Special Dispatch: Chez Bernard Café, Ulan Bator, Mongolia
by Egon Toast
The Lockheed Tristar was the marvel of its day; its tail-mounted engine the last word in aerodynamic future-world travel. Its day, though, was the 1970s. But here I was, in the brave new noughties, skidding over Siberian steppes in one of these superannuated aluminium tubes surrounded by jaded aid workers, with half the seats missing and an urgent, straining whirr emanating from above the rear doors. But out of the undulating mists, a conurbation: and what's more, an airport. Heavens be praised. We touched down, screeching past the rusting hulks of former Soviet military helicopters that line the runways of Ulan Bator International.
The intestinal knot unwound, the stomach awoke. What in god's name was the time? Have I missed breakfast? Urgent strides through the arrivals lounge took me out into the searing light and a Land Rover eager for company, if heedless of the need for suspension. And so we slammed into the centre of the city, epically crumbling concrete structures lining our route.
There simply aren't enough Peace Avenues in London. Great name for a road. Great name. And on that avenue, in the land of yurts, dried fermented yak's milk and mutton, a Belgian escapee named Bernard had set up a sprightly little café in the centre of town, and was ready and waiting to sell me croissants, and what's more, serve them to me on the outside decking space overlooking the city hustle and bustle while I tried to come to terms with the fact that I was in Outer Mongolia and ordering a caffe latte. It was all coming together.
The man himself, it has to be said, was a little off-beam. Bernard's attitude to the impeccable staff was rather, how you say, feisty. Perhaps that's to be expected of a man who's been up since dawn baking baguettes for a crowd of smug ex-pats. Perhaps he's on one of those relentless drives for perfection I read about in the Sunday food sections. Though one must ensure full disclosure: his buttery pastries were just the thing for a crisp sunny morning. The accompanying marmalade was a bitter joy, and the additional slices of toast crisp and tangy. I had a great cup of coffee. The waitress had made a pleasant shape in the creamy topping.
After breakfast, we went to a shopping mall. Mongolia is not quite as imagined.