Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Weekend-o

Back in the middle of the week from a work trip, accompanied by a new rug and a sore throat.

Spent two days in bed, with much tissue and tea to help my self-pity train along. Feebly checked e-mail and had a little cry. Stumbled to Pizza Express for some dinner to celebrate V’s birthday and imbibed some hot Wagamama comfort at my own dining table courtesy caring birthday boy. All good by Friday evening and so kept a long ago planned dinner date with friends.

We had booked Sardo’s, just a short walk from Warren Street tube, on the basis of a verbal recommendation and some reviews I had looked up. The space is made up of two white and airy rooms, helped along by a windowed frontage and a large skylight in the rear room. The whitewashed walls had some mirror-worked mirrors (which reminded me of something Indian although I’m not sure quite what) and the seating was comfortable, intimate yet not intrusive. So just in our little back room there were 4 or 5 tables from 2 people to 4 people to 10 people and yet it never felt overcrowded. The menu is not extensive but claims to be authentic Sardinian food. Having never been to Sardinia I can’t vouch for this but my main of Scotch Lamb was certainly not Italian. It was however cooked and served perfectly. In fact it would not be wrong to say that all the food was well portioned, elegantly presented and cooked to perfection. V and one of our friends both indulged in some sausages. Good but not as great claimed V. What was ‘outstand-O’ was the dessert. I had a divine Tiramisu, of which the others took bites, and one of our friends had a delicious Panacotta, of which I had many bites – just to even out all the stealing from mine. It was a very expensive meal (not that I was paying) but we had a good catch-up and the dessert truly completed the meal. I don’t know if I’d go back though. Maybe just for dessert and coffee?

On Sunday, to celebrate V’s birthday properly, I had booked Babylon in Kensington. I booked it a month ago and even when I booked it the person had said something snooty like ‘Oh good you are booking so much in advance, we have to turn people away, we are that popular blah blah blah’ – I paraphrase. The big draw was the promised views over London and magnificent Kensington Roof Gardens. Tables outside could not be booked but a request could be put down with the booking. So I did, request it be put on our booking. Asked about looking at Gardens and was told nothing was booked for that day so it would be fine. Mentioned that it was my spouses birthday and please could they write something on our dessert, they said ‘Of course, no problem, we charge you the earth, we’ll write whatever you want’. I paraphrase again. So shoot me.

Babylon is in a building right by High Street Kensington’s tube station. The gardens are on the 6th floor and a short walk up to the 7th gets us to the restaurant. Murphy and every one of his darn laws was our lunch companion. We got a table inside on a perfectly sunny day. The lady who showed us in did not even glance at our booking, just asked our surnames and assigned us a squashed table inside (like she knew our surname from the list of people who had booked - too good to be true and something I noted right away). The outside sun-dappled deck, of which we had a perfect view, was nearly empty. So we asked again and were told that it was all fully booked. FULLY BOOKED! I thought you couldn’t book. Not wanting to make a scene and thinking we’d go down and wander around the gardens afterwards we settled into our 3 course meal. I had smoked salmon with blinis and sour cream as a starter, V had an omlette with haddock in it. Both were excellent. Then I had plaice in a beer batter with chips and V had Welsh lamb with a fondant of potato and beans. Mine was delightful, V’s not so much. He liked the lamb, but the potatoes were nothing but compressed mashed potatoes and the beans looked like they had seen better days. Finally, the jus over the lamb was sweet, just how he hates it. My plaice was just perfectly cooked, the chips were thin and crisp, the tartare sauce well seasoned.

For dessert we ate some sort of chocolate sundae deal: a huge tall glass piled high with brownies, chocolate sauce, ice cream, thick and heavy cream, crowned by a chocolate wafer and steeped in a year of calories. We didn’t share one. We ate a whole one each. The tables outside were sprinkled with people but many of them remained resolutely empty. The sundae was what my teenage self would have called ‘groovy’ but no one wished V a happy birthday or wrote anything on his sundae (which is unreasonable, but there are other ways to tackle that) and that was not so groovy. All a result of no one having looked at our booking. One misstep at the beginning rolled over into an entire experience. I was seething at it not having been a perfect birthday lunch for V but I was too full and sedated by all that sweetness to complain out loud. Wrote out a comment card to go with the huge bill, complaining about the tables being empty and not acknowledging the birthday. Walked down to the gardens only to be told they were shut for a wedding. So as a result we paid too much for a meal to look at the tops of trees and partially view some tall buildings in the distance, something we could do from anywhere.

Even though I never put in our names or numbers on the comment card, the manager matched us to the booking and called the same afternoon to apologise. Apologised that no one had looked at booking and said we should have mentioned it to which I said I thought that at such an expensive place which needs to be booked so far in advance should have better service standards. Only offered to ‘give us a better experience the next time’. Not a chance I am going back. Tough love, people, tough love.

I have worked in the hospitality industry. I know right from wrong. I know good service from bad. I know how monetary value equates to service value. I know rudeness from apathy. I know mediocre food from delight on the palate. I know how restaurants operate and how they try and pull the proverbial rug over gullible customers eyes. I know that Sardo's will get my business and recommendation again. And that Babylon won't.

Meanwhile this week is turning out to be very hectic. My new wool rug is by my bed and each morning as I put my feet on the floor it catches me and my sore throat bacteria dies a little death.

Sardo’s: 45 Grafton Way, London W1T 5DQ. Tel: 020 7387 2521
Babylon: 99 Kensington High Street, London, W8 5SA. Tel: 020 7368 3993

7 comments:

  1. That wall kind of reminds me of my white FabIndia kurta with mirror work

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  2. Oh man! YOu've even made a yummy dinner sound depressing! Hope you get well soon!

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  3. Great post. keep it up.

    http://tintin3.blogspot.com

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  4. Get well soon. And happy belated birthday to V.
    I have a cold too :(. feeling most self pitying.

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  5. Hello there,

    This is my first time at your blog. Well-written reviews!!

    Will come back again. Keep it up.

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  6. Ro: Ah, That's what it is!

    Iz: Can you imagine ME making food sound depressing - but bad food and poor service is just the most depressing thing ever. I shall have to be more forgiving of service if I am to make it sound less so.

    TinTin & Parul: Thanks

    MG: Colds do that, don't they - don't leave you sick enough to feel majorly ill but just enough to turn on the self pitying tap!

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  7. I enjoyed the reviews, especially the second one, even though I have no chance of visiting either restaurant. I think the review's fit to be published in a newspaper.

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