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 The décor appeared to be aiming for quaint à la Il Sorriso but fell far short of that, landing instead at outdated, fuddy-duddy and just plain cheap.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.