Thursday 8 October 2009

A Consolation Prize - The Clarendon

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.


HH said...

How ridiculous!! I think you should write to their headoffice for sure!

The 'consolation prize' seems pretty good to me - it all looks and sounds delicious - but I too would feel robbed with only 2, rather that the more visually (and gastronomically) pleasing 3 fritters!

Arlene Delloro said...

What an interesting dinner! I, too, would have been offended by the asymmetrical serving of fritters (but only because I love fried things)

kat said...

What a story. That kind of thing makes me so mad. How hard is it to educate your staff & return phone calls. This is why places go out of business

George Gaston said...

A woman scorned is definitely a person to be reckoned with. You tell a great story ~ with each call; I could feel your frustration. But The Clarendon despite the portion size, sounded like a nice evening out.

I hope you post more “adventures of Foodycat”!

NKP said...

I agree -write to head office of the first place and demand a third fritter of the second!
Looks like all is well that ended well, amazing that in this economy some businesses don't even bother trying.

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Foodycat, I agree, customer service, as it once was and should be is dead and gone. Good for you for putting your dukes up. Go get 'em tiger.

Heather said...

i hate crappy customer service! but it looks like you found a gem! how tasty :)

Bettina Douglas said...

Isn't there a design rule about uneven numbers? One larger would have looked better and less miserly than two small fritters.

Nice looking pea salad and mouth watering eccels cake.

Dee said...

Hi there! I'm so sorry for the long absence; stepped out to clear my head and clean forgot to come back.

Grrr... that silly gastropub.
We recently tried to reserve a restaurant we frequent for my mum's 70th, and were given the run-around as well. We ended up in a fabulous Sri Lankan place where the waiters and management bent over themselves to please us, and the food was amazing. I think a trip to Sri Lanka is definitely in order!

Your dinner sounds delish. I cackled over your offended sense of symmetry.

I won't take up much more space. Going to check out your grape pie now.


Unknown said...

I always though these things onlyhappen in Greece, but it seems that the Brits are becoming less and less organised. At least you had a great meal in the end!

Alicia Foodycat said...

HH - I think I do have to write a letter. It isn't fair on the people who set up a really lovely pub.

Arlene - well yes, if it had been something less delicious I wouldn't have minded!

Kat - exactly! In this economic climate surely they should be trying a little harder?

George - thanks!

Natashya - we told the waitress that there should be more fritters. In fact, I think they should serve a bowl of fritters as a bar snack.

Teresa - it's so disappointing.

Heather - I was so pleased that we found such a great place!

Mother - if it isn't a rule it should be!

Dee - I am so pleased you are back!

Johanna - customer service in Britain is pretty bad.

Jude said...

Can't do eggs and beans together . .

I'll write to them too. I have a vested interest!


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