You’ve figured out by now that Llew and I really love our food. In fact, I’d estimate that beyond mortgage repayments, food and wine take out the first prize for the total income decimation of this household. We love eating out, we love eating in, we love drinking wine, we love keeping wine… one of the reasons we’re both incurable wanderers, and why we’re so restless at the moment because we haven’t been overseas in so long, is the chance to try new cuisine in new settings. Food experiences dominate my travel writing. So it’s not for nothing that I share some of my foodie finds with you on DoctorDi – it’s one of my chief preoccupations. I’m just going to launch right in with the email I sent to Pendolino restaurant just now, because I need to vent my ill-temper as quickly as possible before I give myself an ulcer:
To whom it may concern,
I feel compelled to write and let you know that I think it was both cynical and arrogant of you to reward a group that made its booking three – or was it four? – weeks in advance, and then called to reconfirm, with the worst table in the house. A secure booking: there’s nothing better for any restaurateur, but why is it that the people who did the right thing were punished rather than even remotely rewarded for their efforts in playing by the rules? Etiquette in these matters suggests that we should have been able to expect to be seated in THE ACTUAL DINING ROOM. Instead, you sat us in the cloakroom-cum-shop. In fact, we were so close to the coats of other diners that we could have checked their pockets had we been so inclined. We had to tolerate staff and diners alike rifling through the coats, discussing their coats, clanging the cheap, cheap, cheap wire coat hangers by our heads and – last but not least – making various attempts to fix the rack itself, which kept collapsing.
When I arrived and saw where we’d been seated, I was so incensed I immediately turned to our waiter and expressed my disappointment and anger. We were there for a special occasion, and we had done everything right. Why were we given the worst seat in the house? Do you know what he did? He offered us the table next door – which, as you know perfectly well, is the second worst table in the house. Why bother? We didn’t, although we did have to get up and swap that table’s lit candle with our own unlit one… Gee, I hope no one minds.
Let me tell you this: my husband and I stumbled across your restaurant just after it opened. We did a walk through, greatly admired the dining room (I actually said to him at the time “Gosh, you wouldn’t want to sit in here, though…” of the very place I found myself on Saturday night – oh, the awful irony), and decided we’d return with our best friends, which is what we did on Saturday night, when one of the couples was celebrating ten years of marriage. Since my friend made the booking so far in advance – literally since that day – I had been looking forward to sitting in that space taking part in the whole experience. It is never just about the food, especially not for a bill climbing toward $1,000 for a table of 7. And I can’t describe to you how I feel now, to have been so categorically locked out of the full experience by your cynical table planning. The disappointment was so acute I actually lay awake on Saturday night going over and over it, imagining the night I thought I was going to have instead of the one we got. Shove the dead certs to the cloakroom. Fill the worst tables first. It’s greedy, and it’s rude. Unforgivable, in fact.
Just thought you might be interested to know what we thought of your treatment of our good custom.
So there you have it, my friends. Pants to Pendolino. In fairness, the food was very good, although a serving of bread arrived with a red wine cork nestling in its centre, which suggests to me the possibility that it had been cleared from another table, and the bumbling serving of our entrees was comic but inept, but even if the food was sublime – and it wasn’t any better than 50 paces away at divine Intermezzo – it still wouldn’t have eased the insult of that table. We were in the cheap seats, all right, they just weren’t cheap. You know, the lesson is to always request a good table, and to expressly decline the worst seats in the house, but it really shouldn’t be necessary. I think it was obvious when we made that booking that we weren’t hoping to turn up and find ourselves with the coats in the gift store, and any restaurateur who thinks otherwise needs to start arming diners with a forewarning and just see how well it goes down. I guarantee they’ll never see so leaden a balloon as that.
POSTSCRIPT: I’ve just had a very nice, sincere call of apology from Nino, Pendolino’s main owner and head chef. He very kindly offered me the opportunity to return for a meal on him, which I felt I had to decline (tempting, but still: it’s the principle of the thing). I didn’t write my complaint with a view to getting a freebie make-good out of it, I just wanted the right person to receive the feedback, and he did. Anyway, he was good to call, and he was upset that we were upset, and I daresay some solution to the challenges of storing coats may well emerge from our exchange, as well as the necessity of asking guests if they’d like to be seated in the shop or the dining room, because some people – incredibly – apparently prefer the former. So, my disappointment stands, but I do feel better knowing that Nino knows.