When I was a little lad, M&B was a wonder drug, invented by May and Baker which reputedly saved British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s life from pneumonia at a time when he was most needed at the height of World War II and had also dragged Nero, the Royal Circus lion, back from the jaws of death!
By Dusty Miller
You don’t hear of it now and probably haven’t since the 1950s! Such is the firefly flickering novelty value of many new products and services.
Nowadays, in southern Africa anyway, M&B is an abbreviation for Mugg & Bean: a chain of rather upmarket coffee shops and restaurants operating throughout the region.
Oddly, the firm refers to its eateries as “stores” and perhaps even more bizarrely, instead of being proud of launching the first one at Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Cape Town in 1966, they invented a legend, publicised on every glossy laminated menu, that Messrs. Mugg & Bean dreamed up the trademark coffee shop concept in the US during the Civil War there.
I was introduced to Mugg & Beans in Gaborone, Botswana and have fairly frequently used them (remembering I’m no real fan of franchised chain restaurants) throughout South Africa and Namibia.
They have an enviable reputation for serving no fuss, no frills, food and drink promptly, in pleasant surroundings, without being too punishing on wallets, purses or credit cards.
Mugg & Bean has finally arrived in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) and opened up in the formerly almost deserted new section of Borrowdale Village, in approximately half of what was the late, lamented (or unlamented in some people’s cases) 360 Degrees.
It opened last Saturday, but I heard punters were knocking on the doors and windows, noisily demanding caffeine fixes, during briefings of newly recruited staff before that.
On Saturday they opened to a clamorous public which poured in as, indeed, they did on the Sunday but, sadly, the wheels reportedly fell off and dozens if not scores of depressed, dejected, disappointed customers left hungry, having not been served long after ordering on both days. Management say things have much improved since then.
Fearing the worst, I wasn’t there over the weekend but had many phone calls and was button-holed in the street and at various clubs by people who were (Usually fairly briefly!).
On Tuesday I could hardly believe my peepers! On a hot, muggy, cloudless day there wasn’t a table to be had in the spacious outside dining area. Every one of them was occupied or apparently reserved, long before the conventional lunch hour.
Jessica Cox, who worked at the much lamented Spook House, Msasa for “The Teletubbies” was meeting, greeting and seating and led me indoors to a comfortable table under a welcome super-efficient air-con grille, within cooling influence of a ceiling fan, opposite a big flat screen TV showing Sky Sport.
It’s perhaps ironic that the former 360 Degrees boasted the most lavish, plush, expensive, attractive interior décor of maybe any eatery in this country and it’s all been ripped out to make way for M&B’s (mainly) red-painted bare brick and white wall tiles!
I had heard Mugg & Bean, Borrowdale, was licensed to serve alcohol, but that statement proved optimistic. They’ve applied for a licence, but, my goodness, the liquor licensing authorities in this country nowadays take their unsweet time about giving the nod.
360 Degrees was fully licensed. Half of that is now Arti’s Restaurant next door and they sold booze from the second they opened a few weeks ago. The other half is M&B; they still wait!
I don’t recall drinking much in the way of hooch at any other Mugg & Bean, but I probably mainly used them for wonderful value-for-money breakfasts Down South and in Bots. It would have been nice to sip a delightfully chilled Golden Pilsener on that steamy day.
What I did enjoy were two, creamy, white hot (not white-hot!) mugs of drinking chocolate, one of several items on my order which would probably have given any self-respecting cardiologist instant heart failure!
Jessica and waitress, Larissa, both mentioned several items on the menu weren’t available due to logistics and teething troubles. This was, after all, only day four of M&B operations north of the Limpopo. A sixth sense told me that one of them would be the home-made spicy Thai chicken broth I had fancied, even though the price tag was US$8. It proved that none of the “Soulful Soups” were “on”: Roasted tomato and basil was also US$8, Boston clam chowder at US$7 (surely something odd in those two prices?) or Moroccan butternut, chickpea and carrot, a vegan dish, which costs US$6.
It wasn’t really a soup day (with the possible exception of vichyssoise and gazpacho) for most people, but of course I’m the local chairman of Soupaholics Anonymous and needed a potage fix.
It’s a long time since I’ve patronised a Mugg & Bean anywhere, and the menu offers a bewildering range of dishes and combinations. I seemed to recall they were best known for breakfasts (about US$5-US$12), salads, “gourmet” hamburgers, American-style sandwiches and of course a wide-range of “bottomless” coffees.
They offer what they call a Classic Benedict breakfast: poached eggs and hickory ham with hollandaise sauce on an English muffin at US$9 but, to me, classic eggs Benedict should really feature salty smoked salmon instead of dead pig.
Despite the heat, I wasn’t in a salad mood and rarely “do” sandwiches, other than at home. So it was a potentially artery-clogging gourmet burger: “de-luxe chicken burger topped with bacon, melted Brie cheese and cranberry sauce, served with fried onion rings.”
As all burgers come with side chips (and very good they were too), this was almost a week’s allowance of carbohydrates and calories! I was never too happy about the cranberry sauce in this rather rich mixture so didn’t worry when I could find no sign or taste of it.
But when Larissa asked if everything were all right with my meal, I asked: “Didn’t the menu say it came with onion rings?”
It sure did, and a few minutes later they were delivered with a very embarrassed apology. The dish cost US$15.
About this time, a pretty wee girl toddler about two-years-old sitting to my left and tousle-haired boy, perhaps a year older, sitting at 11 o’clock to my table, reminded me why I’m not over-fond of “family” chain restaurants by beginning the Borrowdale heat of the World Under-five Screaming, Shrieking and Shouting Competition, while doting parents did almost nothing to contain an ear-splitting row.
Lemon meringue was either “off” or already finished when it was time to order pudding. Fresh fruit salad would have been in order, but isn’t listed. Larissa recommended Black Forest gateau which was huge, light as a feather, rich, creamy, decadent but candidly a bit dear at US$6 a pop.
Bottom line: burger, cake, two drinking chocolates: US$29.
Mugg & Bean, new section, Borrowdale Village. Opens 7am-10:30pm daily. Tel 0779 772 357.