A Kitchen Nightmare in Cape Town

It has taken us weeks to digest a bad experience we had in a restaurant. And I don’t mean the food. It was good. Or the service. It was pretty good too. This is one of those experiences that is so surreal, we still scratch our heads and wonder, “Did that really happen? Surely, someone was playing a trick on us. Maybe they were filming for Kitchen Nightmares.” But there were no boom mikes, no camera crew. What felt like a reality show was just plain reality.
The place is Olympia Café, in Kalk Bay, a pleasant seaside village near Cape Town, South Africa. Olympia has an established following among locals. Its solid reputation is why we we didn’t eat all day after a long drive and a hike around the Cape of Good Hope. We arrived famished and just before they closed.
I liked Olympia instantly. In retrospect, it’s a little like Little Moir’s in West Palm Beach with its seafood-centered kitchen and non-nonsense vibe.  The menu is scribbled on a chalkboard. It changes daily. We commented on the fact that Olympia’s small open kitchen is brilliant because patrons can see how clean it is, as well as watch the chefs work.
We shared a soup, a kilo of mussels, and a plump saucy yellowtail fillet. The approach to cooking was rustic French: coaxing the seafood to speak for itself. We liked the dishes so much that we ordered dessert, a lovely lemon tart,which was made in house.
Olympia offered everything one could ask for from a neighborhood restaurant: fresh seafood perfectly cooked and seasoned, served in a friendly atmosphere and costing what it should.  
In fact, we liked the experience so much that we drove back to Kalk Bay the following morning. After some shopping we hit up the Olympia for brunch. It was already crowded with caffeinated locals. We took our seats and eagerly perused the chalkboard. It listed brunch items I was fantasizing about. I placed my order, fresh sardines and tomatoes with eggs, please.
And then the fun started. First, I saw a giant cockroach on the wall. It scurried the length of the restaurant, its brown body standing out against the light walls. I giggled and told Josh not to say anything; we didn’t want to embarrass the waitress or cause any patrons to scream.
But it didn’t matter. A moment later, a woman jumped off her stool, madly brushing her jacket. The roach was crawling on her. She had good humor though, and said, “At least I didn’t scream.” Yes. Everything did seem ok. I looked around the room. Many patrons are laughing, as am I. In many places around the world, bugs are common. We’re all cool about it. I actually like most bugs. I play with them, and I take lots of pictures of them. My point is, this story is not about bugs. It’s about people.

Things at Olympia got ugly. What I thought was a staff member located the roach. He cupped it in his hands; it got away. He chased it around the room. Each time he cupped the roach in his hands, the roach slipped away. He just wouldn’t step on the damn thing. It was comical, until it wasn’t.
The guy gave up the chase and returned a moment later, carrying a spray bottle. The guy starts pumping bug spray around the dining room, which rapidly fills up with noxious fumes. He’s spraying in that nice open kitchen, too, where our brunches are being prepared. 
Forced onto playing defense, three more giant cockroaches scurry across the walls and on the floor. They’re literally crawling out of the woodworks. Another patron pushes back his chair and brushes an exoskeleton out from under the table. It’s a full-on, bona fide, genuine article infestation; but our waitress and the other staff members are standing to the side, gossiping and giggling, as if nothing is going on.
My smile turns upside down, fast. My hand has instinctively covered my mouth due to the fumes, and finally I say to Josh, “Let’s go.” And we did. We didn’t tell the waitress that we were leaving. Why should we? Nothing needed to be said. Before we left, though, I looked around and was more perplexed than ever. Olympia fumigated in a dining room that was full of people eating; roaches were crawling all over people; and we were the only ones in the whole restaurant who got up and left. We were the only people who did, or said, anything.
When we got outside, Josh mentioned that he overheard the waitress saying to another patron, “Roaches are out because they’re spraying today.”
What the… they? Those were professional fumigators? Josh said yes, he saw one man with a company logo on his shirt.
The Olympia Café hired professional fumigators to work while the restaurant was open and filled with patrons. That’s what you just said, right? And they did this on a weekend morning during peak brunch service. And no one thought this was a problem.

Some call Gordon Ramsey for me, please. And while you’re at it, bring back Ray Bradbury. Because this is not just crawly. It’s creepy!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Unknown says:

    A Youtube video of this would go viral.


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