In this section, we highlight the bad experiences! We’ve all had ‘em. Sharing will
hopefully save you from some of ours!
Do try and avoid budget airlines
Having been invited to attend as a delegate to the Wine Creators conference in Ronda,
Spain in April, I was pleased to receive an airline ticket from the organisers to
Malaga. (The nearest airport). This ticket was with Monarch Airlines and as I had
suffered an accident to my leg a few months before, I decided to buy an upgrade to
a seat with extra legroom, so that I could stretch my leg sufficiently, which cost
£30 (£15 each way).
Going out was fine, but on my return flight, they decided to put on a different type
of plane in order to cram in the hordes returning from the Costa Plastica and as
a result there was no extra legroom seat for me, as well as for a number of other
people, too. What was more annoying, was that when I checked in, knowing full well
that I had paid for extra leg room, they never told me that it was not available
and the first I knew about it was when I got on the plane.
I spent a really uncomfortable journey, finding myself grossly inconvenienced - the
staff were pleasant enough and they gave me a complaints card to fill out which I
duly did. I also wrote them a letter about it when I got home. After about a month
I received a reply stating, inter alia, that they can't offer guarantees for these
requests. They included a cheque for £15 with a firm "Regrettably we are unable to
offer any further compensation on this occasion. I do hope that you'll fly with
us again so that you can enjoy our normal standard of service."
Of course we won't. And from information received from others, this seems pretty
much to be their normal standard anyway.
Do we really have to put up with arrogant chefs?
Joël Rubechon's L'Atelier and La Cuisine opened in London's theatreland late 2006.
Coincidentally, Sonia and I were due to go to the theatre that night, and so I thought
it would be an opportunity to try it out and to compare it with that other satellite
of a three Michelin starred chef in London, W'Sens. I have been a long time admirer
of Robuchon's cuisine, although, of course, I haven't sampled it for a very long
time and I have not yet been to his L'Atelier in Paris.
So, I took the trouble to call in at the restaurant at just before 7.00 pm. to book
a table for after the theatre. I was told by the pretty réceptionniste that they
only take bookings for tables between 5.30 and 7.00 pm. and that for anything later
you just come along and queue. O.K. I thought and asked her whether we could come
after theatre. She said that was fine because they were open until midnight. Fine,
I thought - a little strange for this arbitrary cut-off time, but it's their business,
not mine and in any event, it gives me the option to forget about it if we find ourselves
too tired and want to go home.
But we didn't go home and rather uplifted by our experience at the theatre, we walked
round to the restaurant and arrived around 10.45, having been let in by a large flunky
gentleman at the door. A different réceptionniste greeted us, who then told us that
the restaurant was closed. When I protested and told her what the original réceptionniste
had told me, she then went round the back and brought out the original réceptionniste
who said, ‘yes’ the restaurant was closed, but in view of what she told me earlier,
she would ask the chef. After a couple of minutes she came back and said that chef's
orders were that the restaurant was closed. Tough. They weren't even full, and whilst
we were arguing with the two girls, several diners came out and left after having
their meal, so there was no shortage of tables.
When I said that I was told that the restaurant closes at midnight, I naturally assumed
that last orders were at 12 - I believe that there was a mention of a late night
licence. The réceptionniste ‘explained’ that she meant that the restaurant closed
at midnight, it didn't mean that that was the time for last orders.
I wondered if the chef went around the dining room at five to midnight shouting "time,
gentlemen please -we close at 12 and I want to go home".
It's not the first time I have come across this kind of arrogance in restaurants.
They are only too willing to suck up to the press by offering freebies in the hope
of a good write-up, but often neglect the needs of paying customers by sometimes
treating them like dirt, just because they are a well-known chef. Now I don't know
if it was Robuchon himself , or one of his minions who gave this ‘order’ (the exact
word used by the réceptionniste), but this is now why you find it in the Malessere
section of this web site.
Determined to still enjoy our evening out, we decided to walk round to one of our
favourite restaurants in the area, only five minutes walk from Covent Garden Opera
House - Le Deuxième, at 65a Long Acre (020) 7379 0033, where we were happily shown
a table even if it was by now 11.15. So, updating our previous review of this restaurant,
we can say that the food is good, but not outstanding (rated "capable and sound"
in The Good Food Guide). But then it's not aiming for three Michelin stars (and neither
is L'Atelier, I should guess), but what is outstanding in this restaurant is the
gentleness of the wine prices which is quite exceptional for central London.
The choice of wines is also very wide with an exceptional number of good quality
wines. The only thing that takes the sweetener away a bit is the "discretionary"
15% service charge at the end of the bill. Still, our bill for three courses without
wine came to only £55 for the two of us (plus the 15% service charge, which was not
underserved), which seems to me to be a hell of a lot cheaper than the £80 plus per
person (I am told) at L'Atelier. Another bonus here is the fact that after 10.00
pm., you can have either a limited choice two course meal for £11.50 or a three course
meal for £15.50 (plus service), although we did go à la carte.
As for the wine we chose to accompany our meal, we finally plumped for Michel Rolland's
Argentinian Clos de Los Siete at £28 (as cheap as you will find it anywhere in central
London) with lovely upfront brambly fruit and soft tannins, which went excellently
with my smoked goose breast and guinea fowl with a strongly flavoured mushroom consommé.
And incidentally - we had finished our meal just a few minutes before 12!
L'OUSTAU DE BAUMANIERE
AT LES BAUX DE PROVENCE
26TH DECEMBER 2005
Over the last 45 years (yes!) we have enjoyed some amazing meals all over the world.
It has been fascinating to observe the attitude of those restaurants scintillating
with two and three stars: those whose love of food overrides the snobbery of their
Michelin stars, and those who do succumb to their ego and let snobbery override the
essence of the food. Girardet, Gordon Ramsey, Guerard; are three belonging to the
first category. Usually the food is excellent, and you willingly let yourself pay
the earth, as the case may be, for fear of being perceived as a mean Philistine!
We somehow never managed to go to L'Oustau de Baumanière or to Les Baux de Provence.
Such beautiful romantic names, full of warmth and the perfumes of the garrigue! We
were surely missing something!
So on 26th of December last year we left Bordeaux and decided to fulfil our dream
and stop overnight at L'Oustau on the way to Genoa. Overlooked by the village of
Baux de Provence which is perched dangerously on a high rock which dominates the
valley, l'Oustau epitomises "le charme discret de la bourgeoisie" with its rambling
terraces, buildings and huge bedrooms furnished a la Provençale. At €220 (without
petit déjeuner) a night, we would have preferred not to have to share a bath robe
or to drink water out of plastic glasses. We would have also appreciated a little
welcoming something in the room like fruit, or a few chocolates at bedtime wishing
us "bonne nuit" and happy dreams!
But come 9.00pm., we marched into the dining room full of expectation and sat at
a beautiful table. We ordered our food: Neville, a menu for €170 and Sonia two dishes,
Rouget Barbet Basilic at €45 and Pigeonneau Jus Perlé €58. The wine was Cuvée de
la Stèle, Mas de la Dame les Baux €45, and two bottles of San Pellegrino €15.
Our first disappointment came with the "amuse-bouche", a few limp and stale grissini
in a glass! Patience! There are surely going to bring some other tit bits to titillate
our appetite and help us pass the time whilst they are slaving over a hot stove…
... illusions remaining from our many visits to other restaurants. After over half
an hour, the first course arrived, followed by the bread. Then we went from disappointment
to disappointment. Neville's bouillon de santé huitre "Prat Ar Coum" (what does it
mean?) was nondescript. His foie gras de canard des Landes, artichauts et truffes
cuits ensemble) was shorter than the title and did not fit the description! As to
Sonia's rouget barbet au basilic, complete disaster: a filet of gurnard, dried up
and cold (which reads: filet de rouget barbet au basilic et fleur de thym, version
2006! We thought this was a downgrade of version 2005!)
Neville's turbot… sous un damier de celeries et truffes reduction "matelote" was
overcooked and uninteresting. The worse though, came with the main course. Sonia's
pigeonneau was a wood pigeon and certainly not a pigeonneau, but a tough old bird
who was determined not to be swallowed! Neville's ris de veau doré au sautoir, salsifis,
vrai jus was rubbery, full of gristle and tasteless. The cheese was great and plentiful;
and unfortunately Neville chose a dessert he did not care for, as there was not much
to choose from!
During this marvellous experience (!), we were graced with the very frequent appearance
of Chef Supreme Charial who if not condescendingly looking at his first-time customers,
was rushing to kiss every young starlet and film producer or acquaintances. And the
dining room was full… not with foreigners…but with French people! Most probably with
more money than sense. Or else does Mr Charial keep double standards?
However, the village of Les Baux de Provence itself "vaut vraiment le detour!" Its
genuine charm and style, even in the heart of the winter makes it a must and redeemed
this disappointment for us.
Of course, we haven't rated this establishment - (a) because we have only visited
it once and we like to have two visits to confirm our scores and (b) because the
score achieved at our one visit was well below the minimum we would normally expect
an establishment to achieve to be included in our reviews.
But on this occasion, we felt compelled to let you know about our profound disappointment
with this establishment - no-star performance at three star prices and very obviously
resting on the laurels of its past glories. It's just like opening a bottle of very
expensive Grand Cru Burgundy and finding it corked.