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Food / Wine

A Disastrous New Year’s Eve at Café Anglais

By Patricia Connell

Share with us your New Year's Eve stories. Here is one to start with.
When my friends suggested having our New Year’s Eve Dinner at Café Anglais in Bayswater, I thought why not - Café Anglais is a joint venture between Rowley Leigh, the legendarily head chef at Kensington Place for 20 years, and Charlie McVeigh, the restaurateur behind the Bush Bar & Grill in Shepherd's Bush.
I had only been there once before to check it out a few weeks after it had opened and although the large art deco dining room lacked warmth, the food had been perfectly acceptable. I knew that since then, the restaurant had not made unanimity amongst food critics but their website was promising a glimpse at the London fireworks and a Brazilian band for the entertainment together with a four-course menu attractively priced at £65. It also included a cocktail drink on arrival. To top it all, it was within walking distance from all our homes which meant that no one would have to worry about driving back. There would not be any 'Who's driving tonight?'
We were all in agreement; we would have pre-dinner drinks at our friends' house in Aldridge Road Villas then we would move on to the restaurant for 9pm and we would finish the evening back at ours in Hereford Road. All was expertly planned for a fun evening with friends. This was all put together without taking into account how much could go wrong at a restaurant in the space of just one evening.
After a few bottles of champagne at our friends’, we decided to make our way to the restaurant. We arrived there a few minutes after 9pm unfortunately our table was not ready. I certainly never thought that the restaurant would have two sittings on New Year’s Eve but obviously I was wrong. We were kindly asked to kill time at the bar whilst our table was being prepared. A glass of the house cocktail, a mixture of Prosecco, blood orange and Campari was given to us as we waited.  A little too bitter for my taste but I did not mind, we had already had more than enough champagne under our belts.
Twenty minutes later we were finally shown to our table and patiently waited another 30 minutes before anyone came to take our order. Nothing was going to spoil our evening so no one complained. After all, the night was still young and we knew that we had to be there until midnight at least.
The waiter who finally took our order told us point blank that he was very busy and seemed quite impatient but again we did not mind.
Nearly fifteen minutes passed before our drinks arrived and it took another 15 minutes longer for the first course to turn up, oh no sorry, not the first course, the second course. Yes, you heard right, the second course not the first course.  Somehow, the first course had never reached us. I don’t think that many people can say that this has ever happened to them. Certainly in all my years of eating in restaurants, this was a BIG FIRST. Our ‘charming’ waiter was as baffled as we were about the fact that we had not already been given our first course. Was there someone else serving us? Not that he knew and not that we had noticed. He offered to take the second course back but we told him not to bother and to simply bring us the first course when ready. We thought we were all being pretty good about it and frankly thought we deserved a medal for being so understanding. We were here to have fun and we were determined to have it.
Something must have happened in the kitchen at that point because our ‘dear’ waiter turned on us with a vengeance the minute he came back to inform us that the chef was ‘Sorry’ for the mistake. Plates started banging, wine was poured all over the tablecloth, abruptness and outright rudeness was then experienced from then on.
By then, I had enjoyed my griddled scallops with a Jerusalem artichoke purée and a hazlenut aillade. The scallops were perfectly cooked and the purée was absolutely delicious. I was looking forward to the next courses.
Our first course eventually made its way to us. I had ordered  salmon crudo with tomato, olive oil and chilli flakes and I was not disappointed. I could not say as much however for what followed. Our main course had obviously been re-heated in a microwave, most probably because it had been standing, waiting for us to finish our first course. I took a look at my salmi of partridge with polenta and wild mushrooms and thought that it was rather unappetising. I braced myself and tried to cut the meat. However, it was so hard that I found it impossible to dig into it, when trying, a large chunk very nearly went flying across the table and could have landed on my neighbour’s plate. As for the polenta, it simply disintegrated when I attempted to take a piece and although mushrooms were expected to be part of the dish, they were totally absent from my plate. A few of us had opted for this dish and we were all going through the same ordeal. It was already eleven thirty and thank God our appetite was no longer what it had been earlier. After a few attempts, I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to finish what was on my plate, not through lack of trying.
By then, we had been placing bets guessing where our waiter was from (amongst us there were 9 nationalities so this is a little game we have played in London on a regular basis because only London offers such a mixed bunch of people). But we were quite surprised not to be able to come up with a definite answer. Initially, we assumed that he was most probably Italian but his lack of humour made this option quite impossible. We were then opting for Swiss Italian, Austrian, German, Czech or some other Eastern European. The stakes were going higher as time passed; we then decided to ask the man himself to determine who the winner was but our man refused point blank to answer. This had never happened to us before. Most waiters don’t mind playing being part of the game. But not this one! He was far too superior to lower himself to take part in these stupid games even if this was just for a laugh.
We were all amazed when we discovered from another member of staff that our man was really Italian. Personally, I had never met an Italian waiter who had been as rude and as uncivilised as this waiter. In fact,  I realised that I had never met another waiter regardless of his country of origin who had ever behaved so appallingly. God knows I have met many who had been off hand, especially in Paris where waiters feel that this is something which is part of their right to make their customers endure their moodiness.
We were terribly unimpressed by what the kitchen had managed to produce but we were even less impressed by the service we were getting. By then we should, perhaps, have complained and in normal circumstances, we would probably have done it and might even have left the building without looking back but this was New Year’s Eve and we were still determined to salvage whatever we had left of the evening.
By then, it was already ten to twelve and our waiter, who had been getting grumpier by the minute, came to ask us if we wanted to order some champagne to toast the New Year. Our main worry was of course, whether he would make it back to the table on time for midnight. After all, we still had not had our dessert so this was a fair question to ask ourselves. He assured us that it would be served before midnight. Just as the first stroke of midnight was heard, he arrived with the bottle and somehow managed to serve all 7 glasses in under 10 seconds. What class!
Manuel from Fawlty Towers
Manuel from Fawlty Towers
We were all kissing each other and going to the dance area to mingle amongst total strangers  because this is what you do on New Years Eve. We tried to take the  glimpse at the fireworks that we had been promised but none could be seen. We were of course too far away for that.
I was intrigued to find out who the manager was that evening and asked the receptionist to point him out to me. He was standing by the bar chatting to other members of his staff. I was hoping that at one point, he would come towards us to ask us how the evening was and if we were having a good time. After all, his customers tonight had entrusted me with one of the most important evenings of their year.
Alas, no manager in sight or at least not for us customers.
The Brazilian band was trying hard to create some sort of entertainment but in a room of this size, it was entirely lost and barely made it to the front of the restaurant.
Our desserts, nothing to rave about, were brought to our table well past midnight and the bill followed not far behind.
It was time to move on to another year and another place.
Don't forget to share with us your New Year's Eve stories.


14/01/2010 - joseph_cashio said :

I admire how you took it all in your stride.
Hope you have a better evening elsewhere and soon.


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