Or, an object lesson in how not to run a business.
Once upon a time - about 6 weeks ago - I received an email. This email was notifying me of an autumnal wine dinner at a local gastropub. I was excited. I phoned to book. The person who answered the phone didn't know what I was talking about, but told me that named event coordinator would call me back that day to discuss it with me and take my booking.
After a week, named event coordinator hadn't called back so I rang again. Again the person who answered the phone knew nothing about it and took a message. I am reasonably sure he did actually write it down because we had a big old laugh about my very South African name not matching my very Australian accent.
Another week passed when named event coordinator failed to return my call.
The friends that we planned to go to the dinner with were actually dining at the gastropub, so they asked about it while they were there. The waitress didn't know anything about it, but reassured them that named event coordinator would call back within the hour.
Three days before the event my friend made a last ditch attempt. The person who answered the phone on this occasion said that she thought the dinner had been cancelled due to lack of interest. OH REALLY? Lack of interest and not extreme disorganisation? Not a lack of customer service? Not the fucking uselessness of an event coordinator who can't manage to return 6 phone calls in 4 weeks?
So there we were. All dressed up (so to speak - it was still a couple of days away so there would be several changes of clothes before we were ACTUALLY all dressed up) and no place to go. And my friend suggested another local gastropub, The Clarendon.
And you know what? Bloody good suggestion.
In days gone by the Clarendon had a bit of a reputation. Apparently it was where nice young boys used to go if they wanted a guaranteed shag and weren't too picky about the hygiene of the girl. Or so I am told by men who claim they had "friends" who used to go there. Things have changed somewhat. It has had a makeover. Rumours circulate about how much money was spent on the refurb, and they are all pretty much believable. It is now very clean, very pretty and the staff uniforms are absolutely gorgeous. They have also spent some money on staff training and have people in the kitchen with a real gift.
As a starter, I had pea salad with goats cheese fritters. My sense of symmetry was offended. There were 3 little mounds of pea puree on the plate, but only 2 fritters. How is that right? How can you have a plate designed around a triangular formation of pea puree and only 2 fritters? And what is worse, they were absolutely delicious and I felt sincerely robbed. The tangle of pea shoots looked very pretty and tasted good, but it is a bit awkward to eat greens like that. I suspect I looked like a grazing bovine. The real revelation was the pickled lemon on the plate. It wasn't like a Moroccan salt-preserved lemon, it had a tang of vinegar and a hint of sweetness. If that is what Amy March's pickled limes tasted like, a literary mystery has been solved for me. It was absolutely the right thing with the hot, crisp goats cheese fritter.
My main course was ham & eggs. Lightly smoked, beautifully tender ham that tasted of Christmas, a perfectly fried duck egg, delicious home-made baked beans and a neat stack of triple-cooked chips. I really don't know what the third cook is supposed to do to the chips. They weren't fluffier within, crispier without or more flavoursome completely than a normal twice-cooked chip. But they were very good dunked into the eggyolk. The wee copper pot of baked beans was an adorable presentation, but I like my baked beans a bit zestier. These could have done with a slug of worcestershire sauce or some tabasco.
I was genuinely tempted to give dessert a miss. But then I saw homemade eccles cakes with Wensleydale cheese on the menu. Oh my. They were so good I almost cried. I've never had a hot eccles cake before, but these were amazing. Definitely a far cry from the dry, flaky things one of the coffee chains sells as an eccles cake. The rich, lardy pastry was flaky without crumbling, the currants in the filling were spicy and plump. The Wensleydale wasn't quite as crumbly as I like it, but the salty creaminess went very well with the eccles cakes. I had a glass of a Rutherglen liqueur muscat. Australia may not produce an eccles cake of such beauty, but they know how to make a pudding wine.
So. The moral of the story. If you return my phone call, I will spend money, smile at your staff, relish your food and recommend you to all my friends. If you don't, you are dead to me and I will be very tempted to reveal your name... and write to your head office.