Sunday, January 28, 2007

Getting turned away

footprints in the snow

The UK and Ireland Michelin Guide landed in bookshops on Friday and I was under whelmed in the extreme. Arbutus got a star, Joel Robuchon got one too, various Ramsey establishments got bumped up and all in all it was not terribly exciting. If I have a serious failing as the writer of a food blog it's a general disinterest in this yearly festival of anal prize giving. Frankly, I find the whole thing a bit French, and as an Englishman with Spanish roots I find it hard to trust anything so self consciously Gallic. It must be something to do with the Peninsular Campaign and reading far too many Sharpe books in my teens.

I think it is also the fact that they have "inspectors". It sounds so grey and lifeless, to have an inspector rating food with a slide rule like precision. I'd rather have someone who could shit their pants with equal measure in a Tooting curry house or a three star telling me where to eat rather than an inspector; basically someone who wants to be there rather than some poor sod with gout who has to be there. I make these judgements based on nothing but some brief reading of Bernard Loiseau's life story, instinct and rampant unjustifiable anti French sentiment.

I'll always prefer Time Out when it comes to London restaurants. In my mind they are still the campaigning, slightly anarchist leaning, militant magazine of old and I trust them marginally more than French sponsored inspectors. I know the sentiment is probably misplaced, but there you go.

One thing I feel very strongly about and I'm not sure that Michelin inspectors come across it very often is being turned away from a restaurant. It's not the turning away, hell, that's going to happen, it's the way it's done. When it comes down to it, a restaurant is somewhere that sells food, for better or worse. Its mirror image on the high street is the public convenience, yet you'd think from the way that you are made to feel that these places are doing you a favour just letting you in the door, just so they can sneer at you then dump you back on the street.

Take this Saturday for instance. I wanted to meet someone for brunch at The Wolseley. I rang them on Friday and tried to book and was told that they were fully booked but they were happy to accept walk ins for brunch and I could wait. I turn up, am ignored for ten minutes and then told no, they have nothing. Not even a sorry. Not even a look at the booking sheet and an alternative time, like I got a Yauatcha later in the day. Just a sour faced waitress scowling at me like I'm asking her to look at my bunions. It was just plain rude, shit service and here I am vowing never to return and telling you lot about it. Ha ha, their profits will tumble! Or not. I bowled over to Sketch instead, sat down in the Parlour and enjoyed cake, the space pod toilets and being treated like an adult human being by the ethereally dressed waitresses.


Sam said...

Monkeyglan, have you read this? I think you might empathise/enjoy

Krista said...

I once tried to get into Le Pont de la Tour with my dad. (Forgive butchered spelling of restaurant.) It was early--like 6 p.m. They told me the entire restaurant was booked. (We were nicely dressed. The restaurant was empty.) We went down the Thames to Browns and had a (surprisingly) wonderful meal and excellent service. We returned at 8/8:30 p.m. to a STILL empty Le Pont de le Tour. The red wine in me had me feeling gutsy, so I approached the hostess. She explained that people like me didn't need three hours to eat, like the rest of their customers, and maybe I wasn't their right kind of customer. I am not kidding. I have never seen my father so angry. I had to drag him out of there.

Barbara said...

We recently walked into a restaurant in Perth (WA) and sat down at a table set with two places. The waitress came over and said the tables that were set were reserved and could we sit elsewhere, like at an unset table. We left. I don't know why they couldn't put a reserved sign on the table - I think they enjoyed embarrassing people.

Lydia said...

For me, the experience of eating out, and the effort it takes to get to a restaurant, is all about service. Very rarely do I go out for the food; I'm capable of making decent food at home. When I eat out, I want to be treated pleasantly, have a nice time, go home without having to wash the dishes. There are so many restaurants, bistros, and pubs that do it right. Why throw money at the places that don't, just because some guide book says the place is a temple to food?

Jennifer - Eat Drink Talk said...

I totally agree with you about the Michelin guide - I've never owned a copy and don't think I'd be able to relate to the inspectors who write it or their recommendations. I always had the feeling that the whole concept of the Michelin guide is kind of dated and that most people would rather just ask their trusted friends where they should go out.

A friend who works in the kitchen at one of the restaurants given a star in the guide told me that they have photos and bios of all the inspectors taped up in the kitchen so that everyone can recognize them when they make their annual visit. Yuck.