We went out to dinner tonight. We were invited by friends who chose the venue - 8 of us, going to a restaurant in Borough Market. I was really looking forward to it. (I'm not sure I should name it, just in case it gets me into any kind of trouble!)
But it turned out to be something of a disappointment. Or a 'damp squib' as Dave might have put it.
First impressions weren't great. We all huddled in the cramped reception area (a narrow corridor really) waiting to give our coats to the cloakroom attendant. I don't really expect an expensive restaurant to hand out tokens for coats, but hey ho. Then the table wasn't ready for us, despite us being a couple of minutes late on arrival.
The restaurant is divided into two areas. A small, narrow area, where a pianist was playing (my heart sank at the sight of this - it always seems so cheesy), and a larger area, on two levels. It's a large room with very high ceilings and big windows. And lots of hard surfaces, with no soft furnishings anywhere to absorb the noise. So it was very noisy.
Our table was tucked away in the top corner, yet it was still so noisy in the restaurant that there was little point in trying to talk to those at the other end of the table. Even conversing with the couple opposite us was difficult at times.
And then came the up-selling. An attempt to sell us bottled water was quickly headed off at the pass. But then the next thing was Christmas crackers, at £1 per head, the proceeds of which were to go to a children's charity. So I said 'yes'. For me. However, this resulted in crackers for all of us. I felt very guilty about this, especially when it turned out that all the crackers contained the same gifts, and only two different jokes. I know Christmas cracker jokes are pants, but we could at least have had 8 different crap jokes!
Eventually we were asked for our drinks order. Then we were served the wrong wine, which delayed us ordering our food. But finally the right wine came, and our orders were sent to the kitchen.
My starter was wonderful. Lorne square sausage Scotch egg with piccalilli. It was presented beautifully and tasted even better. My husband had griddled scallops with hazelnuts and Jerusalem artichoke puree.
So far, so lovely.
The main courses were much less rewarding. This despite their hefty price tags. I chose the Saturday special, Beef Wellington, at a breathtaking £32.50. All main courses exclude vegetables. Yes, that's right. They exclude vegetables. So we ordered two vegetable dishes between us. Roast potatoes and Brussel tops with chorizo, at £4.50 a pop. We didn't have a clue what Brussel tops might be, but these turned out to be over-grown Brussels sprouts, or mini-cabbages, served in rather rustic chunks, with slices of chorizo and a quarter of a lemon to squeeze over. I'm not sure that really worked, to be honest. Three very strong flavours that didn't really complement each other.
Anyway. It turned out that despite what it said on the menu, my main course did come with vegetables, so paying extra for side dishes was a waste of even more money.
The main event was very disappointing. The meat was beautifully tender, and appropriately rare, but oddly bland. The pastry was soggy and the mushroom duxelle surrounding the meat was unpleasantly bitter. My husband's meal was a bit more enjoyable - pot roast of feather blade of beef, with horseradish cream and herb dumplings, although the dumplings were soggy and got left behind on the plate.
None of us wanted a dessert, although some of us had coffee, and some of us had liqueurs. Along with four bottles of red wine (shiraz and cabernet sauvignon), the bill ended up being £76 each.
Oh, and it's one of those places where they very thoughtfully include a 12.5% service charge.
We are very fortunate to be, at least at the moment, in a position where we can afford to spend this kind of money on an evening out. However, like many people, our income is not secure or guaranteed at present, so spending over £150 in one evening is not something that we do lightly. And it's galling, to say the very least, when you feel you've been just a little bit fleeced.