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Friday, 27 April 2012

Please don't mention Tripadvisor.

There was a table of four diners booked in yesterday lunchtime.
When the order was checked on in the kitchen it was noted that only one of the four was having a starter.
This is rude on two levels:

1.our aim being to extract as much cash as possible from you in order to increase our average spend per head,thus ultimately improving our GP,we would consider it far more polite if the whole table were to partake of a starter.

2.It takes a certain type of person to sit and eat a starter whilst the rest of the table sit patiently and watch, waiting for them to finish.

Most diners placed in this position will cancel when they realise they are the only taker.
When the starter was cleared,news filtered back to the kitchen that Table 3 would like a 'break' before the main courses were sent,thus extending the remaining threes wait for food even longer.


This always goes down well in the kitchen.
The thing is when a starter is cleared,your main course isn't going to appear immediately anyway.So any request for a break generally signifies a longer wait then the kitchen wants you to have, i.e they will have put your main course on to cook to coincide with starters being finished,factoring in a short break. Any request for a longer *rest* and all may not be as jolly as usual in the kitchen.
Increasingly,it became obvious that the lone starter fellow was in fact self appointed spokesperson for the table.
As I walked past he nodded at me and curtly pronounced 'we'll have the main courses now'.
Will you indeed.
Note the absence of a small but particularly important pleasantry.

When the bill was presented,the four were asked if everything was OK for them.
Spokespersons wife made the 'Comme Ci, Comme Ca'(sorry about the lack of a cedilla,must find out how to do that)hand movement along with that screwed up face action that signifies all is not well.

'Oh' I say 'what was the problem?'
'Well,it was OK..but don't you think its a very limited menu?'

I wanted to ask them why they'd chosen the least adventurous items on the menu ie  3 fish and chips and 1 sausage and mash,instead I went into the standard response: local ingredients,small menu, freshly cooked etc,I wont bore you with the full details, I'm sure you get the gist.
Then I say:
'Out of interest,what sort of things would you have liked to see on the menu?'

Self appointed spokespersons wife stuttered briefly before spokesperson interjected:
'That's not for us to say its for YOUR CHEF to decide'
'To be honest' said spokesperson 'we were very UNDERWHELMED, especially after seeing all those glowing reviews on TRIPADVISOR'

This is why Tripadvisor is wrong on so many levels.

Get a bad review and it may well put customers off.
Get a couple of good reviews and attract a clutch of new customers with expectations of a fine dining gourmet extravaganza who may well go away disappointed and disgruntled.
There is no winning.
I'm increasingly falling into Chefs viewpoint that its much better to keep a low profile.

'Don't worry' said spokesperson 'we will *try*you again..'

'Just so you know..' I say.. 'if you do visit again,the menu we have on today is representative both in quantity and style of what you may find if you visit again...'

That should do it.

I was still within earshot as they discussed the Tip.

'Well what shall we do about the tip?'
'10% is usual'
Spokesperson: 'Well I always give 5% towards service and 5% for the food.I don't have any issue at all with the service so we should leave 5%'
'OK so that's 2.50 each couple?'
Spokesperson:'Yes certainly no more than that.I mean I have been known to leave as much as 20% on occasion, if I'm very impressed, but no not today.Service yes,food,no...'
'OK 2.50 per couple it is'
'Yes that's more than generous..'

Reader,I had to restrain myself from going back over to the table and telling them that we might well live to fight another day without the flaming tip.

Instead I smiled my best winning smile and waved them out of the door before hurrying over to bash my head repeatedly against the daily changing blackboard menu..

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

How was your Bank Holiday weekend?

The first Bank Holiday of the year sees the re-emergence from their long winter slumber of the Day Tripper from the Toon.
Hunting in packs,and weakened by their long hibernation,they will seek out new feeding grounds,relentless in the search for their favourite sustenance.Its a dog eat dog situation with survival of only the fittest specimens,some will fall exhausted at the first hurdle,settling for the inferior 'plain pasta,no olive oil or butter, with grated cheddar cheese'.
The strongest however,will  press on, ruthlessly determined and unwavering,their overwhelming hunger spurring them ever onwards in their compelling quest for the ultimate prize....the Holy Grail...:


Mindful of the above and keen to make use of our new additional fryer,Chef proposed a new menu item.
We've never served battered fish before,mainly because Chef doesn't like to taint the fryer with anything other chips.The last thing you want is chips with a fishy after taste,besides because we cater for the gluten free market we can ill afford any cross contamination.
Keen to do something a little bit different and with our veg suppliers' favourite mantra 'give the people what they want' ringing in my ears,I convinced Chef(against his better judgement),to serve the battered fish with a 'home made chip shop style curry sauce'.
On the Monday prior to the Bank Holiday,in the interests of market research, we made a  trip to our local chippy to purchase a container of the aforementioned curry sauce.
'Make sure you ask them how they make it' I say..
Presently Chef emerged with two cartons of sauce; a standard and an extra spicy version.The extra spicy was evil smelling,tasted vile and was immediately ditched.
We peered into the pot containing the milder standard yellow looking offer.
'Its not how I remembered it' I say 'back in the day it used to have bits in it,did you ask them how they made it?'
'Yes' replied Chef 'They buy it in a packet as a powder,boil the kettle and add water to it...'

Back at the ranch Chef perfected the curry recipe over the next few days.Eventually producing a concoction which contained real lumps of food,amongst other things,curry powder,sultanas and apple.
'That's it!'I exclaimed 'it tastes exactly like the powdered version!'
Chef adopted his deadpan face.
'That's the first time in my career I've been congratulated for recreating a dish which one can produce from a packet...'
In an attempt to upgrade the option Chef decided to provide a choice of two fish for battering:
A nice chunky North Sea Coley fillet or Monkfish wrapped in Parma ham.
The Coley option,the deep fried parsley made a pleasing fizz as it went into the fryer

Come Good Friday Bank Holiday the battered fish option was flying out.
Fryers in full swing

I was giving myself the first of many virtual pats on the back when I realised the repeated ringing of the bell was invoking mine and no one else's attendance in the kitchen.
Chef glared and gestured toward the check board.
'I knew it was only a question of time before that happened...'
Chips and curry sauce-great with Fosters..

Self:'Wind your neck in please before you bust a blood vessel'

By the end of the day the large pan of curry sauce had completely sold out,unfortunately the fish had not.

On the Saturday evening,as luck would have it I was again on Front of House duties when a very pleasant fellow dining with his wife and daughter gestured me over.
'Excuse daughter's just been to the loo and I'm afraid someone has messed the toilet'
Dear God.I knew immediately that  the term 'messed' implied something far more substantial than a liquid spillage,indeed 'messed' is definitely a euphemism for a solid.
I donned surgeons gloves and entered the trap with trepidation.
Someone had fouled on the actual toilet seat.
Its surprising what you can deal with when you have to..*gag*.
I reported back to the table who had alerted me to the soiling incident.
'Its clean now if you want to use the toilet'
The young girl crossed her legs and looked unconvinced 'how does someone manage to do it there???'she asked.
'No idea..perhaps they're ambidextrous..'I say.

Bank Holiday Monday we were in overdrive.I felt a bit shakey by mid afternoon when Chef helpfully pointed out that Id eaten nothing but chocolate,crisps,chips,coffee and Lucozade since the Friday morning.
On the other hand he of course had eaten an altogether healthier Cardiac sandwich consisting predominately of Red Bull,Fosters,chocolate and salted peanuts..

I could see the light at the end of the tunnel however,when this encounter ocurred.
'Excuse me... what's your soup of the day today?'
'Its Potato and Lovage' I say
'Potato and ROUGHAGE?' said the chap
'No....L-O-V-A-G-E' I say,as I dash hastily past.
Presently I see the same chap waving me over to his table.
'What's lovage?'
'Its a herb,it tastes a bit like celery,its slightly peppery,we grow it in our garden'
Home grown in the garden,that'll seal the deal..I thought..
Looking to his wife'Shall we order some?'
'I'm not sure if Ill like it'
Husband: 'Can we taste some?Can you bring us an egg cup full of it and if we like it we'll order some'
At this point the place was heaving,the idea of providing samples of each dish to every customer did not appeal at all.
'I'm afraid I cant,we don't have a big pot of it boiling away,we only put some on if someone orders it,its really nice not an overpowering flavour,the potato is the main flavour'I smiled and nodded encouragingly.
Everyone knows potatoes.
'What other soups do you have?'
'Just the one variety(not 57 I thought..),its freshly made,a new batch every day'
Husband(looking at the wife again): 'Shall we order some?'
Wife:'No you know what I'm like with things I don't know...'

Christ Almighty.Its only a bowl of farking soup.

By this point the husband also had his head in his hands.
'Can I have one bowl of soup with two spoons please?'
'yes of course'
The bowl of soup was sent in due course with a SECOND order being sent to the kitchen very soon after.
The wife called me over to congratulate us on the soup.
It sounded like she had surprised herself
'I dont usually like things I don't know..'
The question Id like to ask is; how does she know she doesn't like them if she hasn't tried them?

Dear God.Give me strength.

 How was your Bank Holiday weekend?

PS I'm not sure the curry sauce idea will be getting a second airing...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Three Have a Wonderful Time.

Following our recent unfavourable experience over the border,we decided to book ourselves into more upmarket lodgings.

The cheapest most competitively priced room was described thus: 'a small room with bathroom en suite at the back of the lodge without a view'
I solicited Chefs input as to whether this room would be suitable for Only Daughter.
He smirked ..'What??That sounds like a broom cupboard with no windows above the garage...'
Lets be clear here,there is no such thing as a cheap room at this establishment,we erred on the side of caution however,and chose two mid range rooms.
On arrival we were greeted warmly and shown to the drawing room,complimentary fizz was offered which of course we accepted .This was a very nice touch.Got our stay off on the right foot.
OD's room was in the main building.A large traditionally decorated room ,with a big bed,spacious bathroom with convenient separate shower cubicle.
Our room was in the South Lodge about 50 metres from the main building.The room was nicely decorated, a bit smaller than ODs single occupancy room but with a lovely view over the Loch.
Pleasant Loch view

I peeked into the bathroom.I was surprised,it was small and quite basic with an over bath shower.Though to be fair I wasn't overly bothered.
'That explains the fizz' said Chef 'to soften the blow'
On further inspection I noted the presence of a small short and curly just next to the plughole in the bath.Now I'm not saying the bathroom wasn't clean, but  I'm afraid this one didn't quite pass the final and most important housekeeping check ;the under sink inspection and the fingertip tip search for stray personal flotsam.
Obviously, a single rogue item such as this can be easily missed,in fairness I periodically harvest enough hair to stuff a mattress from our own family bathroom,but the sight of someone else's public in the bath is an altogether different proposition and indeed very off-putting.
OD giggled hysterically at our obvious misfortune and the thought of her own nicely appointed bathroom.
A nice pot of calming tea in the South Lodge drawing room was in order, OD was despatched to the main building to place the order,Chef accompanied, expressing a desire to have a nose around Lady Claire MacDonald's shop which we had been informed during our brief tour of the facilities was 'open at all times'.
I settled down into the sumptuous sofa in front of the roaring log fire,taking due note of the honesty bar in the corner.
Presently I spied OD through the window on her way down the pathway from the main house bearing a huge hostess tray laden with full afternoon tea accoutrements.
Self service.
This surprised me somewhat.
We giggled.The tea was lovely,made with leaves and  in a nice china pot.
Minutes later Chef reappeared on the pathway.
'Was the shop shut?' I say
'No,but I didn't come all this way to buy a tattie masher'said Chef.
I drew Chefs attention to the Honesty Bar which raised the mood momentarily,then dashed again due to the absence of his beverage of choice.
Chef at leisure
(Any tips on Photo-shopping gratefully accepted.)

Following a leisurely afternoon we retired to our rooms to prepare for our evening meal.
Meeting for pre dinner cocktails in the lovely drawing room over at the main house.
Gin Martini with a twist for me,a very sweet purple cocktail for OD and a consolatory G and T for Chef due to the continuing drought of his own favourite beverage.
We were served canap├ęs as we browsed the dinner menu.
Note the three teaspoons,these were my gluten free options,goats cheese and Parma ham with pesto.I think I stumped the kitchen here.Dare I say this lacked imagination?Beggars cant be choosers though, I'm always grateful for anything.
There were a few couples dotted around the room on the cosy sofas.
Various guests were escorted through to the dining room,finally leaving us three and a pleasant looking couple with Yorkshire accents,chap sporting a jolly floral Boden shirt.
As we sat in silence  the unmistakeable sound of  creaking bed springs began to emanate from the room directly above.I caught Chefs eye and gestured upward.
He smirked.
The noise became louder,maintaining a steady but determined rhythmic pattern.
OD cottoned on,glanced delightedly over at the Yorkshire couple who simultaneously burst out laughing.
Chef regained some semblance of composure first:
'They should warn you about that on the internet'
The waiter who returned for our wine order wondered what had prompted the raucous laughter.Perhaps we should have told him.
Chef selected a wine which the waiter presently allowed me to OK..I was mildly surprised,a French tipple isn't Chefs usual choice.
As he returned from his fag break taking in some fresh air I commented.
'I didn't order French'
'Oops well you had better go tell them;- they showed me a bottle of Pouilly Fume, that's got to be the best part of £100 in a place like this'
We were shown to our table in the dining room and presented with our correct bottle of budget(£34) Antipodean plonk.We were advised by the waiter to leave it in the ice bucket a wee bit longer to chill.Obviously not a common choice..
OD requested a jug of tap water,I was surprised to see this served in a Laura Ashley style china jug with refreshing chunks of cucumber afloat within.Sometimes I think quirky is good but most of the time its just ....not.

The menu offered a choice of two starters, two mains and two puddings plus cheese.

The diners were mainly couples,gentlemen smartly attired with jacket and tie,(other than us of course)and a couple of fellows sat in the corner who were more casually dressed in combat trousers and checked shirts.
'We're paying for their meal' said Chef.
'What do you mean'
'Government funded scientists dining out at the tax payers expense'said Chef.
I looked over.They looked very comfortable.At one with their surroundings.Bored even.
'No they're a travel journalist and photographer from Conde Naste Traveller' I say.
Further evidence to support my theory was provided next morning when I spotted them down by the Loch with a very expensive looking wide angle lens camera.
'They could be monitoring the sea eagles' said Chef hopefully.
'I think you need to concede defeat on this one'I say..
I digress.
We were served a small pre starter a,shot glass of soup.Mine and ODs Slightly spiced pea.Chefs spiced red pepper.This puzzled me a bit.They were aware of our allergies(Chefs to fish,mine to gluten)so I couldn't work out why Chef had been given a different soup.Unless the pea soup contained fish stock.
Alternatively the red pepper was the gluten free option and was given to Chef in error.I suppose we'll never know.It was only a small amount so I took a chance and knocked it back.It was pleasant,but not as nice as the red pepper option,which Chef declared delicious.
A young couple entered the dining room and were seated at a cosy corner table .We eavesdropped the waiter offering congratulations and presenting a glass of fizz.
Johnnie Boden caught ODs eye,smiled and winked a knowing wink.
I felt a bit sorry for the honeymooners,they had no idea that half the restaurant had witnessed the sound track to their earlier performance.But ignorance is bliss of course.
Our starters arrived.
Pigs cheek,monkfish wrapped in parma ham with a passion fruit jus.Passion fruit.On Skye.Whatever next.

The pigs cheek was good,perfectly cooked.Sadly the monkfish had been cooked past the point of no return,not a drop of moisture left in it.
OD and Chef went for the beef fillet,I had sea bass.
The sea bass was OK.Garnished with deep fried leeks.Try eating these whilst maintaining a ladylike decorum.
'Are you keeping that bit for later?' said Chef...

The beef fillet was OK.Served with mash and a 'blue cheese mousse' which I tasted,I wouldn't have described it as mousse,it was rubbery in texture not very pleasant.Surprisingly,I forgot to take a picture of it.

To finish Chef and OD went for the cheese option,a selection of French and Scottish cheeses,of course with a snifter of Port.
I chose the 'very lemony tart'which I was advised could be adapted to accommodate my dietary problem.
This pudding did not work on any level.
The rubbery very lemony tart centre had been placed on top of a disc of overpowering sesame seed brittle.Surrounded by a cloyingly sweet whisky sauce.
'Personally I like my tarts with a bit of wobble' said Chef..
Perhaps its not fair to criticise a dish which had been altered to cater for a particular dietary requirement.
Its not often I leave anything.
Chef was underwhelmed.
'Do you know what was missing with that meal?'
'There was nothing fresh or vibrant about it'
We asked if we could have our coffee in the drawing room.
Petit fours

The monotone theme continued through to the petit fours.Madeleines,Turkish delight and Tablet which is a local Skye speciality,its a bit like fudge.They tasted nice.
Being a non coffee drinker,Chef declared a 'thirst like a dying man crawling out of the desert',at this point OD happened to be nosing around the bar and had spotted a couple of bottles of French lager in the bottom of the fridge which she pointed out to the waiter.He feigned surprise then begrudgingly served a bottle to Chef.
'You do realise you've nicked the Chefs private after service tipple'I say..
There was a charming senior couple already enjoying their coffees.It was a return visit for them,having enjoyed the luxury of Kinloch ten years previously.We chatted to them for a while before they retired to bed.
'Did you notice the lady was wearing pop socks?' said OD
'Yes, and yes I did spot that one was around her ankle' I say.
OD giggled.
'You'll be old too one day'I say.

On our return I thought Id have a quick look on Tw*tAdvisor, just to check out the general feel for the place.
I was hard pushed to find anything about the food which was other than complimentary ,though there were a number of gripes regarding the accommodation.(I learnt that the bathrooms for example are due to be upgraded soon).

It was a stunning location,the public areas were lovely to sit in and the staff were very helpful and friendly.
This place has a Michelin star.
Chefs eyebrows were raised.
Perhaps the food just wasn't to our taste.

The following evening we dined in another restaurant.As we were shown to our table we were amused to note the Conde Naste journalists and the Honeymooners seated at adjacent tables.
As OD passed the Conde Naste table and bid her hellos the Photographer winked and quipped
'We'll be in Ullapool tomorrow night,might we see you there too???...................'


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