It’s just after 1 o’clock on a Monday afternoon and the surface of the tarred road shimmers with a mirage of water.
Impatient taxi drivers honk their horns and recklessly try to navigate their way out of lunch hour traffic as the odd street sweeper or two lazily looks on.
Perched on the top floor of the Grove Mall and tucked away in a corner as if shying away from the prying eyes of curious onlookers is one of Windhoek’s trendiest spots, News Café.
Famed for its whimsical cocktails and breath-taking view of the city, News Café is the perfect escape from the unforgiving sun that seems to be engulfing its host town.
While business might be slow during the day, it’s abuzz with activity at night. So great is its lure that people have had to wait outside for what seems like eons just to get in on a busy night.
Its décor is simplistic yet modern, giving it a neurotically clean feel. Unlike many infant watering holes, it is not adorned in unnecessary trimmings and mainly relies on the ambiance produced by its hosts, coupled with food and drink as allure.
Having managed to beat the lunch hour traffic jam, my company and I wearily saunter into News Café, which is more of a restaurant then it is a café actually.
A less than enthused waitress meets us half-way inside the dining area and invites us to choose whichever seats are to our liking while she follows behind lazily. The waitress brings menus to our table and scurries off to the bar where the other baristas are standing.
Business is evidently slow this afternoon but she seems distracted in serving our party, perhaps the blistering heat is weighing her down. After a few minutes she walks back to our table and dryly asks to take our orders before scurrying back to the bar, never once smiling or attempting to make us feel comfortable.
Good customer service in Windhoek is as scarce as rain in the Namib Desert; however Eldon Kaiyamo, the owner of the restaurant is a former Hilton hotel wine connoisseur whose service was the best in the business, dare I add in the country.
Kaiyamo was always professional, attentive and happy to help the guests at the hotel. He uses the same approach for his establishment and one would expect that his employees would have the same approach. However, on this day, it is evident that this notion could not be any further from the truth.
It’s too early in the day to drink; most especially because we have to get back to work so virgin cocktails are the order of the day. The first order of business is one Strawberry Daiquiri, a Capcollada, one Bosch Iced-tea, mango juice and one Material Girl cocktail.
The Material Girl is sweet yet tangy, the Colada deliciously irresistible with generous amounts of pineapple juice, however the Daiquiri and Mango juice leave a lot to be desired. The drinks are heavily diluted with no real distinguishing flavours in the drinks. It’s disappointing considering that they always hit the mark with their drinks, but they get a free pass this time.
A warm breeze from outside threatens to invade all the crevices of restaurant but is warded off by the air conditioning. I note that the usually attentive Kaiyamo has made no attempt to check in with us although the restaurant is practically empty, is he perhaps losing his bedside (or tableside in this case) manner? I wonder. The thought is however soon discarded as the waitress emerges with the first trays of food.
She first delivers the generous serving which is comprised of battered deep fried prawns with chips. The prawns are disappointing in that they have no semblance of flavour. It’s hard to determine whether or not they were not seasoned or whether the batter is taking the little flavour they had.
However what is unnerving about this dish is the fact that the waitress made no attempt to inquire as to whether the prawns should be deep fried, grilled or poached in a broth of the customers choosing. When I inquire from our less-then-friendly waitress, she becomes a walking contradiction first saying a customer can request how they want their prawns, then backtracking and saying they don’t let the customers decide.
When asked again she eludes to the fact that one can ask how they want their prawns, but at the same time they can’t. The serious look on her face is indicative of one thing; she does not to know much about the establishments standing on certain matters.
The second dish is a combo of pork ribs and chicken with a healthy serving of chips. If gluttony is a sin, I will gladly perish in the bowels of purgatory for it, but only after I have attempted to fill the bottomless pit in my stomach with this dish.
I loathe chicken wings, but dig into them nonetheless and they are delicious. The marinade on the gigantic wings is generous and semi-sweet with a tangy aftertaste and compliments the chicken well because it has a light texture.
It does not however compliment the ribs as well as I had hoped. The heavy pork taste still lingers and is slightly stifling, especially on the fatty bits, but it’s not completely hopeless, especially because it aids in quieting the growl from my bottomless pit.
The only dish that emerges with a loyal fan is the one with three miniature burgers. It is however merely a secondhand account from one of the people in my company as I haven’t tried it. Normally, leaving a great establishment such as News Café is a painstaking activity for me, however on this occasion, it cannot happen fast enough.
For the first time in the hour and a half since we have been in the restaurant, the waitress flashes a smile when we ask for the bill. One can’t help but conclude that it’s perhaps because she is expecting a generous tip which is why she has suddenly become a cordial hostess or whether she is genuinely happy to watch us leave and thus cannot contain her excitement.
Perhaps we caught them on a bad day, or they have fallen prey to the complacency that most local restaurants fall into once they think they have won over their target market. Either way, on this day, News Café has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and whether I will go back anytime soon is up to the restaurant gods and whether I get bitten by Windhoek’s perpetual boredom bug.