Let me say straight away I find the British a kind, fun-loving lot; that’s why the following dust up is particularly grim.
Knackered with jet lag and a 1:30 reservation, we arrived at the appointed restaurant ninety minutes early. When we asked the Maître D if we might be accommodated earlier, he paused just long enough to give us the once over before replying, “Impossible.”
Accommodate: to do a kindness or a favor to; oblige.
Impossible is scoring front row tickets to the championship rugby match, but finding one table in an empty restaurant?
He continued, “Just moments ago two parties rang and booked for a business lunch. They need to be in and out in one hour.” He was subtly chastising us for not calling first. (Agreed. I should have.)
We weren’t looking for a row; we were looking for champagne and a light lunch. My mate George - with his impeccable boarding school manners - politely queried if we might sit at one of the empty tables sipping bubbles while we waited.
“No, my staff will be stretched thin taking care of the other parties.”
I’ll tell you what was stretched thin. His lips. From pursing them so tightly.
George made one more valiant attempt, “Really, we don’t mind waiting.”
He wasn’t budging. “No, the chefs will be far too busy cooking for the other guests.”
I could see that this had become a game of cricket. The Maître D was the bat and we were the ball. I asked if he could recommend a restaurant in the neighborhood.
“Well, there is one a few doors down. Or you can come back here at 1:30.” He made both options sound entirely undesirable.
That was enough of a kerfuffle. We retreated to the nearby gastro pub where we were cheerfully served steak pie and fish and chips, even managing to finish by half past one.
A few days later, I took a peek at the menu online to see what may have been offered with little effort and I note that neither the servers nor the cooks had any hand in the Maître D matter:
Selection of Breads with English butter - One must assume that the baker had been in the kitchen early that morning to bake the baps. But yeah, I get it, putting them in the basket and delivering them to the table would be taxing.
Crudité – No need to whip out the peeler and dispense of the carrots’ pesky skin or trim the radishes. This assortment of veg is typically prepped in the morning and placed on a platter ready to be plucked from the fridge.
Soup - I’m pretty sure it takes about ten seconds to ladle pre-made soup into bowls. Bonus points for adding a dollop of crème fraiche.
Champagne – Fair enough. This requires some skill to pop a cork – or three. Oh, and we like the expensive French stuff.
Keep calm and carry on.