Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The "lazies who lunch" find a secret garden
A "lazies lunch"? Sounds like a good plan for a bunch of hard working journalists and media types! We were told by chief lazy, Allison Macdonald, to meet at The Birdcage in Saxonwold, recently voted one of the top ten al fresco eateries in Joburg. I was early, as I was stressed that I would not be able to find the place. One hour to be precise, and I was starving, with a neck as stiff as a board. It wasn't so hard to find in the end, just off Cotswold Road and a block from Zoo Lake. The parking was a bit of a bind, but what a delightful spot ... a secret garden change from our usual Ocean Basket, fast-lane lunches.
The Birdcage lived up to its name - there were several attractive wicker and wire bird cages (sans canaries) dotted around the garden. It was a little gem of a hideaway tucked under tall trees and adjoining nearby boutique hotel the Villa d'Este, with its five-star spa. I love places like that, especially at the weekend, when all you want is to retreat from the traffic's roar, find yourself a newspaper and settle down with a lovely glass of Belgian hot chocolate while you wait for all the other "lazies", who clearly were not as lazy as me, to arrive. My sunglassed fellow lunchers were working on their laptops, feeding their children or just gossiping quietly with friends in the sun.
It had been a very tense week in South African politics. I was afflicted with our usual bipolar outlook, and was very down and depressed (the Saturday Star did not help with its sensationalist story of Eugene Terreblanche's murder accused. Although it did get an unwilling and disbelieving laugh out of me).
So the hot chocolate blocks which I stirred with my spoon to make decadent mocha swirls at the bottom of a tall glass of hot foamy milk eased both my hunger and my mood. Yum, yum! And the setting was so pretty, a feast for the eyes. Inside was a small, simple space with a tiny fountain and three big jars of fresh-cut, pretty-as-can-be pink roses at one end. A crystal chandelier gave a touch of luxury, with an array of tarts, cooked chicken, salmon tarts, pies, salads, asparagus dotted with bacon bits, breads, and baba ganoush dotted with slivered almonds on a generous buffet table. Guests filled the tiny space at regular intervals, each holding a plate, and proprietor Lara Meter patiently explained to all of them what every dish was, before their plates were weighed. I smiled at two little girls who wandered over to stare at me with big dark eyes.
A big table had been booked for us in the courtyard so I went outside after my hot chocolate and sat in the dappled shade. The "lazies" started to arrive at around 1'ish. First was Allison, in whose name the table was booked. She had spoken to our waitress Cleopatra (no, that was her name) or was it Patty? It was hard to get confused, especially as the afternoon wore on. Allison was looking relaxed and expressed pleasure at her choice of venue. Then Nia, Lesley and Andrea arrived, and we started to order drinks and wonder about lunch. Jane was in Paris, lucky woman that she was, working on a film, so no Jane.
It was one of those spots that, although the space seemed tiny, you always bump into someone that you know. Brandon McLeod from Newsclip suddenly appeared with his friend Roan from ModelCo and we invited him to join us as a fellow "lazy". Brandon and Roan ordered some Waterford Rose and settled down at the other end of the table. I have a soft voice and found it hard to speak to them so moved down to their end. By the time our table was in full swing and getting loud and happy. Our fellow lunchers gave us indulgent looks from time to time as our laughter burst forth under the trees.
"There's a hole in this bottle!" Brandon told Cleopatra, who grinned and went to get him another one. He held up his glass to the light, revealing the tiniest hint of pink in the wine. The cut glass jar with the ice was doing the rounds, and I put some into my wine.
Then Helen arrived. She was late because her daughter Layla was turning nine and had a birthday party later in the afternoon. We all had to admire pictures of 9-year-old Layla, looking beautiful and "schmodelish" in her mother's garden.
We went inside for lunch and loaded up our plates with the goodies on the table, using the funky salad servers (one printed and one dotted, in red). It was so good that I could not speak to anyone for at least ten minutes. But afterwards the conversation flowed, naturally touching on the events of the week. The setting, glorious food and afternoon sun somehow diluted some of the horrors that had passed and helped ease the wounds.
The smokers retired around the corner for their fix, and en route to the loo I went to see the gardens of the Villa d'Este, which were immaculately clipped and topiaried. Each space was more delightful than the next. Why had I never discovered this place before?
After pudding for some, tiny puffed up chocolate souffles oozing over ramekin dishes which everyone dipped their spoons into for just one taste, our bills arrived individually, a coil of paper in a rose-pink, Moroccan water glass set at each place. The lazies only started to leave at around 5pm, when Cleopatra, Patty and their fellow workers had to pack up for the night. It was hard to put an end to what had turned out to be a very fruitful and lazy day.
The Birdcage beckons with a date for a future long lazy lunch!