Let’s eat out. Er. Tell you what. Let’s not.

Posted on June 29, 2011 by

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All my life, until this very minute, it’s been a complete mystery to me as to why, when the world and his wife rave over eateries, I find them below awful. It’s not that my expectations are too high; my expectations are that professional values and attitudes are at least as high as mine, preferably, higher. Why should I eat worse out than I do in? After recent experiences it dawned on me. People who serve and people who rave have standards below mine. It’s not me, it’s them. Take the stylish über expensive tea room at the National Portrait Gallery in London. One cake, one pot Earl Grey. Difficult? Apparently so. I get breakfast tea. Replacement is served minus lemon which involves a third trip to the counter elbowing myself to the front of a long, thirsty, irritated queue. Is server apologetic? Embarrassed? Not a bit of it. She tuts dramatically as she throws two slices in a saucer. It’s not you who should be tutting I say very coldly very calmly and very loudly, it’s me. My tea is getting cold. Do I get a pretty, bone china cup, the type I use at home for afternoon tea? I do not. I get a mug. Call me curmudgeonly but the Earl surely never intended his tea be served in a thick, ugly mug. Or by one. Then there’s the Westmill Tea Rooms in Hertfordshire. Very pretty location.  Beautifully maintained. Spotless. Stylish. Not cheap. All fur coat and no knickers. Our order could not have been more simple. One strawberry milk shake, one cream tea (two scones, jam, cream, pot of tea for one) for Other Half, lemon drizzle cake and pot of Earl Grey for me. His shake has never seen a strawberry nor my cake a lemon. Except me. Both taste, of, well, nothing. Cream Teas mean help yourself to as much as you want from a big bowl of fresh clotted cream and home made bulging with real strawberries preserve. Doesn’t it? No. It means a Premier Inn type tiny jar of long-life flavour free cream and jam. Worse. One pot of tea between two. Er. Where’s my Earl Grey? Oh! You wanted TWO pots?!! Yes. One with the set cream tea, one for me. Earl Grey arrives. Any danger of lemon? LEMON???!! Oh!! Lemon! No pretty cup this time either. Another thick Tesco mug. For pity’s sake what are these people on?  Same as Café Rouge?  The coarse pâté ordered for starters arrives. We get smooth. As a main. Garçon looks at me as if I am a Martian. Coarse? Course!! Plus my espresso is served minus its traditional glass of water. As for Belgo in Covent Garden where real mugs, myself included, wait ages for a table, talk about The Emperor Has No Clothes. The Belgian Tourist Board should sue for defamation. The famous Belgian bucket of mussels marinière have so many empty shells they were surely recycled. As for a finger bowl. Dream on. Requesting bread to dip in the sauce am told that will be an extra two pounds fifty thank you, so no thank you, will instead hurl in the French fries served in a cat’s tin drinking bowl which has been on the heated serving counter so long it takes an awful lot of sauce to resuscitate them and still there’s sauce left. I ask for a spoon. Ever tried to eat soup with a dessert spoon? Not easy. The famous Belgian mayonnaise comes in a dolls house plastic pot and the famous Belgian beer has the kick of a mule on its last legs. My Other Half gets an even bummer deal. A fish aficionado he orders his favourite sea bass. Bass my ass. Sea sardine more like microwaved within an inch of its life. To his credit when the yard long bill arrives he studies the included six pounds service charge and politely requests it be removed. We go home, pour a shot of malt, pop a Morrisons’s spinach and ricotta pizza in the oven, break open a pack of Strawberry Pencils, settle down to catch up TV and promise each other we will never ever eat out again.

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Photography copyright Mark Playle

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