If I don't like a wine, I usually choose not to review it.
If someone sends me a wine for review, I'm hopeful that I'll enjoy it. They're expecting a review, but they don't want a bad one. If I really don't like it, I'll say so. I try for the balance to swing in favour of positivity, but I also need my readers to respect my opinions. Otherwise, I lose all credibility with my readers and customers.
It's with regret then, that sometimes I feel I have to write a bad review to "protect the public", or perhaps inspire a change.
For many years, I worked in Customer Experience and this role gave me the opportunity to shape customer service for large companies. As a result of the role, and too much time on business travel, my tolerance for bad service became lower.
Perhaps that's why I stopped going out as much...
We spent far too much time and money there, particularly in summer (our rented flat had no garden).
Many a weeknight was met with spontaneous abandonment of work accoutrements and a brisk walk for one of the delights on their menu rather than face cooking. We even had our pre-wedding dinner for 12 there, the night before our nuptials. We agreed an early dinner would mean all guests could choose their own dish, rather than insisting on a set menu. The service and food were great.
How times have changed.
Years have passed, personnel have moved on and frankly, the service now sucks.
The menu is much depleted with many of my favourite dishes disappearing for lackluster replacements such as £15 for a pork chop, £18 for a duck breast. Dishes are dully described and without a hint of provenance.
Prices have risen - of course. 10 years have passed. But the quality of food and service just isn't worth this kind of money.
I recently wrote about the "daily menu" at Boulters, another local establishment which, in contrast, has improved immensely since we moved here.
For a little over £60, we enjoyed 3 courses each, a lovely Chilean Pinot noir, and a large bottle of mineral water.
So we headed there on Wednesday last to celebrate our 11 year date-iversary. Any excuse.
Perhaps my blog proved too influential. It was full! No tables.
Not fancying the bar food option, we decided to try our luck at BRC. We had had a poor service experience last time we visited. We had been quite tipsy, not in a great rush, and relaxed enough to let it slide, though we did discuss it. We hadn't commented to the staff before we were advised we'd be getting 50% off the meal. This saved the day. When you get it wrong, accept it, deal with it and move on. They deserved another chance.
Sadly, they've not learned their lesson.
We were promptly seated by, a woman I presumed to be a senior staff member. (She wasn't wearing the uniform of the others.) We were given menus but no wine list. She offered us a drink so I ordered a sparkling water & hubby a pint while we decided. When these arrived we pointed out the lack of wine list.
"I'll just get that for you," she said.
Some 15 or more minutes passed. No one returned with a wine list. Nor had anyone taken our order. Had we not already drinks in front of us we'd almost certainly have left and gone to Thai Orchid across the road.
Eventually we managed to make someone see us. Several staff were busy cleaning tables rather than waiting on us or looking around to see if anyone needed service. We asked for the wine list.
A few minutes later, a somewhat shabby looking plastic folder containing some badly photocopied A4 sheets arrived purporting to be the wine list.
The "by the glass" selection has not improved with the demise of the properly printed wine list. It would have to be a bottle. I opted for the Chilean Chardonnay, at £28, one of the most expensive whites on the list and probably the only one I could imagine drinking from the pitiable selection. (The Veramonte Reserva Chilean Chardonnay is approximately £10 retail). We ordered our food.
The appetisers seemed more appetising than the main courses. It was getting late. We chose 2 starters each. This seemed to confuse the waitress who eventually took our order, especially when I asked to add a garlic bread side dish to one of mine.
Finally, after spelling it out in words of one syllable, we got our order placed, some 35 minutes after entering the restaurant. We saw the original staff member return and my husband asked to speak to her. Her "I'm really sorry, I had to sort something out at reception" left us both dissatisfied. We were onto our 3rd staff member now, and the apology felt insincere. Nor did we have any offer of how this was going to be turned around.
Fairly quickly, our scallops arrived. Hurrah! They were reasonably tasty, though the pancetta was a little flabby and could have benefitted from being crisper. (Side note: please, bistro chefs of Britain, note that rocket will drown out a delicate flavour like scallop. Rocket is so last season, do you have to put it on every dish?)
Sadly, our wine had not yet arrived. Of course, we'd ordered a bottle to complement the meal. Another request made, and the friendly response: "oh right". Now, I'm not a fan of the "no worries" trend that has swept Britain's service culture but suddenly, I yearned for it.
When did "you're welcome" or "I'll get that for you now" go out of fashion? I must have missed the memo.
At last the wine arrived, when I was half way through my starter. Luckily, it was as good as I'd expected it to be. At last, things were looking up, though the very cheap wine glasses with thick rims did it no favours. The glasses were also too small for a wine like this, which needs room in the glass. However, let's not get all wine snob. It was a decent wine. And, I finally had some, a "mere" 45 minutes after sitting down. Relief.
When our second starters arrived, neither of us was impressed. The goat cheese on brioche with a poached egg really disappointed my husband. It looked all the same colour and very unappealing. My risotto was dry, tasteless and required a LOT of extra black pepper and so-called parmesan to give it any oomph whatsoever. Luckily they handed me the pepper mill and walked off. I think I emptied it. Underdone and under-seasoned, at least the garlic bread (£3.25 for 2 slices of ciabatta) added some flavour, though I probably didn't need any more carbohydrate.
Mr Purple Teeth needed a dessert to improve his mood. The homemade brownie was recommended, so being a chocaholic, he went for it. It was just ok. Drowned in "lashings of chocolate sauce", it was a bit sickly and didn't really have any brownie texture. Total bill, £77! 4 starters, a pudding, and drinks. Take off the wine and you're still looking at over £50, whereas a decent, well presented 3 course meal at Boulters is available from £20. I overheard another diner complaining about the lack of a vegetable with his dish. Again, it wasn't handled that well.
The restaurant's own website begins: "One Of The Best Restaurants By The River Thames The Blue River Café". I don't think The Waterside Inn is quaking in it's boots just yet. Jenner's Cafe isn't either!
Perhaps I wouldn't have minded so much if I hadn't recently written to them with an offer of some customer experience consultancy (which received no reply). I really don't mind not being hired to help them fix the problems they face. But they need help. And fast. Get some sort of zoning system organised for the staff, and teach them decent manners. It's really not that hard.
This kind of experience isn't perhaps enough to raise loud complaints, but it is the sort of thing that kills loyalty, and leaves punters going somewhere else next time. At the moment, they're winning on location alone.
My advice: avoid.