MONA'S MEALS | Sunday, 11 November 2007

Girl power: boy, it feels good

The Strand, Sliema

I am not given to bouts of self-congratulation but there is one instance for which I’m willing to contort in order to pat myself on the back. Over the years I have, possibly by chance, but probably because of my liberal outlook, managed to amass an entire posse of girlfriends which consists of only gay men.
What people do with their heart, mind and body is nobody’s business which is why it’s heinous to discuss anybody according to their sexual preferences. Yet, it’s a basic fact of life that gay men rule girls’ worlds. They establish who the hottest music acts are (who do you think made Madonna and Britney who they are?), what trends to follow and even which magazines to read. Of course, there’s also the question of Barbie, who we’ll pass over today.
Which is why when I rock up to my Saturday lunch with the ladies, I must be armed with the latest information, and probably this week’s copy of Grazia, which they devour on my behalf. I must also be flexing the hard-worn plastic because they’ll want to shop, an event which hetero men normally find as enticing as slashing their wrists while slurping a box of sleeping pills. And they’ll want me to shop too. If I don’t, what’s the point?
Only, since I’m so immune to their exultations, I tread with pretty toes about where I give in. An example: Louboutin Man, Corporate Lawyer and I walk into a shoe chain where I’m supposed to buy – duh – a pair of shoes. In my book, they have to be comfortable and smart. Sexy only comes in if they can take 8 hours of traipsing. But in a rose-tinted version these two adjectives don’t apply.
So they suggest I buy a pair of four-inch platform heels which make me look like I’m going to topple over or beat someone up. ‘Fabulous, darling!’ So I take their advice, put on the ‘sooo Prada, Mona!’ pair, do a little twirl, and then buy a pair of flat ballerinas which they insist are so going out of fashion. In other words, I take their advice and stuff it in my pocket. After all, I don’t have a limo taking me around or enough money to get my veins drained every three months.
First point of discussion – and we’re talking serious, earnest, talk here – was the upcoming tour of the newly-reformed Spice Girls aka or Spice Mothers. To me, that’s about as exciting as a cinnamon stick that’s been used five times. To them, it’s the only way to spend as much money as possible. Art Assistant and Louboutin Man threatened each other not to ‘divulge a word’ on the actual concert before either had watched it, in the same vein that others would discuss the ending of Prison Break Series 2.
Second point of discussion, brought about by me, was Hasbro’s re-launch of the Monopoly board game in its girly format. It’s bright pink (yippee!) and London roads have been replaced by boutiques, salons and arcades. The horrid counters of dog, dog-eared boot and doggone racing car have been transformed Cinderella-style into flip-flop, hairdryer, sunglasses and handbag. Although why the racing-car is no more is beyond me, seeing as most girls hanker after an Hermes scarf twisted around the visage and a whiz in a convertible. We all vowed to chip in and buy it between us. Talk about party games.
Sadly, the posse’s choice of restaurant is unreliable, to put it mildly. What they go for is not the food, although they do eat in quantities which would put a workman post- five hours of hauling limestone to shame. Much in exactly the same way as they want me to buy a bag because ‘it’s studded in so many pretty Swarovski crystals: perfect for work, no?’, their choice of eatery is led by design.
So we went to Misto for all the wrong reasons, not a single one of which included stuffing ourselves with a decent lunch after all the pavement-beating (they wear flats, I wear heels to please them): there would be everyone, everyone would see us, the design is ‘like something out of London’ and it’s bang slam in the middle of The Strand. ‘What about the food?’ I pleaded, knowing that this was mostly an area where ingredients go to die. ‘Oh Mona! Can’t you think about anything but food?’
The ‘everyone’ that hangs about at Misto seemed to be wearing at least Lm200 worth of sunglasses, obviously on their heads. When they slid them down to play the mysterious card, the frame was larger than their faces. This is very important if you want to pretend you’re someone famous who wants to hide from the paparazzi. I have no idea if the MaltaToday photographer was hanging about somewhere, but ultra-zooms and constant clicks were nowhere to be seen and heard. Paris H would go nuts.
Misto is staffed by the saddest people on this planet, most of whom seem to have been extracted from some Eastern European country on the premise that Malta is the sunny island of dreams. They ignored us constantly, played ‘waiter’s eye’ with us (that’s when you pretend you don’t notice the idiot waving crazily from across the tables) and generally left us to our own people-watching devices. They brooded, scowled amongst themselves, and frowned at our very normal orders.
The ladies wanted to go for just one food-related reason. Well, at least drink-related. In a rerun of Sex and the City (the movie’s coming out soon – that was another hot topic), they ordered a Fragolino, a dark-pink wild-strawberry ‘wine’ full of bubbles which would make Carrie ditch her Cosmopolitans for ever and Michael Tabone cringe in embarrassment. It comes served in a champagne cooler and is served in flutes. I only had a couple of super-sweet sips but managed to upend the rest of the contents on the Corporate Lawyer’s white t-shirt and striped shorts in a very unladylike lack of grace. Oh the shame.
Misto’s attempts at a decent list are laudable but still dire for the fashionista’s ‘diet’ of choice, which doesn’t allow a gram of carbohydrate. Since the girls are more attuned to telling me what to eat, than to practice it themselves (although all of them are buying my upcoming low-carb food book) I was the only one ordering the ‘Aramati’, supposedly ‘seared marinated beef served on a mesclun of summer leaves, served with ricotta and a touch of sweet chilli marmalade’.
Rather like buying a pair of imitation Louboutins just because the real thing looked good on Sienna Miller, the actual plate turned out to be some cheapo beef strips doused in five-spice, drenched in something really hot, placed on loads of lettuce and rocket leaves and decorated with tablespoons of Italian ricotta straight out of a container. I ate it, but that doesn’t mean I would necessarily recommend it to anyone.
The Art Director – who was recently upgraded to Ruler of the Art World or something similar and keeps wanting to change his Mona’s Meals nik – had pasta, swearing that once my book was out, he’ll never look at another strand of spaghetti for the rest of his life. It was meant to be with rocket, pesto and ricotta. There was loads of the latter, but nary a taste of peppery leaves or basil. LM had the same thing in a spaghetti format so, ditto.
Art Assistant had the ‘eggplant and tomato stack’. Whoever wrote its description – a tower of eggplant, tomatoes and mozzarella served with peppers, olives, pine nuts and rucola salad – is obviously unaware that towers are as hip as anything not worn by Kate Moss. In reality, it wasn’t anything built, but rather a hotchpotch of ingredients in tumbled style.
I cannot, for the life of me, remember what the CL had (as if staining his clothing wasn’t enough) but I know it was a baguette of something and that it came with packet crisps. Ooh, that must be as cool as getting an invite to a party from a politician. Sadly, he paid Lm2.75 for it.
The pink pound world is built on a strong foundation of ‘who cares if it’s expensive: I want it, and now!’ The stuff at Misto is expensive, but if anybody wants it is another thing altogether. As it was, the most popular thing on the agenda was the fragolino, which is not even on the menu, and that we could have got anywhere at one third of the price.
The fact that Misto was packed for Saturday lunch had nothing to do with its products, but everything to do with its location and our idiocy. In the long term though, the gayest of gay men will always opt for something real and good: chic but practical. That’s why they love me so much.


Undressing for Dinner

One for the great mysteries of civilisation: why are we so uptight here in Malta about dress codes for dinner? In my books – if you’ll pardon the atrocious pun – eating out is an excuse for a night out, a treat to be savoured in relaxed mode. Sure, there are times when dressing up is part of the fun and anticipation, but on other occasions, especially when one has been to too many business lunches in starched suits, casual is the name of the game for me.
Abroad one can go to a relatively formal place and not feel out of place in jeans; here – admittedly not everywhere, by any means, but in a considerable number of posh eateries – anything less than black tie doesn’t seem to be good enough. Frankly, if I wanted to put up with airs of superiority and glances askew... well, there are many places that come to mind, but most definitely none of these would be a restaurant.
Could it, just perhaps, have anything to do with our concept of service? That, as a paying customer, we are entitled to wear whatever makes us feel most comfortable? Perish the thought.

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