I first arrived in Montevideo on 1 December 2013 and Lotta joined me a few days later. Within another week we moved into a small serviced apartment in nearby Pocitos, a beach suburb of Montevideo. And for three southern summers that apartment was our home.
It was not much of a challenge to feel at home in Pocitos. Within a short time, the doormen of the neighbouring buildings would greet us, together with the parking attendants and the armed guards outside the banks. On La Rambla, we quickly progressed from nodding acquaintance with the locals and their dogs, to greetings and conversation. After I had been to an excellent barber (Charles Oribe – Caballeros MVD) and Lotta had found a superb beauty parlour (Mariana Bello Peluqueria & Estética), we could not pass their premises without their waving to us. It was the same recognition and welcome that we received in the bars, restaurants and supermarkets that we frequented. And one of the parking attendants used to sing ‘You are my sunshine’, when Lotta passed him on her early morning run. We felt quite at home.
When we returned for the second year, we wondered if we would be remembered. We need not have been concerned, for greetings transformed into hugs and embraces. We were now really part of the local scene and it felt so good.
Outside a brand-new building in the next block to our apartment, there was a small chalk-board on the pavement advertising daily specials for a new restaurant, Fragolina. The restaurant was part of the large central lobby, with a small shopping complex, and had not been long opened. It was lunchtime, so we entered and ordered a meal and found the food to be excellent and plentiful. As soon as we finished eating, the chef came out of the kitchen, greeted us warmly and wanted to ensure that everything was to our satisfaction. That was our first introduction to Gaston Garrassini and his immaculate attention to detail.
We returned to Fragolina at least a couple of times every week that we were in Pocitos. We never failed to feel honoured and warmly welcomed by Gaston and his staff. When we left in April 2016, there was Cecilia, Belén, Anna and Romina. And of course Gaston’s father, who used to sit at the bar or at an empty table, reading a newspaper, or working on his laptop, until there was a home delivery for him to take care of.
Every morning Gaston goes to the market to select the best quality meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. And he never seems to follow a standard recipe, for each dish has a touch of his improvisation. One cannot please all the people all the time, but I suspect that there are very few who leave unimpressed with Fragolina and its staff.
These days we are based in Cape Town and have not been back to Pocitos since 2016. But we follow Fragolina on Facebook (see here), and the business seems to be going from strength to strength. We often look at their daily menu, and wherever we are, we say – ‘Why don’t we have lunch today at Fragolina?’
One of these days, perhaps soon, we will return.