Restaurant Review – Ciao Baby, Clearwater. One word… Scandalous!

During my fifty-toomany years of existence, your writer has been privileged to have dined in several hundred eating establishments. From a corner café in Rosettenville to a fish shop in Franschoek – from Johannesburg’s Saxon Hotel to a Sushi restaurant in Singapore, my experiences have been rich and varied . I’m not bragging, you understand. I just want to put it into perspective when I say that my lunch at Ciao Baby Cucina, Clearwater Mall in Ruimsig, Johannesburg on 21 September 2010 was without doubt one of the worst dining experiences of my life.

We ordered a mozzarella, ham and tomato tramezzino and a chicken salad. My first bite into the tramezzino – soggy with tomato juice – required the removal of a sizeable chunk of gristle. Upon closer inspection, the ham looked like it was a reject from the Russian Front.

The salad comprised a few pieces of chicken atop a dirty brown heap of limp compost masquerading as lettuce that an abominable excuse for a chef had ripped up before the Boer War. Any zoo curator worth his salt would not have given that lettuce to his animals; yet Ciao Baby Cucina’s customers are expected to pay over R60 for it.

The infamous salad - in case you think I'm exaggerating

The food was of such an atrocious standard, that we were forced to summon the manager. While waiting for him, several questions formed in my mind:

  • What if a sight impaired person were to have received this? It is common knowledge that bacteria on improperly cleaned lettuce can be fatal.
  • Is this just another example of post World Cup resumption of bad service and substandard offerings?
  • Could a person, able to dress him/herself and find his own way to work, purposefully allow such food out of the kitchen?
  • Are emporia owners and mall managers aware of the negative impact of inferior products or service? If they are, they patently don’t care.

I believe this is a problem to be addressed not only by the owners of the restaurant, but by the Clearwater management as well. Thanks to the staggeringly unimaginative occupation strategies within numerous malls in South Africa, there is little motivating me to shop specifically at Clearwater (I can go to a Woolies, Mr Price, Clicks, CNA etc at almost any mall); Now with Ciao’s deplorable menu, there’s even greater motivation to spend my money elsewhere. So Ciao Baby Cucina, you’re letting the whole side down!

Generally, eating at a restaurant brings out the polite hypocrite in me. When a sub-standard meal arrives, I am unwilling to make an issue of it, so I often just smile and say everything’s fine. Today was different. I asked to speak to the manager, and when this waste of a salary arrived at the table, I showed him the deconstructed salad and asked him if he would be prepared to eat it. He stood staring at it for so long that the silence became positively embarrassing. Thinking he might have misunderstood, or that there might be a language problem, the question was rephrased, asking if he thought the ingredients were acceptable. His eventual response was a muttered, semi-audible apology which simply annoyed me. I offered to pay for our half finished drinks, but refused to pay for the meal.


# out of 10

Notable Points

Perceived target market
Allegedly middle to upmarket mall restaurant.
Date & Time of visit
21 September 14:30
We were greeted as we entered.
Manager visible?
The manager was present – but there was absolutely no evidence that any quality control was in place
Quality of staff
Benedict, our waiter, was pleasant but mediocre. A waiter who delivers meals like that – clearly doesn’t care.
There were only 8 people in the restaurant at the time. No ambiance to speak of. And when the food was on the table – I felt nothing but disgust and anger.
Table appearance
Well set out. Clean. Cloth napkins were clean, as were the wine glasses and cutlery.
Menu variety & flexibility
The menu has changed since we were there last. Run-of-the-mill is a phrase that immediately springs to mind.
Dining area was clean – but if the food is anything to go by, I suspect the kitchen is too close to the refuse bins.
Our drinks order was completed accurately and promptly.
Our meal arrived within 20 minutes.
Food – presentation
As the food arrived, it looked presentable – but the tramezzini was soggy and the chicken salad was abominable.
Ingredient quality
Here is a glaring example of a restaurant that is trying to do customers out of a quality meal by using sub-standard ingredients and charging upmarket prices.
It only took one bite to make the decision to save our stomachs and leave.
Delivered as advertised
Absolutely not!
Worth the spend
After refusing to pay, I can’t really say. However, it’s definitely NOT worth the price on the menu.
Worth going again

Total Score


Out of 150 – pathetic!

In the past, Ciao Baby Cucina outlets in Clearwater and Eastgate Malls have delivered respectable offerings overseen by the friendly Italian owners. However, by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could Tuesday’s effort be described even as acceptable. I reckon the word execrable was invented primarily to describe such efforts. I would be interested to learn if the chain is under new ownership.


I am not sponsored by, nor do I receive any benefit from any restaurant visited. This is a private individual’s opinion, based on several years of restaurant and food experiences. You are encouraged to form your own opinions.

About Freud Fission Chips

Despite the banality of the name, FFC has led an intensely varied life. Grateful for surviving almost three years as a 'troepie' (soldier for non-South African Readers) in the Angolan war, he determined to wring as much out of life as possible. Currently providing Business Analysis services, trading on the stock market and developing web pages to pay the bills, FFC also dabbles in wildlife, landscape and people photography, writing, and far too many interests for his own good. He has also travelled extensively in southern Africa (working on the sound theory that a moving target is more dificult to hit). These peregrinations also include over 1500kms on foot through some of the worlds most spectacular scenery. It hasn't all been plain sailing, beer and skittles, and endless beds of roses... Chief amongst the prerequisites for surviving Africa, with its mind-bending characteristics, is an appropriate sense of humour.... So, for now, he will be recounting the amusing among the annoying, the frustrating wrapped in the funny and extracting the mirth from the melancholy... Oh yes, there might be some alliteration too.
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10 Responses to Restaurant Review – Ciao Baby, Clearwater. One word… Scandalous!

  1. TonyS says:

    Al, judging by the photo the kitchen isn’t close enough to the refuse bins!

    • I believe that’s entirely possible Tony.

      I am beginning to think the staff are becoming less sure where the kitchen ends and the bins begin, as this is not the first disappointing meal we’ve eaten at Ciao Baby Cucina in the last 24 months. However, until now, I’ve resisted making an issue of it, out of politeness to family or guests – something I think many restaurateurs count on.

      As we are increasingly exposed to first rate fare overseas, via food channels on TV, books and magazines, I am determined to replace my complacent, forgiving attitude with one of “money is in short supply. Your menu is full of pretty words. Deliver as advertised or be publicly named and shamed.”

      I also don’t buy the excuse line, ‘everyone has a bad day now and then’. Imagine if I wrote on the restaurant bill, ‘Sorry, won’t be paying. I had a bad day too.’ My ejection from the restaurant would most assuredly be less than dignified.

      With Johannesburg soon to be invaded by local culinary celebrities and many famous foreign foodies, I was wondering what Gordon Ramsay might say to the restaurant manager if that salad had been served to him.

      He might say the staff oughtn’t to be trusted feeding tortoises, let alone be put in charge of a kitchen. I also strongly suspect his response would be liberally sprinkled with ‘interesting’ profanity. He might even drop in a few adjectives such as moron, idiot and ‘not a cook’s arse’ into the conversation. I am not sure of this, of course, I just watch his programs a lot.

      But here’s the sad thing. If Ramsay did indeed order a meal at Ciao Baby, the staff would be falling over themselves to ensure the best ingredients were used and prepared to perfection… but when a lowly South African nonentity is the customer I get the impression that the reaction is, “Oh he won’t complain. Give him any old crap.”

  2. Lynnette says:

    Wow!!! This is IMPOSSIBLE to believe. I am a regular customer at Ciao Baby, and I keep coming back for more. I don’t believe for one moment that this is the salad that was dished up. I LOVE their tramezzino’s! “Soggy with tomato juice”….I don’t think so! Their tramezzino’s are crisp, fresh, tasty and delicious, as all their other meals!

    • Lynnette,

      I am happy that your experiences have been happy ones. I respect your opinion and would not have the obtuse audacity to disbelieve you or refute your claim of ‘crisp, fresh, tasty and delicious’ tramezzini. If you read to the end of my post, you would have seen that I asserted that I HAVE had positive experiences in the past. That does not invalidate my experience on 21 Sept.

  3. michelle says:

    Well, I am not convinced by what happened here. We eat at this restuarant several times a month and the food has always been oustanding! I have the salad all the time and and have never seen this. I cannot believe that they would put out salad like this. Sorry, WHOEVER you are but photo shop or staging a clver photo comes to mind. Where are your other ingredients in the salad in the picture. Why do you not take a picture of the whole salad.? Me nose tells me you up to no good!

    • Michelle,

      An interesting allegation about the veracity of my claim.

      Here’s a challenge.

      I will obtain and appoint INDEPENDANT forensic computer/photoshop experts (approved by the the South African Courts) to scrutinize my photographs (I took more than one and all of which are still in my camera by the way, so they, can view the original files) and submit their findings on this site and/or to any other authoritative body. If they find that I have altered the photo to make the salad look worse than it was, then I will pay for their services. This will, of course, render an affidavit I shall also obtain from the other person who dined with me, as perjurious – a serious action in itself.

      However, if they find none of the aforesaid manipulations to have taken place, then you undertake to pay for all costs pertaining to establishing the validy of the images, and you further undertake to submit to this website and publish a complete retraction of your statement, together with an apology.

      If I haven’t heard from you by midnight CAT Monday 27 September, we will assume that you accept the abovementioned article as an experience that actually happened.

    • Well Michelle?

      It’s 01:00am on 28th September and, as I suspected, you’re all gong and no dinner.

      I make bold to suggest that boasting about your olfactory acuity regarding my being “up to no good”, or inferring the use of alleged skill with image manipulation software to maliciously tarnish a restaurant’s reputation , is not the best way to win friends and influence people.

      Of course, you’re welcome to stick around and read the rest of the blog. It matters little whether you’re here or not. However, I respectfully request that you exercise more care should you elect to respond to posts. While mature debate is encouraged, submissions containing vacuous, impetuous, mudslinging will be deleted.

  4. thayn says:

    Michelle, allegations such as yours to a writer clearly unknown to you border on the fringe of… (You decide). Why would he put his reputation and crebility at risk for a R60 salad? Come on get real. Maybe you are the owner, his spouse or daughter?

  5. Pingback: Ciao Baby – could this be a turn-around story in the making? | Freud Fission Chips – Half Wit Half Wisdom

  6. Dear reader (and those other two detractors),

    Having contacted the restaurant manager of Ciao Baby Cucina in Clearwater and received an explanation for their poor performance, I was requested to revisit incognito, and take a relook at their offerings.

    I am not in the habit of doing this as I simpy don’t have the resources (No one sponsors me remember). However, in the light of the extraordinary circumstances at the mall during the renovations, I agreed and you may read my findings here:

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