Published 25 November 2007 News Review 749th article
Geraldine and Michael outside Great Queen Street restaurant in Covent Garden (Hazel Wilson)
I'd read a couple of good reviews for Great Queen Street, a restaurant in Covent Garden. This proves you should never trust food reviews unless they're by me.
Great Queen Street is awful, ghastly, ill-run, absurd. For a start this dump is so pretentious it doesn't put its name or its street number anywhere. Not on the window, not on the awning. Nothing.
The job of any restaurant is to be welcoming and instructive to its customers. Making them guess if they are really there or not is just pathetic.
The room is okay. Wooden floors, wooden tables, long bar. We were seated in the window overlooking the United Grand Lodge of England. Whether you like freemasons or not at least they have the sense to label their building.
My dad was a freemason. As he was the nicest man ever, they must be good. He was in a Masonic lodge in Shepherd's Bush with Tommy Cooper. I'm sure that's information you were just dying to know.
I now return to the deep purple-walled Great Queen Street.
"It's more like a prune colour," Geraldine corrected me.
I ordered potted shrimps followed by hare ragu and noodles. Some extremely dreary bread arrived, sort of soggy and ridiculous. Plus the dreaded Hildon water.
My potted shrimps came in a tiny glass. I've heard of small portions but this was ridiculous. They had a sharp tang to them, which I've never had before in any potted shrimps. It did not add quality to their taste.
After I'd eaten this dreary offering I noticed, at the far end of the room, a blackboard with something I couldn't read written on it. I called over the restaurant manager, Ana Dias, and asked, "Are those some of today's specials on the blackboard?"
"Yes," she replied. "There's leg of mutton with lentils, plaice and anchovies."
"Why didn't you tell us of this when you gave out the menu?" I asked.
"You were so busy ordering I didn't want to disturb you," replied Ana. That is, without doubt, the most stupid statement ever made to me in a restaurant, or possibly anywhere else in the entire span of my life on this earth.
What sort of dumb place fails to tell customers what is available? Answer: a place so arrogant they don't let customers know they are there at all.
"Do you want to change your order?" asked Ana.
"I might have preferred one of those," I said. "But I'll stick with what I was allowed to order at the time."
That turned out to be a mistake. I got some very underwhelming pasta. The River Cafe, which serves superb pasta, would have had a fit if they tasted it. Bunged into this was a totally tasteless meat, which was, of course, the advertised hare.
Not only was it tasteless it was dangerous. It contained many very small tough bits of bone. Bite heavily on them and you'd crack a tooth. Swallow them and they could be fatal.
What an appalling place this is, I thought. I left most of my hare and pasta.
Then, not unnaturally, we wanted to order dessert. It was impossible to catch the manager's eye. She was the sort of person who walked through the room, not looking around to see how the customers were faring or if they wanted anything. So she didn't notice me beckoning.
Eventually Geraldine ordered prune and armagnac mousse. Ana said the pumpkin tart was delicious so I ordered muscat caramel custard.
Geraldine's mousse was in the tiny glass which my potted shrimps came in. I tasted it. British Rail 1961. My caramel was borderline good.
No one took any interest in giving us a bill, so I went up to the till. I'd forgotten the pin number of my Mastercard. Luckily Geraldine knew it. So we were able to flee.
I stopped off at the Wolseley to eat something decent. A macaroon with a chocolate slice in the middle and an espresso coffee with hot milk.
Then I greeted an adoring crowd to sign my Fat Pig Diet book in Harrods. Mohamed al-Fayed kindly said he'd show up, but then he phoned to explain he had to go to football. Football over me? Most peculiar. But he did buy 12 books.
Chef Rowley Leigh has left Kensington Place (a wise move) and opened his own restaurant nearby. I fell out big-time with the management of Kensington Place, but Rowley did a good job. And I've never seen him spurt the sort of rubbish normally associated with chefs.
I wish him all the best with his new venture. Well, I have to be kind about something, don't I?
I nearly choked over the casual "Prince Charles, Geraldine and I went to Fortnum & Mason" comment last week. Such a refreshing change from the "I'm just a poor boy from Willesden" claptrap that we readers normally have to swallow.
Marianne Bartram, Torquay
I disagree with your praise of the new Fortnum & Mason. It's lost all charm. It feels as it you've popped into Waitrose. The restaurant is equally grim and the service is dire. The staff don't appear to know where the customer toilets are located. Why did they need to fix something that wasn't broken?
Sue Shack, Norfolk
Here's a variation on an old theme. At the Little Yang Sing restaurant in Manchester the waiter invited me to add a further gratuity on top of the service charge "for part-time staff". I declined. Why should the difference between full and part-time staff be of interest?
Steven Joseph, Brussels, Belgium
He described a window display with "other stuff", admitted he "nicked a wide variety of sweets", he didn't know what "short pastry" meant. Makes you wonder: is Winner really the right man for the job?
Alan Gray, Hertfordshire
So you've had 150 lovers! Clearly it wasn't your leg the doctors needed to cut off.
Dennis Pallis, Kent
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