First Impressions at Crossroads

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Cutlery and Roses

By Vanessa Obioha    08081789737      

You may be forgiven if your first impression about Crossroads bar and restaurant in Eko Hotels & Suites ended at a simple glance. Truly, its simple amd serene outdoor decor does not instigate one’s curiosity to go beyond the glass door. Perhaps, this explained why I kept postponing my visit to the restaurant.

 To be sure, Crossroads didn’t just open yesterday. It’s been in business for over two years. But I somewhat made a hasty conclusion that the interior will just be the conventional setting – a serene ambiance, salsa or tejano music playing in the background with  an array of Mexican cuisine. How wrong I was. My recent visit proved my first impressions were very mistaken.

 The moment you opened that door, you are transported to another world entirely. First, you will be captivated by the architectural design depending on the entrance you take for there are two ways to the restaurant. One is situated on your way to the lobby while the other shares the same hallway with the cafe and bookstore, right before the ATM machines. 

For my first visit, I took the door outside the lobby. At first, I wondered where the shiny circular staircase on the left  side led to, then I looked ahead and saw the glass doors which automatically opened as I drew near. For a moment, I felt like a genie had just dropped me in the middle of a magical restaurant. Every piece of decor grabs your attention. From the darkly-lit restaurant with its fine dining set to the bar where a group of people were having  drinks and watching a replay of the popularised boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. 

 A female waiter dressed in an orange shirt and grey trousers approached me, smiling. 

 “Do you have a reservation ma or you want a seat?”

 “I will like to see the manager please.” 

 “OK ma. I will fetch him. Kindly sit at the bar.”

Two minutes later, the waiter returned.

 “Please he will be with you shortly ma.”

 Another minute, she was in front of me again. 

“He will join you now.”

The manager, a tall, fair-complexioned man who had the serious look of a banker. arrived immediately.  Then he smiled and grabbed a stool.  I introduced myself and the next minute, he was off the stool, leading me to different parts of the restaurant. 

 Crossroads is very big and spacious. The dining court is divided into two. The lower part is bigger while the elevated part which also shares some space with the band stand is smaller. A walkway leads to the kitchen where Chef Fernando and his team of local chefs are busy with the delicacies. 

The manager, Hicham El Gemayel  stopped by a table and asked the guests if they were having a good time. He got an affirmative response. There were few people dining on this particular night. 

 “Tonight is less busy,” he told me. “Come tomorrow. Wednesdays are very busy here.”

 We walked round to the bar, the longest bar so far in a Nigerian restaurant. Gemayel told me it has a seating capacity of 50 but when you add those standing, that figure adds up to 150. Gemayel hinted that there are plans to transform the decor separating the two dining courts to a bar. 

 Right beside the bar is a mini lounge aesthesised with wood panelled walls, arresting furniture and funky lights. Gemayel called the lights the ‘new generation lights’ because of its appeal to young fun lovers. Its setting is very similar to a club. On the tables are small candle decors. This is replicated on the dining tables. 

The name Crossroads is derived by the origins of its cuisine: Tex-Mex. Most Mexicans reside in Texas, US. The food menu boasted of Mexicans foods like the tacos and enchiladas. Drinks served in the bar vary but as a tradition, each diner gets a free shot of tequila. 

Everything about Crossroads has a distinct style. Gemayel pointed this out in the menu which pages are highlighted by a flowery borderline. Most of the decor and furniture are imported from Spain and France. The furnishings of the restaurant, he said costs the hotel $2 million dollars. 

   The  waiting room and restroom is located at the basement of the restaurant. He explained that, that was where the staircase led to but staff members use the elevator. However, on my second visit, I wasn’t too impressed by the state of the restrooms. More attention should be paid to the cleanliness of the convenience particularly, the ladies. 

  “Just come tomorrow with a date at 8p.m,” Gemayel insisted, “That’s when we open and we stay till two or three in the morning or whenever God says we should go.  It’s another experience on its own. I will reserve a seat for you because it can be difficult getting a seat. About 80% of the seats are already reserved for tomorrow’s night.”

 I needed no further persuasion. On Wednesday night, I was all dressed in my little black lace dress with my date, ready to dig in to the Belvedere Wednesdays. This time around, we used the other entrance. Outside it was a banner displaying an ad for the night as well as the opening time of the restaurant. Inside, we were greeted by a female hostess who confirmed our reservation and took us through the bar where a fashionable throng was clinking glasses, laughing, arguing or simply enjoying the bustle. It was difficult to assimilate the scenery before me. 24hrs ago, there were few people in this restaurant but now, it seemed like a ball was going on. There were no seats, not even the lounge could spare a seat. The band was playing. So the noise of the crowd combined with music sounded like a beautiful cacophony. The restaurant suddenly looked like a club.

 Gemayel came to greet me and my date and told me beforehand that he would be extremely busy but I should have a good time. The hostess finally took us to our table. My date and I spent the first few minutes absorbing our environment. A middle-aged man who looked like a corporate top gun was just finishing his dinner. He seemed oblivious of the chatter around him. Beside us was a group of young ladies who must have finished dinner or just had only drinks. Behind my date was another group who seemed to be colleagues unwinding after a hard day’s work. At our extreme right, another group of beautiful girls was just having fun. It was hard for my date and I to hear each other. We had to lean across the table or speak louder. So it is not advisable to go to Crossroads on a busy night like Wednesdays if you want to have a quiet dinner.

 It took a while before we got a waiter to attend to us. Apparently, the restaurant is understaffed to serve their teeming guests. This calls for all hands to be on deck. So don’t be surprised when you see Gemayel clearing the tables or the hostesses doing same. At a point, more tables and chairs were brought in to accommodate guests who kept walking in every minute. For instance, immediately the gentleman on our side left his table, a couple occupied it but didn’t stay long. Perhaps, they couldn’t go with the flow. Nevertheless, the seats didn’t stay vacant for long as another couple occupied them. 

 

I ordered for a strawberry margarita drink while my date had a glass of sparkling white wine. 

For our starters we had fries and chicken ribs. The chicken was so juicy that we ordered for more. Gemayel had boasted of this earlier.  The waitress was kind enough to put us through the menu, explaining the ingredients and taste of the various delicacies on display. I couldn’t help but notice that the prices were as high as N17, 500 and as low as N1,200.  We ordered for the Mexican green rice and Greek salad. The meals were brought in bowls since the table was already set. The green rice was very green in colour but very spicy. We decided to have a spongy cake for desserts. It’s like having an iced sweet cake.

 By 10 pm, the band stopped playing and the DJ took over. 

 Credence must be given to Crossroads for introducing a new dining experience that blends beautifully with a club setting. But it was not always like this. When Crossroads first opened in 2014, an Italian expatriate was brought in to run the place but made no progress. For months, people just walked past the restaurant. Then Gemayel who has been in the hospitality business since he was 13 years old, took over the helm and turned things around. He is the Assistant manager of the hotel’s Food and Beverage department and responsible for all the restaurants in the hotel. But due to his success with Crossroads, he became very famous as the Crossroads’ manager. If you ask him the secret of his success, the partly Brazilian manager will tell you, it’s Jesus! 

 

As we finally took our leave some minutes before 11 pm, more guests were still arriving. The party just got started. 

Spices

Zainab Balogun Goes on a Culinary Journey  

The culinary world is not an easy one. As simple as some of its processes may be, it requires some level of training. No one understands this better than presenter, producer and actress, Zainab Balogun, who stars in the new production of EbonyLife TV, Royal Hibiscus Hotel, which is currently screening at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival. It is her second feature in EbonyLife films.

 In the movie, she played the lead character, Ope, a young disillusioned chef who works in a restaurant in the UK but had to return to Nigeria to pursue her true passion. For her role, Balogun admitted that she had to do a research on the culinary world.

 “I had to do a thorough research before auditioning for this role. What is it about chefs that make them unique? What is it about cooking food that makes you feel good? It’s the smell, the feel, the taste. I discovered that cooking looks easy but it’s a bit complicated. I love to cook and I think I’m not bad at it.”

 Balogun also played the role of a caterer in “The Wedding Party”. Who knows, she might surprise us with her own culinary business someday.

Balmoral Set  for  International Drinks Festival

If all things go as planned, Lagos will play host to the first ever International Drinks Festival.

Slated for December, the International Drinks Festival will pool the industry’s top brands, professionals and consumers in a groundbreaking experience geared towards moving the drinks business forward in Nigeria.

The festival will feature an exhibition of notable brands; Masterclasses with  professionals in the field; and summits which will give the attendees opportunities to ask questions and interact with experts.

The event will take place from the 1st – 3rd December, 2017 at the Balmoral Convention Centre, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos and is proudly sponsored by Balmoral.