Service. It’s the buzz word in the food blogosphere, thanks to Michel Roux’s new BBC programme, and it’s got me thinking too.
As much as peoples’ opinions can differ about good food, they can also differ about good service: one person’s idea of a pleasant experience is another person’s get-your-hands-out-of-my-lap-waiter nightmare.
This week, I ate out twice. I’m not going to write about the food at Il Baretto in Marylebone because plenty of others have already done so, but it is worth noting the extraordinary service.
I arrived 10 minutes after the rest of my party and instead of being allowed to walk to the table alone, I was stopped and given an escort.
Once seated, a silent hand whisked my napkin away, folded it in half and made a game attempt at putting it on my lap. I wasn’t quick enough to grab it before the folding but I made damn sure that waiter wasn’t getting anywhere near my lap.
Others may find this service charming, but I would rather choose how to use my napkin myself. I may not wish to use it at all. I may wish to keep it at the side of my plate so I can dab, ok wipe, my mouth if necessary. Hell, I may even wish to tuck it into my collar – goodness knows I’m not the most delicate of eaters.
After the napkin incident a waitress came to fill up my water glass. I tried to order our drinks from her, but was told someone else would have to take that order.
Another person brought olives. Another took our food order. Another brought our food to the table, suspiciously quickly. It was a dizzying array of waiters and waitresses who, while being exceedingly efficient, exuded not an ounce of warmth between them.
The bill was placed on the side of our table without being asked for and three different people on three separate occasions came to check if we’d filled the leather folder with our cash or cards.
In the end, I felt sorry for them (New Year’s resolution – be more assertive) and we paid up and got out.
All in all it was a pretty exhausting experience.
Two days later I had an entirely, and blessedly, different encounter with restaurant service.
We arrived at 12.30 on Saturday afternoon at bar and restaurant Eat 17 on Orford Road in Walthamstow.
The busy, but very courteous, host at this popular-with-local-families eatery told us we would have to wait 15 minutes or so and suggested we sit in the bar area and have a drink while we waited.
15 minutes turned to 30 but as half our party was running very late and there was a stack of brilliant magazines at the bar, we weren’t put out at all.
When a table became free but our friends still hadn’t arrived the host suggested we take the table anyway, to avoid passing it onto another group.
The stragglers actually turned up about 5 minutes after we’d sat down so it wasn’t a problem, but the way the host handled the situation was perfect.
When one of our group wanted to know if she could have smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, even though the menu said the restaurant stopped serving breakfast at 12.30, the waitress didn’t hesitate to go to the kitchen to check.
Yes, that wouldn’t be a problem.
And the rest of the service was fantastic too. Friendly, attentive, efficient.
As for the food, it was great. Main course, starter and “tidbit” options were so appealing I could eat happily eat there for 10 days straight.
Steak and ale pie, cooked and served in an enamel blue and white dish with Colman’s mustard mash was meaty and rich and the pastry flaked nicely.
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs were good to look at and good to eat.
Barbary duck breast wasn’t quite pink enough for me and the red cabbage was a little too sweet but the meat was very tasty and the dauphinoise served alongside had just the right amount of creaminess.
Eat 17 is a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the meat comes from the East London Sausage Company, a butcher across the road, and they try to buy fruit and veg from local suppliers.
The most expensive main course was a rib eye steak at £15.65, and the rest range between £10 and £13.
All in all this place comes highly recommended.
On food alone it’s worth a return visit, but it’s the service that makes it a must. Next time I’m in the area I’ll be back to try the crispy fishcake, parsley & pickle salad with smoked paprika aioli and the toad in the hole.