x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

East west

One of our far-flung correspondents connects his wife's efficient unpacking in the south of France with an exorbitantly priced meal across the border in Spain.

Restaurateurs, it appears, see me coming. It seems hardly five minutes since I accidentally ordered the most expensive dish, indeed the only expensive dish, on the menu of an unprepossessing eaterie in Spain. Now I am asking myself how a cheap and cheerful Mexican dinner turned into a bank-breaking banquet. It was easy to know who, or what, to blame in Madrid: a lamentable lack of Spanish and significant misunderstandings between waiter and customers. I cannot claim quite the same degree of linguistic deficiency when in France, so will choose as my scapegoat the 47 cartons that finally arrived from Abu Dhabi 10 weeks after our departure.

The outing for dinner was to be a modest celebration of my wife's astonishing efficiency in emptying and arranging the contents, with her husband doing little more than acting as occasional labourer, in just two and a half days. We didn't want anything elaborate. Le Sub, just along the coast, was on the lips of quite a few people we knew; from the location they gave, we took it to be the Mexican cantina recommended by a friend just before we left France for the UAE in 2007 but which we never got round to visiting. That friend's income as a music teacher does not make him rich, so we had no reason to be apprehensive. Why we should suppose a Mexican establishment might be called Le Sub is harder to explain.

The location was very nearly right. Unfortunately, Le Sub was not the place where people were tucking into their tortilla, nachos and chilli con carne. It was next door, and cheap and cheerful it is not. In smartish casual attire, we instantly felt underdressed. And a glance at the menu at the entrance had me feeling overstretched. But we'd got this far, we'd booked and, well, we - or she - deserved a treat. So in we went.

What you eat, we quickly discovered, is what is served. There is no easy steak and chips alternative. Exactly how many courses arrived at our table depends on whether you count the bread and olive oil and amuse gueules as courses, but it came in any event to nine, 10 or 11. A feast indeed, and a sumptuous one at that, with small but sublime starters, in which asparagus, mushrooms and lobster all played their part, followed by sea bream for me and pigeon for my wife, still leaving a hugely varied cheeseboard and tempting desserts to choose from.

But then it needed to be a feast when you spend part of the meal using mental arithmetic to tot up the likely damage. It came to around 170 euros (nearly Dh900). If the decline of sterling makes it feel worse, am I not right in thinking I would have struggled to blow as much on dinner for two in all but a few restaurants in Abu Dhabi? Make no mistake, we will return to the same spot one day. Once there, we will pop next door to the place we first thought of. But first we need to save up to be able to afford even that.