Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

English restaurant serves invisible mangoes and fingers your sauce

Customer's always right: waiter

When was the last time the manager of a restaurant accused you of being a liar? Never, you say? The customer is always right, isn't that the mantra?

Well, the Monday just past I found myself in the dock at a fish restaurant on the south coast of England. It's one of those chain restaurants masquerading as a place of fine dining, but I'll protect its identity while I consider my options!

It had not started well. Having lunch overlooking the harbour at the start of a few days off seemed like a good idea. Kick back sort of thing.

The starter of crayfish and mango cocktail seemed a perfect way to start. A bit of indulgence, but also healthy.

Except no mango appeared. A 70s-style prawn cocktail played understudy. Okay, just mention it to the delightful waitress and don't let it get to you.

The poached haddock on colcannon with poached egg would be fine. But the potato and sauce was lukewarm at best. It had to go back. This was no slight, mango-style aberration. The curse of part-cooked food. Fish hot, egg fine, base not properly microwaved.

The waitress was cool. A sip of wine. There's no problem here. First day of holiday and all that.

That's when Kevin (we'll call him that) the rotund manager hove into view.

Kevin (with stern face and voice loud enough for other diners to hear): Sir, I understand you have sent your main course back.

Me: Yes, the sauce and potato were lukewarm.

Kevin: Sir, I have to take issue with you there. I placed my finger in the dish at several points and it was hot.

Me: Sorry, you did what!?

Kevin: The dish was hot, sir. Now I am prepared to have another one cooked for you, but I have to disagree with your judgment. The dish was hot.

Me: Sorry, I'm confused. Why do you think I sent it back? What's my motivation?

Why would I want to watch my partner eating while I wait?

Kevin: I'm just saying I put my finger in the sauce and the potato and it was hot. In fact, I scalded myself.

Me: Okay, where did you put your finger? Show me the scald marks. Are you actually calling me a liar?

He disappears and waddles back sometime later with a now-piping hot dish. Other diners settle down for Act 2.

Kevin: Is that okay, sir? I just want to be sure.

Me: It certainly looks hot, doesn't it? Can you see the steam rising? Before you come over in future, why not think it through. Think what you're saying, what you're alleging. Do I look like some kind of free-dish conniving conman?

Kevin: But I put my finger in the dish at a number of points.

Some time later, Kevin weebles over with the bill.

Kevin: I have taken the money off for the total absence of mango in the starter, sir. I know we got off on the wrong foot and you might have found me antagonistic, but I hope you can understand my point-of-view.

Me: I'm not sure I do. To be honest, you could have filmed this episode for trainee managers. (Later, on the way out, my lunch partner and I will play the roles in said training film. I play narrator: Was there any way else Kevin could have ascertained whether the diner was a free-dish conniving conman?)

Kevin: But I did put my finger in to test ...

Me: Please, let's not go back on the finger thing. Is that the standard test for temperature, the manager's finger in the colcannon? Let's let it rest. (My lunch partner is now in hysterics, tears rolling down her cheeks.)

Kevin: Sir, just to show there are no hard feelings, can I interest you in this? If you fill in the right-hand side and give it back to me today, you get a free bottle of wine next time you're in. It's for a loyalty card.

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