It’s one of the best addresses in London, offering some of the finest food and one of the best cellars in London.
It is mainly a club for war correspondents, ex-war correspondents and wannabe war correspondents. Although founded only after the Rumanian uprising which saw President Mugabe’s erstwhile chum, Comrade Ceausescu summarily bumped off, along it with his dragon lady missus, has memorabilia dating from the Crimean War.
Having been a correspondent in a few interesting punch-ups, even I ducked from bullets, bombs and bazookas recently experienced by colleagues in Afghanistan, Iraq and other more minor war zones, described eloquently with beer or wine glass in hand.
I mused why we couldn’t start our own frontline club for foodie journalists who bravely put their digestions, if not lives, on the line each week (some of us at least twice a week) in the dedicated, selfless interests of ever widening readerships.
Arriving at the office on Monday, after an exhausting, fully packed (and late!) AirZim flight from Gatwick, during which about 18 babes and sucklings held an all-night world screaming and shrieking contest, I found more than 3 000 e-mails on my machine.
Around half could be safely deleted without opening, but downloading, reading, comprehending, acknowledging and eventually answering 1 500 messages in a reasonable timescale is a job William Howard Russell, reporting on the Charge of the Light Brigade for a very pre-Murdoch London Times, didn’t have to face.
(Incidentally, Freudian slip (?), the news channel TV in a Gatwick pub, which has the sound turned off, but shows computer-generated sub-titles of salient points, had Press barons Rupert and James’ surnames as “Murder”!)
An early signal opened was from Anita Chimudzi, who complained that during a business meeting with a colleague at Gaby’s, Travel Plaza, her day was somewhat spoiled when on the final sip of a cappuccino she felt “something hard” in her mouth.
Yep, guys, I knew what was coming!
My dear son, Rhoderick, had a similar experience at Barbour’s tea rooms — many years ago — at family brunch. He also felt something hard in his mouth on the last gulp of strawberry milkshake.
In both cases cockroaches were found lurking very dead in chosen beverages. I seem to recall the mother of my children upchucking a Full Monty as the lusty lad’s fingers grabbed the deceased member of the order of Blattodea at the entry to his oesephagus!
Anita says she has used Gaby’s for years and sadly watched standards deteriorate. Could I do readers a favour… pop along and give them the full Miller the Killer business?
She thought of litigation, but a lawyer dissuaded her, saying (after all this isn’t the UK or USA), damages would be derisory, costs prohibitive.
(A variation on the old adage about fishmongers shouting “Stinking fish!”?)
I’d planned to foray further on Wednesday lunch in the interests of this column, but my lift didn’t appear.
So it was Gaby’s with an open mind…but determined to avoid pink milkshakes and frothy coffee.
First reaction is the menu is a hell of a reasonably priced. Yep, you can sure eat dirt cheap at Gaby’s!
A US$3 minestrone soup proved to be about half a packet of probably Royco’s dehydrated take on that noble Italian starter; other than the name, all resemblance ended. It was made with about half recommended water content, resembled weak milky coffee into which cubed carrot and potato could be vaguely discerned, covered in a thick skin. (“Clarty” is a good North of England/Scots word to describe the texture; there was no apparent insect infestation.)
It came with “a roll”: soft hamburger bun sliced into three with — for some odd reason — the two small ends (“rockers” my kids called them) cut off, presumably discarded.
I told a waiter exactly what I thought of this disgusting dish; they had the courtesy to lop it off the bill. (Anita wasn’t charged for her insect-filled caffeine hit, either!)
Spaghetti bolognaise wasn’t as bad as feared. (It wasn’t from a tin!) but was unspectacular. Pasta wasn’t quite al dente, but neither was it soggy.
Minced beef, tasting gritty, was covered in a cheese which had no claim to be made in the Parmesan-style. All served on an unprofessionally cold plate.
An otherwise fairly bog-standard pasta soon turned stone-cold and gloopy. It was US$5, but I’d rather pay double that and enjoy my meal! Some of those small diced chilies served in real Italian restaurants may have lifted it out of the depressingly sub-ordinary, but weren’t available. I don’t see plastic squeegee bottles of Cheeky Chili as being in the same league.
They didn’t have Pilsener, only its sister label: Castle. There’s no such thing as bad beer… but some are better than others…and Pilsener is my long preferred poison!
Gaby’s always baked nice stuff. I asked for apple crumble, only to be told that, too, was “off”, did I want raspberry rainbow ice-cream?
Not especially, but the bought-in three-scoop pud was rather good, at US$3.
Horrible soup, very ordinary pasta, two lagers and commendable ice-cream cost US$12, down from the original US$15.
I’m in no hurry to return while Gaby’s stays under the current invisible, hands-off, apparently anonymous, management.
On a positive note, the outdoor gents wasn’t as filthy as it has been in the past, but wouldn’t make the Good Loo Guide to Zimbabwe (if we had one!)