Power out in Patnem

A power cut is a great leveller here. Whether you are staying in a basic beach hut, think shed, or a boutique chichi beach hut, you get plunged into equal darkness, becoming a musical statue. The maglite or your phone may be nearby, but try finding either in pitch black.

You can hear a collective “ooh” from the diners at the beachfront restaurant as the power fails and the candles on the table come into their own, providing just enough light. 

The kitchen is well used to cooking in the absence of electricity.  The lit tandoor is fuelled by wood. The cooking rings are powered by bottled gas. 

But you can’t get a strawberry daiquiri when there’s no power as those get whipped up in the bar equivalent of a nutribullet. And they need a power source.

Sitting on the balcony, mug of tea, reading the kindle, I carry on as normal. The kindle screen is great in pitch black. Ironically, I am reading Americanah and am on a page towards the end of the book where the protagonist talks about power cuts and non functioning back-up generators in her block in Lagos. I know where the maglite is, but I have no need to use it. I have no need for my own mini back up solution. I am enjoying the dark, even if punctured by the kindle light spill.

Pitch black above softens slightly and after a few minutes of eye adjustment, the faint outline of palm fronds can be detected against the black sky. And there is one star or planet visible. Could it be Venus, apparently visible in the last few days? I will never know.

The waves sound louder as they hit the shore. 

Five minutes or so later and the power is restored. 

Damn. I quite liked the dark. 

And, there’s another one early next evening. Experience tells me to take a shower while it’s still light as there is some natural light spill into the bathroom. No hair straightening for my frightful beach hair. But clean, I head to the bar for a strawberry daiquiri sundowner just as the sun reaches its last few minutes.

Damn and double damn. No power. No strawberry daiquiris: a sundowner pot of tea it must be.

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The perfect strawberry daiquiri at sunset or later

Roll up, roll up. This is a challenge and a half. They are all good, all three, almost neck and neck, but I have to make a decision and pick one out, probably by, er, necking a few more of them down.

Something a bit Alice about this challenge. Drink me. Drink me.

Every day, I see the man on the beach who sells trays of strawberries, walking from beach shack to beach shack, selling to the kitchen staff and to those in charge of the cocktails.  Occasionally, sun worshippers, often strawberry pink themselves, respond to the passing call of ‘strawberries, strawberries’ and buy a box to enjoy at their sunbed. Me, I wait.

I wait until sunset approaches. It wouldn’t be decent any earlier. As part of the preparation, a decision has to be taken from a sunbed, whether to stay and slink up to a table at that shack just ahead of the sunset, predicting the time when it will not be too late to get a table facing right out to sea and the sunset, or whether to go elsewhere, not knowing how many other people have decided to go there too. Tough holiday decisions, I know.

The classic sunset choice has to be Boom Shankar at Colomb Bay, a ten minute stroll along the beach from Patnem, not allowing for distractions en route. There is a bit of a stampede for the tables overlooking the bay as the sunset view is one of the better sunset views on this planet, even without a strawberry daiquiri to mark it. But timing is all and it’s a bit uncool to be the first there. But you don’t really want to be sitting further back as you just don’t get the full panorama. There’s a happy hour too – I think you get a 20 rupee saving per cocktail. Not much to write home about, but an approximately 15% discount does equate to one free in eight, far better than a Cafe Nero coffee loyalty card. Boom Shankar, the undisputed original purveyor of the strawberry daiquiri in the area. A frozen cocktail, served, overfilled, in an old fashioned glass – you have to make a quick start on it before the overfill starts to melt and soaks the tablecloth. It is difficult not to make a quick start though. Rich in crushed strawberry content, I used to think this was the best in the world, easily beating a Manhattan bar’s offering at almost ten times the cost. But it is a bit like a grown up slush puppy, a bit on the sugary side, fairly light on the white rum taste. The view is unsurpassable though, more so  if there are a couple of local kids having fun and messing about in a rowing boat on the bay when the sun sinks to its final levels.

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The second strawberry daiquiri in my top three is from Tantra, a Patnem institution with welcoming staff and, in the style of Cheers, a bar where everyone knows your name. I am not sure how they know my name, but they do. Definitely like being in your local, even if the view and setting is a million miles away from any local hostelry in this city. Served in a large tulip shaped stemmed glass, packed with strawberry purée and any strawberry lumps which have got stuck in the chopping blades of the blender, there is a good acidic kick from the squeezed limes too. An underlying taste of white rum finishes this one off nicely. You sometimes get a strawberry pushed onto the rim of the glass, not quite as often though later in the evening. I think they get so busy that they forget. Occasionally, depending upon the number of tulip shaped glasses already in use, it’s served in a highball glass. The combination of the sharp limes and the rich strawberry content make this one feel like a health drink, not at all sweet as far as cocktails go, and it is rude not to have a second. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of these as a sundowner though – it tends to be a gin and tonic or a beer as it would feel a bit too Del Boy to have a cocktail there that early! No photos of a strawberry daiquiri here though as it’s always a later evening drink, just a sunset view of the local lifeguard hard at work and a boat watching the sunset.

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For beauty and looks, head to April 20. A fine strawberry daiquiri, the most expensive of the trio, served in a classic cocktail glass, always with a large whole strawberry set into the rim of the glass. Elegance in a glass.  This is one to contemplate before sipping. No rustic lumps of strawberry left behind in the purée, a good balance of flavours and a high rum content too. Not overly sweet, but missing the contrast of the sharpness of the limes marks it down just a notch from Tantra’s offering. Again, it is difficult not to have a second. This one feels wholly appropriate at sunset, an upmarket restaurant feel rather than a beach shack, looking out across the beach, maybe an on the hoof football kick about taking place, a standoff of local dogs seeing who can bark the loudest or a show-off doing some beach yoga poses or a bit of juggling. And, occasionally, a sunset to die for, not perhaps quite as breath taking scenery as that from Boom Shankar.

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So, there are winners all round. Boom Shankar for the setting, Tantra for the taste, and April 20 for the presentation and style. And they do all taste fabulous in their different ways.

I may think about tasting some others next visit, purely in the interests of my research.