COMPLIMENTARO!!! Travel is about the people, the places, the sites ? but I my favourite bit is ver nosh. Therefore when I think about the best meal I have ever eaten, I think about a place on my travels. The Hotel Ranuka in Columbo did the finest Sri Lankan Curries. The swordfish in the Nightingale restaurant in early eighties Malta. But my favourite meal on my travels is in a restaurant I don’t even know the name of in Mexico City.

Like all really good “good meals” it has a story attached. Possibly the food was not the finest I have eaten. But after a long day in the Anthropological Museum we drifted towards our cheap hotel, in search of beer. One of my travelling companions (let?s call her Richeal) was leaving that night, eight o’clock flight. It was four, so we wanted a final beer or two to say goodbye. We found a nice, if empty bar, upstairs around the corner from our hotel. It looked a bit posh and we probably would not have stayed except they looked keen on our custom and we had just gone up the stairs.

So we ordered three beers. And three beers, in nicely ice frosted glasses came. Along with three plates of chorizo in red wine. We were not sure on the Mexican tapas situation, and were not minted. The phrase “Complimentario” was said which might have meant “for your gringo impudence we will charge you double” but embaressment won the day again and the chorizo was damn tasty. The beer and sausage went down a treat.

So we ordered three more beers. We had about an hour and a half to kill before Richeal HAD TO GO. The three beers came. With three bowls of fish soup. Yes, I know Mexico City is landlocked and in the clouds, but the soup did look nice. Yet again though it had not been ordered and this was quite a posh place. When we came in we wondered about the price of beer. “Complimentaro” was heard again and the waiter looked amazingly pleased with himself. In the manner of someone fleecing punters out of all their pesos. What the hell thought we, our Spanish may be lousy, but we can argue, and it was Richeal last night. Soup and beer slurped accordingly.

So we ordered three more beers. Forty minutes before HAD TO GO time. Beers come. With three plates of fried fish. Now the wallet lathering effects of two beers apiece made us rich like kings. Who cares if “Complimentaro” meant they were going to own our immortal souls for eternity. The fish had to be eaten. It was eaten, beer was drunk and Richeal wondered if
a) her 100 pesos would be enough for the drinks, food and the cab
b) She could perhaps postpone her flight for more food’n’drink

What to do? Beer, food, we did not care what it cost. We ordered three more beers as Richeal fussed about getting a cab from the restaurant, via a two minute, three man packing spree in the hotel. Restaurant obliged. When she asked to pay for the call they said “Complimentaro”. We wondered if it was the name of their tribe. Three more beers. No food, we almost sigh with joy that we will not have to do the odd haggling thing. We get the bill, fearing the worst.

Cost. Twelve beers. We pay quickly, leaving a large tip. We scarper to the cab hoping they did not notice the mistake. Cab drive speaks English. We ask him what “Complimentaro” means. He says it is not a real word, but may it means complimentary. Richeal catches her flight, we spend three more days in Mexico City. And to my pauper’s shame, we did not return; for fear that they had made a mistake. So if you are in the Allende district, one block east of the Metro station, and you see some nice wooden stairs, you two might get four lovely courses for nothing.