Do you like Thai food? Be careful if you criticise.
A short story – Colin Devonshire
‘Thank you, most entertaining. That was the most tasteless meal I’ve ever had the misfortune to not eat. I was going to say eat, but I hate to lie. I couldn’t swallow a mouthful,’ Chantana said as she pointed her spoon at a gooey mess of chicken curry.
‘Brilliant, that’s what I wanted to hear,’ Dennis said and, smiled.
‘What? You take me out for a meal, and wanted me to hate it? Thanks very much.’
‘No, no, you don’t understand. I will take you for a glorious dinner soon.’
‘Look, let’s get one thing straight, I am a food critic. I am not here on a date.’
Chantana swept her thick, glossy hair away from her face. She loosened the front of her taut blouse away from Dennis’ eyes.
‘Yes, I know, and I understand. As much as I’d love to take you on a romantic whirl around London one day, I need your food thoughts.’
‘Let’s say, this restaurant will not be getting any praise from my magazine,’ Chantana said. ‘What are you up to?’ she continued.
‘We both know, I love Thai food.’
‘I want this restaurant. And I will get it,’ Dennis smiled as wide as the Chao Phraya River.
‘Why on earth do you want this place? It is a dump.’
‘And what does that mean?’
Dennis smiled, ‘It means, I will take over this place for a great deal less than you think.’
‘I’m not with you?’ Chantana said.
‘Why do you think this restaurant has such a poor showing on social media?’
‘Because it’s bloody rubbish?’
‘Yes, but if no one comes here they don’t rate it, one or more stars.’
‘What are you on about?’
‘I come here, and give it a one-star rating, over and over again. You see?’
‘No, I don’t see.’
Chantana was shaking her head. ‘You can only leave one rating per email address.’
‘Yes, that’s why I have many addresses.’
‘So, you deliberately get it a bad name?’
‘That’s right. The price drops, and I pick up a killing,’ Dennis was proud of himself.
Chantana, stood, ‘Thanks for the meal. You will see my article in the next issue. Goodbye.’
She left five pounds as a tip. Dennis gawped, when she had turned her back he pocketed the note and switched it for a coin.
‘Can I have the bill please,’ Dennis called to the kitchen.
‘Yes, sir, tonight we’ll give you a ten per cent discount. Okay?’
‘No need, but thanks.’
‘Can you wait a moment, my boss needs to talk to you?’ Mimi, the young waitress, ducked her head and opened the dividing door.
“Now the price drops, even lower.” He thought to himself.
An elderly Thai lady shuffles in.
‘Thank you for waiting. The real owner, my husband, is ill and cannot talk to you. He is the chef and sadly cannot cook any longer. My granddaughter, who you’ve met, has been left to run the place. And, well, we are going out of business. We will need to sell. Please find a buyer for us, at a fair price.’
‘I will indeed. What makes you think, I may know someone?’
‘You are here often, I hoped you like our little restaurant, and would find us an interested person?’
‘I see. Out of interest, what price did you have in mind?’
‘We have a long lease, which is valuable, and all the equipment here,’ she waved her arms at the furniture. ‘And a fully operational state-of-the-art kitchen. Oh, and our top-secret recipes.’
‘Your star rating is poor, there is probably not much interest. Would I be right?’
‘The rating is upsetting, and it is strange. You are our only patron. So, I’m not sure who would write them?’
‘Okay, I’d better fly. I’ll see what I can do for you. Bye.’ Dennis rushed out.
Dennis decided not to rush his bid. “Let her sweat.”
He called into his local wine bar. ‘Now, let me think,’ said Dennis to himself. ‘I will expect a rent reduction from the property owner. And he must start the lease length from scratch. Ten years, or more? Fair enough. The restaurant equipment is okay, everything is in place. But, secondhand, it’s not worth much. I guess they haven’t got time to sell it all separately. Good name? That’s a joke, after the reviews I posted?’ Dennis chuckled.
The bar owner smiled and raised his glass of red, ‘How’s it going, Dennis?’
‘Great thanks. It’s about time you offered a few Thai dishes with your Singha Beer?’
‘I’ll be taking over a Thai restaurant, and can give you a great deal on spicy snacks.’
‘Yeah, not the one I read about?’
‘Big secret, until the ink is dry,’ laughed Dennis.
The next day, Dennis revved himself up for his next conversation.
‘I may have a buyer for you,’ said Dennis into his phone.
‘Oh wonderful, when can I meet him, or her?’
‘I’m acting as an agent for a wonderful Thai couple. Can I come around today?’
The time was set.
Dennis had time to pick up his magazine on the way.
‘I see there is a feature on Thai food in here. I’ll read that later. Perfect timing.’ He laughed, then jerked in surprise.
‘Oh, I didn’t expect to see you here, Chantana?’
‘I thought there may be something newsworthy to write about. You don’t mind do you?’
‘No, not at all. All publicity is good publicity, is it not?’ said Dennis with a smirk.
Mimi came in carrying a huge steamer of rice. The old lady followed with a tray and three plates of curry.
‘I didn’t expect food,’ said Dennis, turning his nose up.
‘There are three dishes of our secret recipe. One very spicy, for Chantana, one medium for me, and one, not so hot for you.’
‘Who said, I can’t eat spicy food? Give me the hot one.’
‘Okay, up to you. There is a bottle of water,’ she said, winking at Chantana.
The food reporter smiled and started on the food.
‘This is lovely, auntie,’ she said.
‘Auntie?’ asked Dennis.
‘A show of respect from Thai to Thai. Try your food, it is not like the slops the other night.’
‘No,’ mumbled Dennis. ‘It’s not, is it? But, not too spicy for me.’ He woofed the whole plate. Gulped some water.
The ladies smiled at each other.
‘You know your friend too well,’ said Auntie.
‘He has to show off, offer a challenge, he’ll accept it.’
Sweat was bursting into droplets on Dennis’ face, he loosened his collar. ‘I need more water.’
Chantana signalled to Mimi. ‘A clean, fresh bottle for our guest, please.’
‘What do you mean? She’s not your staff to order about,’ croaked the guest.
‘She is now,’ all three laughed.
‘I see you have your magazine, don’t you want to read it?’ Chantana pointed.
Dennis damping the art paper, as he flicked to, ‘New Owner at Thai Restaurant. Our acclaimed reporter has taken the lease of the town’s exciting establishment. After some wicked and untrue reviews. It is back to its best. Do try the secret recipe curry. You’ll die for it.’
Dennis’ head hit the tabletop.