Well it started well, when they insisted at Heathrow that I'd never travelled outbound in the first place, and that I'd cancelled. Luckily I had my old boarding pass tucked into my diary to prove my existence as a passenger to the surly woman at Terminal 2. A delayed take-off from London was, I'm told, because of the outgoing George W Bush (our paths keep crossing this year... whats his problem eh?), leading to an unplanned 24 hours in Lisbon.
Fortunately the hotel (Arts Hotel - VIP Executive it says) we were stranded in was half-decent, in a slightly worn-out boutiquey kind of way. And with 24 hours in Lisbon to kill, what else was there to do but eat?
TAP had given me vouchers for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel, so I bowled down to the breakfast buffet with high hopes. It wasn't bad I suppose. Scrambled eggs were buttery, but bacon was too fatty (yes, I just said too fatty). Breads were good, but the little hotdog sausages looked suspicious. Best of all were slices of Flamengo cheese, a new one for me, and not bad on a buttery roll. Of course, this was about my 150th hotel breakfast this year, and if things continue as they are with work I've got about another 100 to go before Christmas, so I'm blase about it all these days.
I decided to work a little at the hotel in the morning, before taking lunch in the hotel restaurant. Rather than go in for the three course deal I was entitled to I just ordered the pork main (Feeesh or pork) so I'd have a little time to explore Lisbon. The waiter placed me in a freezing airconditioned corner with all the other TAP refugees, facing the wall which was thoughtful, and poured me a glass of Portuguese red while I waited for my 'Pork'. The wine smelled OK, but its astringency screamed across my tongue. Urgh. Stick to the water.
And so to the pork, which turned out to be loin and looked fancy enough stacked on top of hash-brown-lookalike potato cakes with a big puddle of gravy and two halves of cherry tomatoes arranged like nipples on top, just to make it look kinda classy. It came quickly, as it had clearly been made a while ago, possibly last Easter, and left in the sun to keep warm. Total lukewarm rubbish. The gravy would have been ok had it not being on the verge of congealing. I left quickly.
Resolving not to eat my dinner in the restaurant that evening I took the metro downtown in search of an alternative venue, clean underpants, and a poke around the town. Lisbon seems like an attractive enough city, and I did my usual thing of walking in random directions and seeing what turns up. A film crew shooting something or other. Some people selling salt cod. Lots of Portugal flags hanging from apartment windows in support of the national team's efforts in Austria. Not quite as many tourists as I'd would have imagined. Monuments and all that. Normally I love wandering around a new city, but today wasn't right. I didn't have the company of the (handy Portuguese speaking) Mrs Jiffler, and I really wanted to be back in Dakar, sleeping in my own bed for a change.
With new underpants procured I set off to weigh up the best of the curbside cafes. My criteria were:
-Plenty of locals
-nice grilled-fishy smells from the kitchen
-not too pricey, but not too cheap
Finding one which seemed popular with Portuguese men (a sure sign of either large portions, or attractive waitresses, or both) I settled down, ordered some water and chose grilled swordfish from the specials menu. Given that Portugal is right nextdoor to Spain, where they know a thing or two about food, and also on the Atlantic, I thought that eating out bistro-style would be a safe bet. Well, I was right about the portions, and the waitresses, but not about the safe bet. Carrots and green beans came boiled to buggery, while a large portion of potatoes needed a healthy slick of (very good) olive oil to make them worth noticing. The swordfish wasn't bad, fresh tasting at least. It all came to about €10, which is what you'd pay in a bog standard British pub for a similar standard of badly cooked shite.
A gang of British backpackers piled in to the bistro as I was finishing, scattering luggage everywhere and ordering cokes. Looking on, I started to feel old all of a sudden... Remembering bumming around in Liguria a few years ago when I was younger, and thinner, and more fashionably dressed; eating langoustines and drinking too much wine. Mind you, I got offered marijuana twice in the street today, so I must still look a bit young and studenty.
Back at the hotel I was all packed up, showered, and sporting fresh underpants, when it occurred to me that there was still time to see what the restaurant offered for dinner, maybe taste a little, and see if things had improved.
This time I was greeted by more professional waiting staff, placed a little better. The menu was the same as lunchtime though. I avoided the salad (lettuce leaves with white dressing), soup (odourless brown liquid) and went for the fish. Which was salmon. From Scotland. Overcooked, therefore undereaten.
So what gives? I get 24 hours in Portugal and the food is mediocre. I was hoping for something a bit more worthwhile to see me through transit. Perhaps I just had bad luck. Any suggestions for a place to eat next time TAP screw up?