Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 0 Issue: 491 | 22nd day of Eating, Y13
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Weisbauch Reports: The Kelp Experience


by arbenheist

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MARAQUA - Sometimes, being a ghost has its distinct advantages. In my capacity as a reporter, my deceased state has come in handy on a number of occasions. Now, as I drift serenely through the splendid underwater city of Maraqua, surrounded by colourful plant life and elegant marine petpets, I am entirely grateful for the fact that I do not have to breathe. This extra special “talent” of mine has permitted me the honour of profiling Neopia’s most high-end and fashionable restaurant – I refer, of course, to Kelp.

I wait for the maître d’hôtel Scorchio to finish chasing away two scruffy diners lacking reservations out the front door of his esteemed restaurant. They swim away rapidly and, patting down his now creased jacket to return it to its crisp, remarkably unfolded state, he approaches me and asks, as is customary, whether I have reservations. I tell him my name – “Weisbauch, Neovian Press” – and, at once, the stern frontman is transformed into a genial and courteous host who leads me to a table seated right by the window. It is splendid, of course – pristine tablecloth, a stylish bouquet of rainbow-coloured coral serving as an attractive centrepiece, cutlery that appears to be crafted from sturdy seashells, judging by the beautiful swirling patterns, and that celebrated, four-page menu. At his insistence, I must dine before I interview, and so, with a smile and a nod, I take my seat and peruse the appetisers.

The food is sumptuous. I have difficulty deciding what to have, but I listen to my heart and order the Pate a la Kelp, one of the restaurant’s many specialities. The waitress blows an exaggerated, highly artisan kiss of perfection from her hoof to the air, and I cannot help but grin – it is truly the little details such as this that make Kelp such a fine dining experience. Service is quick, and, within no time, I have polished off my pate. Perfection right down to the last morsel, a cool, mellow blend of locally grown vegetation served with the perfect accompaniment of fresh bread. It is hard to believe this delicious dish is only the appetiser.

When it comes to the main course, again, I face a dilemma in making a choice. This time the waitress is bold enough to step in to offer a suggestion – “The ocean platter, monsieur, is a dish that always pleases” – and, impressed by this grand claim, I place my order. Again, my food is swift to come, and this time I am delighted by an array of sparkling flavours that dance across my palate. There is saltiness from the shellfish. There is a little sweetness from the fish meat. And there is the unique and recognisable taste of a squid cooked perfectly. As the waitress comes to take away my plate, I request that she send my compliments to the chef for the degree of perfection achieved with this squid.

“But of course!” she exclaims. “He will be pleased to hear. He is the only chef who can make a titanic giant squid so mouth-watering.”

I would have taken a moment to consider what she had just said, but there was no time to spare, not with the dessert menu in front of me. I had already decided what I would have long before entering the restaurant – there is, after all, only one choice for true connoisseurs seeking the Kelp experience, and that is Kelp’s Signature Ice Cream. The menu description sums it up nicely – “People travel from all over Neopia to sample this most unusual dessert.” I have travelled from the Haunted Woods to see if it can live up to its reputation, and, with the first mouthful, it does not disappoint. The taste is bizarre – a flavour I do not recognise – but it is delicious nonetheless, and, despite having already had two courses beforehand, I am able to finish it without a problem. There are no leftovers for me. I will not be getting an avatar, but, at this point, I am too full to care.

The host and the waitress now come to join me for the interview portion of my visit, bringing with them three cocktails on a fancy silver tray, the rim decorated with an intricate gold patterning. My drink is odd – intertwining patterns of blue and orange swirling about a pear-shaped glass, garnished with a slice of indiscernible fruit upon a pointed metal stick, it is unlike any beverage I have ever tried before. I take a sip and am surprised by the wonderful taste that betrays the odd appearance. A look of approval evidently spreads across my features, and the host takes his turn to grin.

“Do you like it?” he asks, with an air of pride and satisfaction. “It’s a Rambus Blend. The fruits in your drink were delivered fresh today, all the way from the Space Station. Most recipes only call for either a blue or an orange Rambus, but we feel combining the two creates the perfect balance. You can taste the difference, can you not?”

Indeed I can, and, with the conversation now rolling, I seize the opportunity to begin asking questions. I lean forward – this appears to be a trademark journalistic device of mine – with my parchment, specially waxed for underwater use, and my pen in hand. I decide to begin with the most obvious question, the one that most of my readers will probably be wondering themselves – what is the origin of Kelp?

“Kelp,” begins the host, a glazed look of wistfulness and nostalgia misting over his green eyes. “Well, it began as a vision. We wanted to introduce fine dining to the Neopian masses, and so, with the rebuilding of new Maraqua following its disastrous destruction, we decided this was the opportune moment. We proposed to King Kelpbeard that he might want to include a restaurant in the plans for the new Maraquan city, and he very much agreed that it might help the tourism industry. And so, Kelp was built.”

A pleasant story from humble beginnings. To help stabilise the income of the city and balance the costs of rebuilding, King Kelpbeard agreed to the presence of this high-end restaurant. Evidently, this attracted a wealthier crowd of shoppers to Maraqua. Those eager to sample the fishy delights served only in Kelp can now indulge in a little Seashell shopping – a costly hobby, if any, but one that denotes Neopoints to spare – and take a look around the battle shop, which stocks Maractite weapons, a material renowned across Neopia for its durability. Queen Fyora herself stocks several Maractite items in her elusive Hidden Tower, to give you an idea of just how rare and in demand it is. And, for those who grow accustomed to the aquatic surroundings, they can purchase a Maraquan mansion in the nearby realtors. Truly, Kelp is part of one of the classiest areas of Neopia.

But was there no Kelp in the days before old Maraqua’s destruction? I ask the pair, and, gravely, they shake their heads. So what were they doing beforehand?

“I was an assistant at the kitchen quests,” replies the waitress with a small shrug. “He is a demanding chef, that Flotsam. It was not my most enjoyable job.”

“As for me,” says the Scorchio, waving a hand dismissively to indicate that these bygone days are in the past, “I worked in the Koi Food shop. I had the rather unglamorous task of scooping up fish eggs into sellable portions. Had I known they would later become such a rare item, I might have been less generous with the portions.”

The prices of the dishes in Kelp had already indicated to me that this Scorchio was a penny-pincher, so such a statement did not surprise me. Prices in Kelp are steep, with the most expensive items costing up to 33,000 neopoints. Kelp must surely know that it prices itself out of the reach of a sizeable portion of the Neopian population, those unfortunate residents whose pockets are not quite deep enough to stoop to such costs, not when the gallant Soup Faerie is there as a free alternative for the most poverty stricken among us. I choose to probe further into this matter, asking Kelp whether its lofty prices make it any less popular, especially in these times when a demand for expensive items of clothing has peaked.

“Hardly!” snorts the Scorchio derisively, clearly offended that I would dare to suggest the power of Kelp has in any way been tarnished. “We remain popular regardless. People flock to our restaurant from the farthest reaches of Kreludor just to sample our dishes. Where else do you find such a selection of unimaginably exquisite, gourmet cuisine?”

Where else indeed? One place does spring to mind, but I am hesitant to mention it. I refer to The Golden Dubloon, a famed restaurant resting upon Krawk Island that has enjoyed a far longer – and, arguably, far more exclusive – presence upon the Neopian dining scene. Krawk Island’s decision to reject the normal Neopian currency in favour of their dubloons makes getting a meal in the place difficult, although, unlike Kelp, it is not so crowded that one needs to have reservations. It is unsurprising that both Maraqua and Krawk Island would have their own restaurants, however. Any Neopian familiar with his history would be well aware of the long and bitter rivalry between the two worlds, which culminated in the events leading to a full-on clash between Maraquans and Pirates just a few years back. It is a war still fresh in my mind.

As expected, my mention of The Golden Dubloon brings about looks of disdain between the pair, who exchange glances before turning back to me, their noses wrinkled in a haughty expression that demands why I would even go as far as comparing the two restaurants. I shrink back into my seat slightly as they begin their onslaught of the rival eatery.

“It can’t hold a candle to us,” states the host, folding his arms defiantly. “Have you seen the attitude of that Lupe? We offer you high-end service – he, on the other hand, is a gruff, salty old seadog. You’d rather be met by someone in a lovely little burgundy tuxedo than a threatening pirate hat, would you not?”

“And those Aishas!” butts in the Uni, having been huffing and puffing petulantly all the way through her co-worker’s diatribe. “They need to take a few lessons on proper conduct. They call themselves waitresses. Where’s the sense of class? Where’s the pleasant, polite small-talk? Nobody wants to hear swashbuckling lingo and sea shanties when they come out to eat.”

“And that’s another thing!” It is the Scorchio’s turn to shout now, and, as I struggle to write down everything they shout in this vicious attack of their fellow restaurant, I regret ever bringing it up. “Do they really call that food? Squid on a stick? You had the ocean platter – you saw how our chef managed to prepare that succulent, titanic giant squid. Perfection, right?”

“Perfection!” agrees the waitress, jumping to her role in this yammering tag-team.

“Well, any baby Bori can stick a squid on a stick and call it food!” spits the Scorchio. “And pizza, in a restaurant? Don’t make me laugh!” He leaves his rant on that acidic note and, falling back into his seat with a disgruntled look upon his face, he seals his lips tightly, leaving us with an awkward and unpleasant silence. The waitress is no better: she is rolling her eyes and tutting arrogantly, no doubt running through her mind all the unmentioned reasons Kelp is better than The Golden Dubloon. Desperate to break the tension, I stand up, interview now finished – or, at least, taken as far as I want it to go – and begin to say my farewells.

Just like that, the waitress and the host have transformed back into their immaculate selves, smiling and shaking my hand and wishing me well, and I am reminded that, if anything, Kelp is always, always professional. I thank them for taking the time to participate in this interview, and they seem pleased for the added publicity. At their insistence, I promise I will return, and, as a token of goodwill, the waitress brings me a small bag containing a complimentary slice of coral cake. Perhaps it has something to do with the generous tip I gave her, but, either way, I am grateful to receive it. With one last goodbye, I turn to leave.

“Bon appetit!” calls the waitress as I step out into the streets of Maraqua. And, of course, her two famed words complete the Kelp experience. I walk away one satisfied customer.

 
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