Stephen Jardine: I just had one of my worst meals out ever

Ideally, waiting staff shouldn't be surprised if restaurant customers appear to want to have food
Ideally, waiting staff shouldn't be surprised if restaurant customers appear to want to have food
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I know what you’re thinking, writing this column is easy. Most of us eat at least three times a day so it cannot be hard to find a pressing topic.

You’d be right. From Brexit to obesity, from supermarkets to dietary advice, there’s lots to choose from.

Restaurants feature occasionally but reviews are for others – except in emergencies. This week I had one of my worst ever meals out. It was worse than the time I found a lump of pig’s flesh with hair on it in a pork curry. The place this week didn’t make me ill, it just sickened me with disappointment. Most remarkably, the story doesn’t revolve around some back street dive. Instead this played out in one of Scotland’s swankiest hotels. They’ve opened a new restaurant and we went to try it. Worst still, we went with some friends who insisted on paying.

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On arrival, the alarm bells should have sounded. The GDP of a small developing country has been spent on restaurant designers and the interior. To pay for that they seem to have used up the money set aside for staff training. Our arrival went unnoticed and when someone did materialise they seemed genuinely perplexed by having to deal with a customer. To let them get used to the idea we had a drink in the bar but that involved numerous misunderstandings.

Then came dinner. The idea that a customer with a reservation might want a table and cutlery again seemed to be a big leap so we had to wait while that was sorted. This should have been our cue to leave but instead we were presented with menus more extensive than the Prime Minister’s latest Brexit plan. That is a worry. When it comes to restaurants, less is always more. Vast choice generally indicates a kitchen attempting lots and succeeding in doing little.

However we soldiered on. Managers in suits concentrated on slowly setting tables for next day’s breakfast while studiously avoiding eye contact with anyone hoping for dinner at 9pm. Eventually I halted a passing waiter who looked incredulous at the suggestion we might actually want to eat. Clearly he knew what was coming.

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We ordered and asked for some bread. That never came but 45 minutes later the food did arrive. It was miserable and depressing. I asked the by-now increasingly malevolent waiter for some Dijon mustard. He didn’t know what it was but promised to ask someone. More in hope then expectation, we went on to order desert. Rum baba is a French classic. In Bistro Victoire in Nice, this is a billowing delight of boozy yeast cake, brought to the table with the bottle of rum so you can top up as required. Here it tasted like sponge cake you find at the back of the cupboard when you return from a long holiday. This was a rum baba made by Presbyetrian minister on a Sunday. We’d had enough.

My friend paid a bill large enough to buy a small car and we left. I don’t blame the staff. They looked miserable and clearly have no support or training. I blame the corporate wonks who think they can fool us hicks in the sticks. Here in Scotland. we have an abundance of great local talent and a long list of brilliant restaurants. This place could learn from all of them.