The atmosphere on Mars
St George’s Bay
Tel: 2138 3634
So a car that has no leather seats, no air conditioning, no electric windows and no entertainment system to speak of landed on Mars. Mars, I feel tempted to remind the planet, is another planet that is known for having absolutely nothing on it.
If you’ve been to a restaurant and complained that there is no atmosphere worth going back for, I suggest you compare it to Mars.
This trip costs as much as it would cost to develop an irrigation system that spans a decent proportion of continental Africa, providing a much-needed solution to the drought there.
As much as the scientist in me marvels at the technology it takes to send a car so far into space, the human in me reminds me that we have priorities closer to home to worry about.
I am accused on a daily basis of turning any conversation into one related to food and I readily admit my guilt. But this is a conversation I feel every person on the planet should be quite literally turning into food. $2.5 (€2) billion worth of food, to be precise.
We put man on the moon almost half a century ago and haven’t been there since because we quickly learnt the futility of the exercise. Won’t we ever learn that proving an expensive point is a mere distraction from the more pressing issues at hand?
And with that, I will put an end to my whinge and embark on another one.
The evening started out as a precursor to a night out with my favourite sister. Four of us headed to St Julian’s for a quick meal before visiting the jungle that hosts an innumerable quantity of entirely indistinguishable bars and clubs.
We decided to try out a place called Tapaz, the ‘z’ being quite deliberate since they’ve plastered the name all over the place.
In a previous life, this restaurant was called Hugos Tapas and a fine source of food it was, with tapas at a price that was slightly above average but justified by the décor, the service and the consistently high food quality.
There is nothing about the décor to show that anything should have changed so it was with optimism that we made our way in.
The menus were brought to us by a young woman who seemed busy but not abrupt so we sat and started to browse through.
The word ‘fusion’ has found its way into the first page and the detailed (but poorly written) introduction goes all the way to specify that music played will be of the ‘chillout’ variety. It was indeed, so points are scored for factual accuracy.
Our orders were taken by a young man who went out of his way to show open hostility. I’ve been exposed to grumpy service, to impersonal service, to unfriendly service, but this was a different matter.
Before I could comment about this, someone at table said his demeanour was intimidating. When ‘hostility’ and ‘intimidation’ are used to describe service, there is little one can do to salvage the situation short of leaving before the food turns up.
We decided to wait it out, just in case the Rottweiler had human colleagues.
It turned out that he did, and a polite young woman brought us our drinks. Soft drinks and water would do the trick for now and we all decided against wine with our meal.
The menus are a funny affair. Marinated octopus is priced at a whopping €12.50. A main course of paella hits the ceiling at €29.95. Then a plate of jamon (ham) from Serrano costs a perfectly reasonable €7.25.
This adds a layer of caution to the ordering process
If a typically inexpensive rice dish can set you back more than a T-bone steak at a proper restaurant, it is wise to make sure you keep a mental tally of the price, particularly when a tapas-style restaurant encourages diners to order more than a single dish.
We picked items from all over the menu, skirting the bizarrely priced ones and opting for a mixture of tapas. This also meant avoiding the items that probably accounted for the ‘fusion’ moniker, such as Salmon gravlax (served with ‘frizzy’ lettuce) and ‘fusion chicken wings’ (served with a sticky sauce).
We went for the smaller portions when possible to make sure we kept the food quantity reasonable. Lamb skewers are available in portions with two or four skewers per serving. Two of us picked the two-skewer version.
The ‘fritto misto’, a mix of deep fried squid, fish and prawns sounded tempting and I ordered it because it reminded me of the ‘frito misto’ from Hugos Tapas days.
Baby pork ribs, albondigas (meat balls in a spicy sauce), espinacas catalanas (spinach with pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar) and a couple of different potato dishes would make sure we ate our fill.
The food started to make its way to our table as soon as it was prepared. I like this approach since food turns up as soon as it is done rather than when everyone’s dish is cooked. Not only is all food served piping hot, this style of service makes for a very informal meal.
The food quality varied from decent to quite good. Patatas bravas, a forte of the previous incarnation of this place, were just about decent and we actually left half of what we’d ordered.
The albondigas were actually quite good, with a sauce that tasted of artificial stock but that had been gifted with a dose of excellent whole peppercorns that made up for the misgivings of the liquid that bore them.
I didn’t taste the baby pork ribs but was assured that they were enjoyable, as was, I am told the espinacas catalanas.
The fritto misto was more like a portion of deep-fried battered squid with a couple of shrimps than the description would have us believe. It was a dry and crisp batter though, so we passed it around the table and left very little of it.
Meanwhile, Rottweiler was making a scene behind us. A waitress pointed out that one of the glass stairs to the upper level was cracked.
He made a very animated impression of himself allowing part of his anatomy to fall to the ground, smashing the glass. No one at table was particularly impressed.
We quickly asked for the bill, a total of €75 for the four of us, and headed out into the night.
The décor is still as lovely as it used to be but the food, the prices, and the service have taken a noticeable dip.
There will be no shortage of patronage while summer keeps tourists flowing through the area but if the restaurant expects to make it through the winter, it will take a bit more polish to keep a legion of loyal patrons coming back for more.
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