Food with Rules
Restaurants with rules are a pet peeve of mine. Providing good food in a comfortable atmosphere are of course important factors for the restaurateur but sometimes basic hospitality is forgotten.
Last week I had the pleasure of spending some eating time with my Uncle Rod who has made his annual pilgrimage from San Francisco to London. He loves food just as I do and had plenty of ideas of where he wanted to eat. I had two chances to impress.
On of the things he wanted to try was Devilled Kidneys. The only place I could find those being served were at Canteen, so we chose to go to the Canteen at the South Bank. I had been to Canteen in Spitalfields before. I thought their food was simple but well prepared but found their service was slow and not particularly friendly. We arrived at Canteen at 11.45 Saturday morning we were about the only people in there. We took a look at the menu and I was relieved to see the devilled kidneys were still on the menu so mum and I decided to have the Bacon, Fried Eggs and Bubble and Squeak and my uncle the Devilled Kidneys.
The waitress was rather blunt and said that ‘Devilled Kidneys are on the main menu so could only be ordered after 12.00’. She said that this rule was mentioned on the menu which I couldn’t find anywhere and said that we would need to order only off of the breakfast menu or she would come back at 12.oo to take the order again. How silly!
I mean, this is the sort of thing you expect from McDonalds, not allowing you an egg McMuffin after 11.00 but not in a proper sit down restaurant. Devilled Kidneys is a breakfast dish anyway! In the end, the food was rather good but the whole visit was rather spoilt by this lack of hospitality.
The following night I had a chance to make things up as I had managed to bag a table at Moro, the upscale Spanish/N African restaurant which is just around the corner from the flat on Exmouth Market. Reservations were made for 6pm so we turned up on the dot. Things initially looked good, waiters seemed friendly and we were led to a table with a view over the open restaurant. We were offered a drink and we took the waiters recommendation on a dry and crisp Oloroso sherry while we scanned the menu.
The first rule is that tables must be returned in 2 hours. I didn’t mind this too much as you kind of expect this with some London restaurants, especially those with a reputation like Moro.
The next rule was really strange. No tapas can be ordered at the table, if you want tapas you have to give up your table and sit at the bar. This is an odd rule. A couple of weeks previously I had a great meal at Fino, just as popular a restaurant as Moro but they had no problem in you ordering tapas, in fact that seemed to be what most people were doing. In the end at Fino we spent far more there than we did at Moro. We pursued this with the waiter and in the end we were allowed to have some tapas dishes as a starter. We ordered peppers padron and sardines and they were wonderful. We wished we could have had more of them.
The final rule was you had to order a main course if you sit at the table. Now this really is silly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had a minimum spend per person and the way we eat tapas we would have easily broken through it but to force you to have a main course seems unreasonable and nannyish. So we grudgingly chose a main course from an extremely limited selection. There didn’t appear to be any specials and most dishes seemed to be making a feature of their wood fired oven as everything was either a wood roasted meat/fish with some vegetables on the side. We ordered the sea bass, pork and chicken but did so grudgingly because we had too.
The food was alright. My pork at £18.50 came with a fennel salad with blood orange which was quite odd. Fennel and acidic orange would have been nice if they had been lightly braised but they came raw and felt like an afterthought to the pork. The pork was belly which was a suprise at that price but the biggest crime was they couldn’t get it to crackle so the skin was left untouched. The chicken and sea bass was more successful but to be honest they were nothing special at all.
Service seemed over confident and it was as if you were meant to feel honored to eat there. There were no ‘check backs’ after the main courses were brought and at the end as my plate was taken the waiter seemed amazed that I was disappointed with the pork and lack of crackling. He said it was to do with the breed of the pig or something but frankly if you serve belly pork and you cant get the skin crisp then you really have failed! In their defence he did speak to the chef and we were given a free dessert but its not really good enough for a restaurant of that calibre. All in all the experience was disappointing. I will go back to Moro but will sit up at the bar so I can have more of their wonderful tapas.
I understand the need for some rules, rents are high and competition is fierce but if you are not careful rules detract massively from the dining experience and the feeling of being welcome is utterly lost.