking really hard, would be about the sheer gynormousness (I make up words, get used to it) of the slices. I have left Robert's with many a chocolate cake-induced tummy ache, the fault being entirely mine of course (greed is a terrible thing) and not the chef's.

On the drinks front however is where Robert's tends to fall flat. The cappucinos and mochas leave much to be desired - my friend Carmen was so right when she termed the mochas "cups of Ovaltine with not even the slightest hint of coffee". The other fruit cocktails and juice mixes too tend to be on the watery side, and I am yet to order a glass of pineapple juice made from fruit that is actually sweet and ripe.

All things considered though, I am still very much a fan of Robert's Café, even moreso now that I've discovered just how chic the top floor is. My only worry is that I'll be forgotten completely by the waiters the day I do finally decide to sit there. Till then, I will continue to punish myself by holding onto the prime position in the smoker's section, praying all the while that no smoker comes along to wreck my little taste of heaven.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Not too Shabby, Bambi!

21 Karimu Kotun Street, Victoria Island

I have a sick habit. Okay perhaps "sick" is too strong a word? Let's call it an annoying habit. I can be sitting pretty in my car, or on my laptop, or in the shower, when all of a sudden my mind will begin to wander, my mouth will water, and my tongue will decide that it just has to have Dish A, from Restaurant B, in City C. I can be in Mumbai or Marrakech, it doesn't matter where - my tongue doesn't care much for geography.

Since I moved to Lagos in July, I have had a number of these uncontrollable cravings. This month alone (and yes I am well aware that it is only the eleventh hour of the first day of the month) I have had three cravings. The first was for chocolate covered raspberries from Marks & Spencer. The second was for a bacon and avocado ciabbatta from Caffé Saporito in Marylebone (London). And the third was for creme brulée from Pastis in New friggin' York!

I couldn't do anything about the first, I didn't have a panini machine with which to recreate the second, and so I went on a treasure hunt of sorts for the third. I had made plans to have dinner with a friend tonight, sushi at Fusion in fact, but just as we turned onto Ozumba Mbadiwe, we found a mess of cars queueing up to get into the Lagoon complex, and decided sushi could wait (plus I'd eaten at Fusion earlier in the week anyway). At that moment, my tongue did a little dance, and the words "creme" and "brulée" popped into my head. You see, last Sunday I had had the most dreadful creme brulée at Saipan (think coffee-flavoured mousse minus the ever essential burnt caramel crust) and had moaned to a fellow foodie about it. Her solution to my conundrum was Bambuddah. I made the mental note to go this week but completely forgot about it until the friend I was with tonight said, "Bonzai?" at which point I shook my head and said, "No, Bambuddha!"

Now the funny thing about Bambuddha is that I've been a thousand times for drinks with friends, but never to eat. Why? Because two years ago when the restaurant opened, all I heard was complaint after complaint from friends and family. Being a lover of Thai food, I made the decision at the time to steer clear of Bambi, and resigned myself to eating at Pattaya. Tonight though, I was prepared to make an exception, if only to have a spoonful of average, mediocre creme brulée (I was wanting it that badly).

We walked into the beautiful beeootiful restaurant, and the first thing I did was scour the menu to check that creme brulée was still on it. Only after that, did I sit back and take in my surroundings. Bambuddha in my (humble) opinion is the funkiest and best decorated restaurant in Lagos at the moment. It is the only restaurant in the city (I really shouldn't speak for the mainland) that sees its decor through, right from its patterned wallpaper to little bronze Buddha figurines and polished chopsticks. I absolutely love it! And I can't for the life of me work out why it is always empty! The music is consistently cool, funky jazz; they have the best bartenders in Lagos, serving up the freshest, crisp mojitos you will find anywhere on this side of 3rd Mainland Bridge (believe me, I've looked!); and their staff are always so friendly and welcoming. In fact after my friend and I were seated, the first thing the dark waitress with the cute accent (must get her name next time) said was, "Strawberry Mojito?" My friend, let's call him Iggy, and I had lapped up mojito after mojito in their lounge a week ago, and I was very impressed that she remembered.

Eager to get onto dessert, I skipped starters and ordered their Thai green prawn curry and egg fried rice. Iggy ordered the surf and turf and shrimp fried rice. The food didn't take too long to arrive (perhaps it did, but I was too engrossed in my mango mojito to notice). And when it arrived, I was so happy we'd skipped Fusion in favour of Bambuddah. My curry was absolutely delicious, and could just as easily have been from Busaba or Banana Leaf in London. The rice was a teeny bit on the hard side, but it was still so much lighter that the usual egg fried rice I've had at Chinese restaurants in Lagos. Iggy's surf and turf on the other hand, didn't look too appealing, so I didn't try it, and instead held back from laughing whilst he struggled to get the prawns out of their shells.

Main course over, and without looking at the dessert menus, Iggy asked our waitress to bring out the creme brulée. I got myself all geared up and excited, ordered a raspberry mojito and sat back in anticipation. Five minutes later though, my hopes were dashed as she returned to tell me that they were out of creme brulée. I couldn't believe my ears! I really wish restaurants in Lagos would do what's done in London where, from the minute you sit down, the waiter reels off a list of items that're unavailable at the time. If I had a thousand naira for every time I looked forward to a dish only to hear the words "Sorry Madam, we don't have..." I would be a friggin' trillionaire!

Needless to say, my evening at Bambuddha ended on a low. But if my name is anything to go by, you can be sure I'll be back there before the week is out, asking yet again for the creme brulée. I've searched high and low for it in Lagos, and I'm not about to be deterred so easily now that I've found a source, albeit an unreliable one. Though next time, perhaps I'll call in advance to see if it's available or not. I can't afford to be brulée'd twice in a row! (Teehee! That was lame!)