Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

The other night The Original Soupwoman was browsing reviews of local restaurants for inspiration on which one try next, and she came across the entry for a local establishment. To her surprise, the reviews were positive overall, one reviewer even describing the food as “faultless”.

The Soupwoman’s initial reaction was put in her two cents worth, and share her and Inhouse Food Critic’s recent, much less impressive experience: how the sirloin steak was toughest Food Critic had ever had, Soupwoman’s burger unbelievably dry and the chips limp. Even the service did not save the day – why the sweet but somewhat clueless waitress thought it was  a good idea to to usher us to the very worst table in the whole, still practically empty restaurant (the one by the loos, so cramped that a couple would have to sit side by side, and enjoy watching the toilet traffic) is beyond comprehension.

Then she started to hesitate. To be fair, Food Critic had really enjoyed his starter,  and others had liked the food there, so perhaps it was only an accidental slip in the standards? And, more importantly, when the waitress had returned to ask if everything was alright, neither of them had not spoken up, and given the kitchen a chance to put things right.

And that is the question: why is it so difficult to give negative feedback in a restaurant? Is it just social code, that a proper well-mannered person just does not do it? Or are we afraid to offend the people who have access to the food we eat, out of sight?  Or is it because so often it does not make any difference, and you’ll only end up feeling like an ignorant fool or a nasty bitch?

Because Soupwoman has tried. For example once, in a well-known restaurant in Southampton’s Oxford Street, where she was served undercooked risotto. “But madam, it is supposed to be al dente,” was the condescending response. Yes. Soupwoman knows, but al dente does not mean the rice is still almost chalky. Another time was in a popular pub in Bursledon, where sauce in her dish was split and awful when it was served, and where she waited in vain for the waiter to return, as they are supposed to, to ask that very question. Eventually she had no choice but to eat it, as she was starving, but she did bring up the ruined sauce when the waiter eventually came to clear the table. He could not care less, disinterest ‘sorry about that’ was all she got.

Perhaps it is no wonder that we don’t bother, but simply go someplace else the next time. But perhaps we should. What do you think?


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Despite all their years living in Southampton, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic have yet to find their favourite restaurant in Southampton. The one that always impresses and never fails to satisfy. The kind of place that when leaving, one does not think “I could have prepared a much more enjoyable meal for fraction of the price myself.”

A friend visiting from Stockholm provided a good excuse to continue the mission to find that place, and so the Soupwoman and the Food Critic, along with four friends, met in White Star Tavern on Oxford Street on a Saturday in early January.

The decor in the pub and dining areas is reassuringly traditional, with panelling and chandeliers as well as the usual wooden tables and leather armchairs here and there. It was late lunchtime, so it was very easy to find a table for our group of 6. A waitress arrived quickly to take our drinks orders, which were served promptly, but she failed to bring more menus so the group had to manage with the two that were on the table. It took a while, therefore, before everyone had decided what they wanted, and even longer before we managed to get a waitress’ attention and order our food: three fish&chips, one bangers&mash, one seasonal risotto and one parsnip gnocchi.

Everybody around the table were making satisfied noises: sausages and mash were declared exceptionally tasty, the mushroom risotto plate was cleaned thoroughly, and the juicy and firm fish was covered with a perfect crispy batter and served with as-good-as-it-gets tartar sauce.

Soupwoman was the only one looking disappointed. Not because her gnocchi were not tasty, because they were very good – slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy inside, cheese shavings and wild mushrooms adding nice depth to the flavours of parsnip. But the portion was absolutely tiny. It was miniscule. I beggars belief why it had been listed as a main course on the lunch menu. It would have been a good starter or “small plate”, but in order to qualify as a main course, the portion should have been at least three times the size it was. If it were not for the generosity of one of her companions, who offered to share some of their fish&chips with her, the Soupwoman would have left the restaurant almost as ravenous as she came.

Eventually everyone finished their meals, and plates were taken away. But then we were completely forgotten, no-one offered us a dessert menu or coffees, although many of us would have wanted to sample their sweets as well.

Therefore we decided to ask for the bill and go back to our place for coffee and chocolates. This proved to be surprisingly challenging, as all the staff were busy chatting behind the bar, and it took a while to get their attention. Then we sat and waited for someone to get our payment (one of us was paying by credit card, so just leaving the money on the table was not an option) – but in vain. In the end we went to the till to make the payment. If it had been up to the Soupwoman, she had docked some of their tip but her friends are much nicer than her.

The Conclusion: While the food was undeniably well prepared, tasty and nicely presented, it just fell short of the full marks, partly because of disappointing portion size of the gnocchi. Also the fish&chips team weren’t convinced by the “chunky chips” (about an inch and a half thick each) served with their fish – it was too much like baked potato in disguise. The service, on the other hand, while not rude or unfriendly, was rather indifferent and uninterested. Due to the staff’s lack of attention we did not to try out their desserts so we were not able to get a full picture. This means the quest for THE restaurant in Southampton continues – eating out is not just about good food, it is about the whole experience.

The Verdict: White Star Tavern has potential to be a truly great place, but it is not quite there yet.

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Eating is not just a simple excercise of filling your stomach anymore. It is about choices more profound than whether you feel like some nice pasta or hearty casserole for dinner.

To begin with, to be ethical about food was simply to shun meat. Those who felt they could not live on rabbit food alone often chose to complement their diet with fish, and for a long time fish was considered to be both healthy and ethical by default.

Then all of a sudden you found yourself hesitating at the local chip shop, remembering vaguely hearing something about the Atlantic cod being overfished. Or was it haddock? Was there anything on the menu that you could eat with a clear conscience?

Now the issue has gone upmarket. According to Charles Clover, the editor of the UK’s first online seafood restaurant guide www.fish2fork.com, now that 90% of the world’s large fish have been wiped out since 1950s, ordering fish in a restaurant is one of the world’s great moral dilemmas.

Delicious! But is it ethically palatable?

Delicious! But is it ethically palatable?

While supermarkets have made progress in getting endangered fish off their shelves, they remain on the menu at fine restaurants, who have avoided attention so far. But not anymore. Fish2fork’s survey of more than 100 top restaurants in Britain found that nearly 9 out of 10 were serving at least one “fish to avoid” from overexploited stocks.

It is a rather shocking realisation that while “everybody” is concerned about the fate of exotic animals such as giant panda, white rhinoceros and snow leopard, somehow the depletion of fish stock, and the rapidly falling levels of many familiar fish have hardly registered in the public consciousness. Maybe the familiarity is partly to blame – how could we possibly run out of cod? Fish also lacks the cute factor – there is nothing fluffy and endearing about bluefin tuna, perhaps the most endangered of them all.

This does not mean we should stop eating fish completely. There are still plenty of sustainable options, if we go to the trouble of finding out what they are. Fortunately, Marine Conservation Society has made that easy for us, providing comprehensive information on their FISHONLINE website. But we cannot just sit back and ignore the state of the oceans. What we choose to eat has consequences. That is something to think about the next time you sit in a restaurant, looking at the menu, trying to make up your mind.

The documentary about the devastating effect of overfishing, The End of the Line, written by Charles Clover, premiered at Sundance Film Festival

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