Was that incense or the sweet aroma of marijuana? Or perhaps it was a burning scent issuing from the crackling fireplace?
It was hard to tell with the sensory overload when entering the dilapidated building with its boarded up windows. The sign outside, hanging on scaffolding to stop a wall from falling over, said Vegetarian Restaurant. It certainly wasn’t your normal sort of restaurant.
We were staying in the hostel across the road, in the south of Spain, and they weren’t providing dinner that night. The options were a 15 minute walk downhill in the dark to the tiny and more steeply priced village El Chorro or walk 10 seconds across the road to this supposed restaurant. We chose the latter.
Three tables were set out for dining guests, dressed in plastic table cloths and a vase with a fake flower. On one wall, painted bright bubblegum pink, hung a huge wall hanging of an Indian women with multiple arms, which flapped slightly in the breeze from the open front door. On another wall were promotional ads for outdoor companies showing rock climbers in death-defying poses against breath-taking backdrops.
We were the only dinner customers, though a small group of people huddled around the fireplace that belched black smoke intermittently into the room. They chatted animatedly in Spanish, swigging mouthfuls of beer from one litre bottles, while Bob Marley grooved loudly from the speakers.
We took a seat at one of the tables. Our waiter, a lanky Spaniard, was a one-man band, taking on the role of both waiter and chef. He spoke very little English, which didn’t matter much as the menu consisted of a set four-course meal (all for 8 Euros). Trying to order the drinks was the hard part. It consisted of comedic hand gestures and charades until it came to the point where we just had to walk into the kitchen to view the options available.
Sipping a glass of Rioja, the first course arrived; a salad. Crisp green lettuce leaves, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, grated carrot and a sprinkling of raisins and seeds. Next up was a bean and potato soup, which tasted far too healthy for a holiday meal, followed by a lone and scalding hot vegetarian spring roll accompanied with a thin slice of cheese. Finally we were presented with an apple each for desert, which we dutifully cut into segments as we maintained some degree of formality with the dining experience.
By this point in time, the waiter-slash-chef had made himself comfortable on the couches in front of the fire alongside the others, who had now started to smoke. Trying to get his attention for a second glass of wine proved difficult as he looked like he was settling in for the night, a cigarette dangling from his fingers. Every so often a sweet pungent aroma wafted our way – I was sure someone was taking relaxing to another level.
Not long after, we were beckoned to sit on the couch. We had a stilted attempted at a conversation somewhere between rudimentary Spanish and Pidgin English with not much luck. Being offered a smoke was the easiest part to understand. I, of course, declined.
We soon left the rather random vegetarian restaurant, not quite sure what to make of it all. But certainly it was an experience to eat a four course meal in a dilapidated building, served by a hippy, Bob Marley-loving Spaniard. Definitely one for the blog.
What random dining experiences have you had on your travels?