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Creative Nonfiction

Initially the conversation was light-hearted and chatty, but changed once our meals were served. The were six of us in our group trying out a new Asian style restaurant for the first time and it didn't take long for the complaints to surface. My seafood is overcooked, my calamari is like rubber, my chicken is raw and where are our drinks? I had opted for spring rolls as a starter and after the first bite I discretely emptied the contents of my mouth into my napkin. It not only tasted foul but smelled like the back of a Chinese restaurant on a hot day. So, the conversation turned quite quickly to the subject of do we leave now or wait for the mains to be served?

As the conversation raged, my memory went on auto pilot and replayed "the worst meal I have ever had". It was several years ago, and I was a specialist consultant working for a global software company living in Melbourne Australia. As part of my job, I would often travel to many countries that were generally geographically close to Australia. So, I was a little surprised when my next assignment was to a little town in France. Haguneau is located about 30km south of Strasburg and not far from the German border. It was a marathon to get there, thirty-three hours by plane, bus and hire car. I was booked into the Ibis hotel and when I arrived on a sweltering Sunday afternoon all I wanted was a hot shower and a comfy bed. Well, I got a hot shower but the mattress in my room had seen better days and the ancient air conditioner sounded like a dilapidated V8 without a muffler. It was too hot to stay in the room without the aircon, so I decided the next best thing to do was head to the bar. The bar was empty, and I had to wait for the young girl at reception to come and serve me.

Colette, the receptionist and bar keeper, didn't have anything else to do and kept me company as we both had a few drinks and a laugh. Before I knew it evening was upon us, and I realized how hungry I was. Colette advised me that there were a couple of places to eat in the town or that I could have a meal in the dining room of the hotel. I chose the hotel dining room, big mistake. Being a seasoned traveler, I usually had a sixth sense about the quality of my accommodation, but fatigue had set in, as well as a few cold beers, and I was somewhat oblivious to the dismal surroundings around me.

Back in my room I freshened up with another shower and headed off to the dining room. My waitress for the evening just happened to be, wait for it, Colette. As she showed me to my table I looked around and only saw two other people in the place. The menu was very small, and I wasted no time in ordering a bottle of champagne from the region and a medium rare steak with fries. By now I was starving and polished off a couple of breadsticks. The champagne arrived; for only ten Euros a bottle it was magnifique. I have had vintage French champagne before, but this was spectacular, and I wasted no time in downing two glasses. After waiting what seemed an eternity my steak and fries arrived. To say I was disappointed with the presentation was an understatement. The fries, count them ten, were soggy and undercooked, almost raw. The steak looked like it had been given to a cat to play with for a while before being rescued and then sent to the hottest furnace in hell to be cooked to the consistency of shoe leather. The paper-thin steak was not even a continuous piece of meat. It consisted of five or six smaller pieces linked together by some gristle and sinew. As I contemplated this disaster my nose was yelling at me that something else was terribly wrong. It was difficult to discern the actual smell as I had never smelt anything like this before and the memory stays with me to this very day. The only way I can describe it is to say that it smelt like charcoal that had been infused with garlic and rancid cooking oil.

I don't know how long it was, but it seemed like an eternity before I finally looked up at Colette. She was reaching over the table for a serviette and all I could see were her extremely hairy armpits glistening with sweat. My nose also chipped in with a serious BO alert. I almost barfed.

I had another glass of champagne.

Finally, I told Colette that the steak was not to my liking and to be fair she seemed concerned, but not understanding, before taking the mess away. She returned with a selection of cheeses as a form of compensation for my steak. Now I have a mature palate, but these cheeses were something else. The smell of faeces was so overpowering that I could not even contemplate tasting them.

I tried to explain to Colette what was wrong, but it was difficult with the language barrier and me trying to be as diplomatic as possible. In the end we settled for a mutually agreeable answer; I was an Australian and had never had good French food before.

I finished the bottle of champagne and retired to my room, hungry and a little drunk.

I was awakened from my little daydream by the group getting up to leave. The decision had been made to leave and find somewhere else to eat before it got too late.

Although we paid the bill and were very polite the manager of the restaurant was not happy. In the end to save any argument I told him that we were just Australians and had never had good Asian food before.

October 01, 2023 02:15

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1 comment

E.D. Human
18:32 Oct 08, 2023

I enjoyed this reminiscence. At least the champagne was good ! Nicely captured

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