Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thumbs down: a Poor Restaurant Review

And now for a barrage of overdue entries. One of the most frustrating things about being up in London for a week was that my internet access up there is dodgy at best. I tried to post that last entry at least twice.

Now safely installed (for a day) back in a crisply cold Surrey, looking out onto acres and acres of garden and fields coated in thick white frost (I’ll try and get a photo and upload this, it’s too beautiful for words), my internet works, and I’m cozying up indoors for a bit whilst I figure out what clothes will protect me from the bitter cold outside.

The ideal excuse to update on my second trip out to eat. One of Alan Yau’s many creations, Cha Cha Moon is on Ganton street, just off Carnaby Street.

I’ve been to this restaurant at least half a dozen times since its opening in May last year, and mostly regaled others with stories of wild enthusiasm. Sadly it looks like I never got round to reviewing it before though, as now it’s a completely different story. Nothing seemed to go right for them on this particular visit, and I’m left with a feeling of crashing disappointment and no desire ever to go back.

The first shock came whilst waiting in the (generally promising) ever-present queue to eat. When handed our menus I saw that the original ‘every dish at £3.50’ gimmick had obviously reached the end of its time, and all items had been adjusted accordingly. The original aim of this ploy had been to draw in the punters, a fantastic piece of promotional marketing, but one which, when kept up too long, makes regular goers complacent, trained, pavlov dog style, to expect super-affordable prices. This makes the eventual price adjustment a horrible shock to the system. Cha Cha Moon can no longer be nipped to for a 'ridiculously cheap, great meal’. Now dishes are up with the rest of the noodle places, not only is it no longer cheap, but it's also, as we were soon to find out, no longer great either. Things boded badly.

We were seated rapidly, there’s never a complaint of too long a wait here. However, my eating companion (Bro P) and I then sat for getting on for ten minutes before anyone so much as ventured near us (10 minutes being an exceptionally long time in noodle-land when dishes can often take less than 30 seconds to prepare). During this time I started to witness evidence of the decline of a previously slick and efficient restaurant: dishes headed to the wrong table; waiters checked and rechecked orders with each other; bumped into each other; and let plates waltz gaily round without an owner.
After several requests, we finally secured a waiter’s attention to place our order, before my observations became too depressing. He took our order, only for another waiter to appear 2 minutes later (clearly the one we were supposed to have in the first place). Not to worry, by this stage I was practically gnashing at the bit to be served some form of noodly nourishment – my lunchtime meal had been piddly and I was starving.

We waited.

And we waited.

Still I watched more confusion amongst the waiting staff. Finally a dish came out, and we watched it being offered to first one, then another diner, until he finally put the dish in front of me. And then - oh boy, this makes my digestive process halt dramatically in its tracks – he PICKED IT UP AGAIN, and said ‘oh, no, I’d better check, I don’t think it’s for you'. Whisking it out from underneath my poised chopsticks and dripping jaws, he took it away. No apology or explanation, nothing! Anyone who knows me well enough will know that this is probably up there with slamming a door in my face or throwing a beer down my back with offensive gestures.
This meant WAR.

Two minutes later the same dish was dumped in front of me with barely an explanation. By this time it wasn’t steaming hot, but I was ravenous, and so tucked in. Not only was it not steaming hot, but there were actually sections which were cold, it had been that long out of the kitchen embrace. Of course, I should have complained, but I was so terrified they'd whisk it away again that I crouched low over it, protecting it like a mother bear protects her cubs. It’s hardly relevant what it was or how it tasted – Singapore Char Kway Teow, thick noodles in quite a tasty mixed meat sauce if you're interested. But, with all the emotional upheaval involved in getting my hands on this thing, I wouldn't advise anyone to go through the same trauma.

Bro P unsnapped his chopsticks and tucked into my plate, as there was no sign of his meal, nor would there be for some time to come. In fact, when we were on the verge of polishing the dish off, there was still no sign, so we asked a waiter, and his Singapore Fried Noodle finally arrived, just as I was picking up the last few strands of noodles. His dish tasted fusty and of hot dogs, and not even close to the standard of my previous visits. Meanwhile two or three wrong dishes were shown past our table.

We paid (no tip), and left. Never to return again.

No service, late meals, constant waiter confusion, a false serving, a practically cold dish. And all without the super-cheap price tag we’ve now been trained to expect.

Serious thumbs down.

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