This is … er … only a true-ish story, this because some significant details have been altered in order to protect the exact location of the venue concerned and indeed my own identity.
Yesterday I entertained a party of five at what could be described as one as a chain of high-end restaurants not far from where I live. The cuisine purports to be authentically (or in the style of) that of a specific country – a boast that I personally would never claim to have an opinion because, unlike some who contribute to this organ, I am neither a foodie nor an expert upon alcohol and what’s more I’m honest enough to admit it openly. Let’s just say that, whenever I dine at this particular restaurant, I always defer to the knowledge/advice of those waiting upon my table – that is, unless I’m with someone who knows more than I do in which case I let them take charge.
The establishment had not been our first choice because it so happened that one of our party was a native of the country, and therefore presumably the cuisine, concerned and for obvious reasons we had wished to avoid ‘taking coals to Newcastle’.
However, said first choice had been fully booked, hence our switch – and our advance apology to our guest. She, being a classy lady, just smiled and we set off to walk to our venue armed with the scheme that she would say nothing and afterwards we would be fascinated to learn her verdict upon its fare.
To be fair – and despite being a vegetarian, or vegan, and clearly very particular about what she eats – her only comments during the evening seem to confirm that the cuisine presented to us had been authentic.
That’s the set-up.
The fact is that both our meal and evening’s experience were unsatisfactory.
It being a Saturday evening, the restaurant was packed even at the ludicrously early and indeed only time for which we were able to book.
Nevertheless, it was an hour and a quarter before we were served our first course and there is only so much bread, butter and spiced oils/peppers (plus water) that one can consume before becoming a little anxious and indeed hungry.
A comment to our waitress by one of our party on the point produced an apology, a bottle of wine we had ordered some time before (well, that’s not quite correct – when it arrived it wasn’t the bottle ordered at all, it was explained that this was now out of stock so we were offered a different one that we accepted) and an assurance that the kitchen would be given the hurry-up.
A while later our obliging waitress was summoned again and asked whether there was a ‘kitchen issue’ on the night. Her half-explanation (I leave aside whether it was a definitive or acceptable answer to the query) was that the restaurant was very full.
From this point the establishment was on the back foot and our chief ‘complainant’, who had herself in her time worked in and indeed run some ‘name’ West End bars and restaurants, quietly but firmly took command.
My starter dish (which cost as much as my choice of main) was billed as containing butter beans. Which it did – four of them. I don’t know a great deal about ‘nouvelle cuisine’ – apart from its diminutive portion size – but at least it certainly qualified under that heading.
By now some sort of under-manager had visited our table and had attempted to mollify our state of unhappiness.
When our main courses arrived, our ‘head complainant’ took two or three bites of what decorated her plate and pronounced it as inedible. Our long-suffering waitress returned and listened to a detailed explanation of what was wrong with the dish provided. Away she went (an alternative dish having been declined) and soon a more senior manager than the previous one materialised beside me with the news that we would only be charged for our drinks on the night – and nothing for our meal.
Everything was conducted with what I would describe as decorum and calm.
As we relaxed, still sitting but and preparing to depart, a gent from an adjacent table politely introduced himself to me and inquired about our problem if any. In our subsequent brief conversation he mentioned that the meal at his table had been served cold.
Back chez nous, our party relaxed, had coffee and talked into the night (we’d declined the offer of dessert at our restaurant) – the ‘craic’ being good enough that there was no post-mortem on the dining experience and instead a range of other subjects to address.
I don’t get out much myself – that’s a life choice – and this might explain the tiny number of bad experiences I’ve had in restaurants.
This morning, looking back, I’d guess that last night was simply an example of ‘a bad day at the office’ which as we all know can happen in any organisation in any industry at any time.
I suppose if you work in the restaurant business, you’d call it a ‘bad day in the kitchen’.