Posted on 29 Sep 2014, by Barry Verber
A recent family visitor to London from Germany, a fluent English speaker, was stumped by the word ” gripe “,which I then explained as a colloquial version of ” complaint ” a word also sounding complaining. I have many ” gripes ” when it comes to resaurants, and here I will indulge myself in just 3 of them.
The first concerns seating , about which there is perhaps not that much to say, however, this does become an issue when eating out in a group of more that 4 people. Twice, in recent weeks, I have found myself in such a situation, when in party of 5 at St John in Farringdon and also, in a group of 7 at A Wong in Victoria both seriously good eateries. Herein lies the problem because, on both occasions, we were seated at long tables. This makes conversation between all present virtually impossible. One either has to lean over and shout or sit back and be content to talk to the person opposite, or on one’s left or right. Otherwise, one might be forced to pass on information as in ” what did he say ? ” Under these circumstances a convivial meal involving all parties is just not going to happen. So here’s the gripe…all restaurants should have at least a couple of round or oval tables to accommodate larger groups. If there is no other way, then simply do like the Chinese restaurants and wheel in a round table top that fits neatly on top of the oblong one. Sorted.
Secondly, and here I sympathise with the restaurant rather than the diner. No-shows ! The scourge of the restaurant trade. I recently ate at Gymkhana, a real Indian find in the West End. I had managed to secure a table eventually, after the illustrious critic Alan Coren had described his meal there as his best ever, made booking almost impossible. Whilst I was eating a truly delicious delicate tasting menu meal over say a two hour period, I couldn’t help noticing the odd empty table here and there. On inquiring of the lovely helpful ladies manning the reception desk, I was told that that evening they had had to cope with 16 no-shows ! These are people who had booked well in advance and had left their names and numbers then just didn’t bother to either turn up or have the common courtesy to phone to cancel. Appalling behaviour. In my restaurant these ignorant diners would be permanently black listed.
As would my third category of gripe subjects. These are the individuals or groups who leave their meals in order to go outside to smoke. I don’t know why, since these people have nothing to do with me, but this drives me mad. Perhaps it is because I have never been a smoker, I am not sure. In any event, what I am sure about is that continuous exiting to smoke must inevitably interfere with any enjoyment of food, taste buds having been all but obliterated, and, watching this stream of so called diners exiting and re entering is an annoying interruption to one’s peace and quiet. Another gripe. Another group to be banned from my own, now nearly empty restaurant. Ah well that’s life I suppose.