FOOD FOR THOUGHT: At your service
As standards around the world slip, mediocrity is emerging triumphant. Del Mar Mexican restaurant in Cape Town is a welcome counterpoint
I hate to start the year on a grumpy note. They say start as you would like to finish, and I want to finish 2017 on a really high note, so don’t judge me on this column.
The truth is that I am worried about service. Not just service in SA. As Donald Trump has showed us, mediocrity has gone global. If you don’t believe me, think of Vladimir Putin in Russia. Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. Yahya Jammeh and his second putsch in Gambia. Brexit. It’s depressing. Jacob Zuma almost — just almost — comes across as a saint once you’ve done the rounds of global leadership mediocrity.
Anyway, there was a time once when service was king and Emirates was the airline that epitomised that sentiment. Oh, Singapore Airlines was amazing too (I have flown with them — stupendous). So I flew Emirates in December.
Jacob Zuma almost — just almost — comes across as a saint once you’ve done the rounds of global leadership mediocrity
My 13-year-old was offered a kiddies’ meal. She politely declined and said she wanted the fish from the adult offering. The purser arrived, hugely aggrieved. "She has to eat! It’s an eight-hour flight. I can’t give her an adult plate!"
The man was cross, but he got more angry when I told him that my daughter would have my meal and I would skip the meal, as passengers routinely do.
Now, this man could have said: "It’s okay if you sacrifice your meal for your daughter, sir. As soon as the service is finished I will see if there are leftover meals."
But he didn’t. He had the hump. You can’t have the hump in the service industry. You find a solution.
What was even worse was that as I put my headphones on to watch a movie, the airline’s CEO was on, talking in a very plummy English accent about his vision for the airline. The staff clearly hadn’t been listening.
Throughout the holidays I saw more of this kind of poor service. Very depressing.
Fortunately there are places such as Del Mar, a year-old contemporary Mexican eatery in Camps Bay. This restaurant is classy, has great service and its food is absolutely delicious.
Most people think Mexican food is the Tex-Mex inventions — burritos and nachos — that emanate largely from fast-food joints in the US. Well, your name is Donald Trump if you think that’s the extent of it. Visit Del Mar.
You can start with several varieties of ceviche — tuna, salmon, prawn — and move on to tapas-style "street food" encompassing everything from tuna cooked crisp with guacamole to crisp, fried tortillas stuffed with chicken and a chilli sauce.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand any of this food — the staff are super helpful and your taste buds will thank you later for listening.
We did the communal thing: some ceviche, some street food (the traditional batter-fried fish that we had all looked at rather suspiciously was a huge hit) and a few others (if you like chilli then do try the duck confit with spicy red chilli sauce).
These mini-dishes are so good, and so filling, that we only shared two main dishes between three adults and two children. Both of these, a fish stew and a grilled salmon, were so good we all wanted to jump up and down with delight. Outstanding.
Over and above this great food, though, was the fantastic service from the maître d’ and the waiters. Calm, attentive and helpful — it was all there.
"Give that man a big tip," said my daughter. I could have given that waiter a gold medal. Top notch.
Del Mar ****
Shop 104, The Promenade,
Camps Bay, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 437-0333
***** Thuli Madonsela
* Jacob Zuma