Restaurant review: Sip & Stone at Belfast International Airport
Belfast International Airport. No bookings
Poor old Belfast International Airport hasn't been able to catch its breath since footage of endless security queues started popping up on frustrated passengers' Instagram and Twitter accounts last year. Two-hour waits just to get through security were causing all sorts of hardship for travellers and there's nothing more invigorating and self-validating than a good dose of somebody else's incompetence.
People already stressed out to the max because they're trying to get to their holidays (without getting caught up in departures-lounge crossfire between rival football supporters, stag and hen parties and whatever other mayhem blossoms when you open the bar at eight in the morning) first have to go through an epic series of queues including the bag drop, passport control and the final indignity of multiple tray-filling, devices-in-this-one-not-that-one, shoes-off, hands-up in the scanner, stop-start conveyor belt and the X-ray security walk of shame.
Only then can you enter the sweet-scented, sunlit uplands of the shops, bars and restaurants. But, alas, even here be more queues.
Now, queues are fine in normal life: at bus stops, tills and the cinema. They are an expression of civilisation and social understanding.
I honestly don't mind queueing at all. But there comes a point at which the mick is being taken by uncaring staff abusing our inclination to do the polite thing and to queue uncomplainingly.
Take my situation last week queuing at one of three points of sale in an airport restaurant called Sip & Stone. When it came to my turn, the woman said: "You'll have to go to the other queue because I'm closing now."
I get into the other queue only to be bounced from it, too, because somebody else stood in the wrong line and then came back to stand in front of me. Finally, I go to queue three, place the breakfast order and ask for a pot of tea. "The queue for tea is over there," says the man pointing to another area.
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I can see that some of the staff are trying their best and that for them this work must be heart-breaking and depressing. It's the management which is at fault here.
The lining-up for food and drink may be in keeping with Aldergrove's queueing theme but frankly, there must be an easier way of running a restaurant. Sip & Stone's how-to-order system of noting your table number, queueing separately to order and pay for your food and drink, and then sitting down in anticipation of the pleasures to come, might read well in the report following a Sip & Stone managers' flip-charted, blue-skies-thinking, strategic development away day, but it doesn't make any sense for staff or customer on the dining room floor.
But, like the absurd bureaucracy in Kafka's The Trial, at least they're consistent, because the system's failings are matched by the poor quality of the food being served.
A dish called the Protein Power Breakfast (£13.29 for three rashers, three fried eggs, three bangers and baked beans) arrives a while later for the adviser who winces at the white rubbery bacon fat, the blackened sausage ends and the hard-yoked fried eggs. I haven't fared much better, having ordered a bacon sandwich.
The tea (£3.15 for a PG Tips teabag) is watery, no matter how long you coax some flavour out of the teabag, and the whole thing is unappetisingly greasy, including the menu itself. (Why in the name of all that's British or Irish would a Belfast airport, gateway to the world and to Ireland, not stock Thompson's Irish Breakfast or Suki tea?)
I despair at the lack of imagination or sensitivity that businesses like this display. Never mind the prices - we all know we are being taken for mugs as a captive audience but, sure, we're on our holidays so who cares! - it's that complete indifference to customers, passengers, families and everybody else for whom it's a big deal to be flying out for a break. Sure they'll not be back anyway.
The people who run these places should be ashamed of themselves, and the young people they employ to peddle this quality of food deserve a better start in the hospitality trade. Is it any wonder the sector can't recruit people when the likes of Sip & Stone give it such a bad name?
Tea x 2 £6.30
Bacon sandwich £6.99