Published 8 August 1993 Style Magazine 7th article
"You cooked one of the most awful dinners I have ever eaten," I said, bravely, staring the chef, Jonathan Hayes of Chinon, straight in the eyes. He smiled. "I've learned since then," he said. "I've got better, haven't I?" He was right.
When I first visited the highly praised Chinon, tucked away in backstreets south of Shepherds Bush Green, it was ghastly. The hostess, Barbara Deane, wore an old cardigan that looked like an Irene Handl cast-off. The restaurant was gloomy, with food to match. The sauces were so heavy a lead weight would have bounced off them.
I read that they'd moved a few doors up the street, so, as they are near my house, I returned, cautiously. First, I did a reconnaissance. I checked out the bright first-floor bistro and the posher downstairs leading to a wild, attractive garden. I ogled the customers' food. It looked good. I sat at four tables to test the specific ambience. Then I went away and thought about it.
I returned a few days later, with my secretary, Mrs Lagoudakas, who had hated our first visit. A fussy lady is Mrs L, surprising really for a former Miss United Kingdom who lives near Chester! She too pronounced our expedition a triumph.
There was a nice buzzy atmosphere, excellent music (Clannad and George Winston), and food that was successfully memorable. Tasty moules marinieres, delicious toulouse sausage in a lentil sauce, very good scallops with mashed potatoes in chinese leaves with a garlic cream sauce, and a selection of desserts as rich and scrumptious as any I've eaten. And Ms Deane had put on a pleasant Victorian frock!
Don't go to Chinon. It's small and I want my choice of tables!
Further to Maurice Godden's experience at Quagliano's (Letters, August 1), I too have been on the receiving end of their poor service and attitude. I recently booked a table for lunch and arranged to meet a colleague in the restaurant. We arrived separately and were seated at separate tables for over an hour. The mistake was only discovered when I walked around the restaurant to see if I could find my companion. We were offered no apology for our wasted lunch meeting, merely a shrug of the shoulders and a "these things happen". To make matters worse, our eventual meal was marred by service that was haphazard and slow. Unfortunately, we did not deduct the service charge - I wish we had. However, we will not be returning.
Liz Earle, London SW6
Last month I took my wife to dinner at The Sprowston Manor Hotel near Wroxham in Norfolk, a four-star hotel. We ordered food and a bottle of French rose which was described flatteringly enough in the wine list. The wine waiter brought and poured the wine. I said it smelt all right, at which he poured out two glasses and left. My wife and I then sipped the wine. We found it thoroughly horrid. We called the wine waiter over to our table and asked him if we could change wines. He went off to find out if this would be possible. It was not long before a black-suited woman strode across to our table. She simply refused to change our wine, and told us that we would have to pay half the price of the bottle of undrunk rose if we wanted to change it for a different wine. We left and went home to dine on a Marks & Spencer avocado and prawn sandwich, which certainly looked fresher than the first course prawns we had seen being brought to our table as we were escorted out of the restaurant.
Roderick Bromley, Coltishall, Norfolk