nofrillsfood

A great WordPress.com site

The Samuel Fox, Bradwell, Derbyshire.

 

So, regular readers of my blog will be aware of my normal policy of reviewing a restaurant is to visit at least three times to gain a more rounded and objective view. Upon reflection I’ve decided to forgo this for places out of Sheffield, where I am based. The are two principle reasons, often I wont be able to visit as regularly as I would somewhere in Sheffield and often the places are rather pricey. As I hope to write up my forthcoming culinary visits to London I have planned (I’m not a name drop wanker!) this march and can tell you now I probably wont be going back to each place twice this year!

With this in mind here is my review of the Samuel Fox, Derbyshire.

My bird absolutely pulled one out of the bag this year and rather secretively booked us into The Samuel Fox for the night. Nestled into the fantastic, snow covered hills of the Derbyshire peak district, (it’s only a short drive, 20 odd miles), from the socialist republic of Sheffield!

Full of birthday cheer, we laughed, metaphorically of course, in the face of the bitter cold that greeted us as we arrived at the very welcoming, warm entrance. A great mixture of modern country chintz and playful art adorning its walls I was pleasantly surprised.

I knew via social media that The Fox had new owners, having previously been masterfully stewarded by the fantastic team of Kelly Ware and Charlie Curran, and was a bit unsure as to what to expect, after all it wasn’t my choice was it and hadn’t even looked at the menu.

The chap who welcomed and checked us in showed us to our room on the first floor. It was superb. Warm and comforting with a cheeky bottle of bubbles organised by my bird. Perfect start. What is also a nice touch is the freshly ground coffee waiting for you in your cafeteria and the rather handy, if inclined, complimentary decanted brandy next to the mirror on the dressing table. Perfect if any gent has any ‘last minute nerves’! Upon further reflection, this geezer sums up the Samuel Fox perfectly, smartly dressed, welcoming, and rather under-stated as you will read.

All of these touches show a very real warm attention to detail so often missing in many places in the UK. Sure its probably standard in most Michelin classed and 5 star hotels but it shows a real level of professionalism and love of hospitality to make it standard practice when no guest, me included, might not expect it.

After a lovely late afternoon, relaxing and drinking it was time for dinner. At first glance the menu is disarmingly simple. What I did like was the opening gambit from the new proprietor James Duckett: he helpfully informs us guests that any and all tip(s) or service charge is directly portioned out to those who earn it and work for it and it is by no way used to top up any ones wage. This may seem a trivial thing, its not. It shows 100% that this guy gives a fuck about his staff and ultimately, if you do show appreciation, for you to do so in the correct manner. Both of us being passionate about Hospitality we really appreciated this, geeky I know but we all have our quirks.

On to the food. I wont go into great speculation and detail as to what we didn’t have but I will talk about what we did. Comfortably settled by the warming fire we supped on 2 halves of Bradfield Brewery ’Farmers Blonde’ (Golden Pale Ale), an inoffensive yet light, crisp and thirst quenching session ale. Too accompany the food we would have normally of chosen two half bottles, but none being available we decided upon a very decently 2011 Fleurie from George Deboeuf. Fleurie’s are well known for there surprising depth of flavour and floral notes and this certainly didn’t disappoint,.

Making our choices we ordered and were shown to our table in a very non-rushed manner, keeping up the relaxed theme we had experienced throughout

To start we had two very uncomplicated yet tasty starters. I don’t mean that insultingly, it’s a running theme through the chef’s repertoire.

My game terrine, was smartly presented with the caramelised pear puree lifting the meat beautifully,Image

perfectly portioned with two ‘soldiers’ of neatly girdled brioche and a lightly dressed endive salad, my only critique would be it could of add a touch more seasoning for my palette. What I did try of the Goats cheese I enjoyed but I only had a mouthful so further comment wouldn’t be prudent.Image

All I can say is my bird enjoyed it thoroughly and both plates where empty! It was the kind of dish you could nibble on and leave and come back to if you were sat in a summertime café watching the world go by in a wonderful southern French city such as Toulouse. To much, I don’t think so. It was more of a nibbling dish than a stand alone starter if you get my drift.

I had ordered the bream, with polenta, leeks and truffle. The fish was fresh, superbly cooked and perfectly seasoned. Perfectly crisp skin holding beneath it the wonderful flesh of what is a very under-rated fish sat atop some lightly cooked buttered leeks. Alongside it sat a perfect rectangle of crisp polenta, perfectly smooth inside, again beautifully seasoned. On top of this savoury cake sat a halved, braised leek adorned with a few slices of black truffle and lightly napied with a not so over-powering truffle butter sauce. It sounds very rich; but the dish was well balanced and was one of those where with each mouthful I was already placing the next piece of food upon my fork. I physically had to force myself to slow down and savour it! Reading this paragraph doesn’t really give visual justice to how it looked so I’veImage had to add, what I consider, to be a very apt photo! Just looking at it again makes my mouth water and want to go back and eat more!

The other main course was a very seasonal Haunch of venison this was cooked to perfection and served two ways, the haunch is broken down with the bigger muscles portions and the remainder being braised on the bone. This meat is then flaked and mixed and made into a croquette with the larger muscle being caramelised slightly and served perfectly pink and medium rare. This cooking is simplicity at its finest and the execution and understanding of the produce shows real skill and love of cooking. The latter description sounds rather poncey but not even AA Gill’s repertoire of random words will do the flavour of each of the mains sufficient justice. The celeriac puree and red wine jus were also executed decently. As with any roasted shallot on a plate I’m not really a fan, they rarely offer anything to a dish, for me anyway. This isn’t a criticism, not at all, just my opinion.

Image

For dessert we opted not to have any sweet wine or port as we were both struggling with the birthday intake of alcohol, so opted to stay with the wine. We ordered the cheese which was a decent selection of standard farmhouse cheeses; A creamy, soft Brie de meux, a quintessential English cheddar from wookey hole, Somerset and a tangy black sticks blue. While the dish offered nothing innovative, what I will say is the cheese was served 100% correctly. By this I mean it was warm, blood temperature warm, so the cheese was at it’s premium taste wise. So many restaurants, even in such foodie/blogger/everyone’s a critic/tweeter times fuck this up and serve it fridge cold, not here they don’t, again little details which are oft forgotten make a gaff standout.

The other dessert was a burnt vanilla cream, simple yet tasty served with blueberries which had been heated slowly in cold sorbet syrup which cut delicately through the rich custard and served with some fantastic, still warm brioche doughnuts. I am a doughnut aficionado and can confirm, these were superb.Image

After a comfortable nights sleep, during which I had a very bizarre dream about sharing a joint birthday party with Ricky Gervais’s latest tragic-comic creation ‘Derek’ we had a very filling, warming full English breakfast with some strong black coffee!

I hate waffle so I wont carry on much longer other than to say I highly recommend this great, almost hidden, gem of a pub.

It’s not to pricey, in a beautiful setting, and well worth every penny. I cannot wait to return, probably in the spring though to catch some rays and walk all of the indulgence I will have likely feasted on off in the peaks. Get yourselves down there and see for yourselves!

Cheers!

Nofrillsfood

50 Things a Server Should Not Do: Part 2

So, following up from last weeks Part: 1, this is the final 25 in my ‘50 things a server should not do!’
As like last week, the following is in no specific order of importance, it’s not definitive, (I’m no hospitality Tsar for Christ’s sake!), just suggestions of mine from things I’ve witnessed, learned and have gradually built into my own personal pet hates!
It says server in the title but I’m going to include in that bar tenders, bar-backs, baristas, management, sommeliers basically anybody who has a face to face interaction with customers. I think that’s fair!

25. Do not call a guy a “dude.”


Sounds petty doesn’t it? Well I guess it does, but ‘dude’ has no place in a servers lexicon. ‘Sir’ in a restaurant, ‘Mate’ & ‘Pal’ maybe in a bar, you get my drift, but never ‘dude’. You’re not on a beach, you’re serving a guest at a table. It’s rather basic really.
Another common complaint from guests and friends who dine out a lot is the turn of phrase “Hi Guys” as a greeting. Doesn’t really bother me that much, but I can see why it does others. I imagine It’s because it sounds so impersonal, especially when you hear the same server utter the same greeting over and over to the rest of their tables.

26. Order Fuck Ups.

Be honest, if you’ve served, you’ve at least fucked up one order. I’m guilty. Whether its simply putting a tick next to the wrong dish and counting them up wrong before you enter them onto the computer (guilty), forgetting an item on the ticket, or forgotten to mention to the chef on the pass any allergies on a persons dish then said guest going into anaphylactic shock because they received the wrong dish (True Story, the guest was OK, the server even kept her job, she was nervous, new, but good!).
The best thing to do, which is the hardest, is admit to it straight away. Own up and rectify the problem as best and as fast as possible. It might not change the outcome but you have to try irregardless of how much of a tit you feel.

 

27. Make sure glassware is clean.


Inspect them before placing them on the table, who wants yesterday’s lipstick? No, me either. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been guilty of this one once or twice when I’ve been in the shit, but it looks really fucking bad and is so simple. It’s not a game breaker but it sets the tone, same as a hair in food. It’s not a criminal offence it doesn’t reflect on the flavour/taste but it can ruin some people’s enjoyment.

29. Tray Skills.

It seems petty but I cringe a little when I see a drinks tray carried badly. It isn’t that hard, takes a bit of practice but should only be using one hand to carry it rather than the two handed wobble!

30. End of Service Clean Down.

It’s late, there is always one table who just wont go. Sure it’s annoying but they are still guests and as long as they still have drinks they reserve the right to be treated as such. Don’t get me wrong, it can really wind servers up, but hovering, mopping the floor or loudly pulling furniture around is bang out of order. It wont ruin a persons night, (unless they are a James Isherwood type!), but it will put a dampener on it. Remember, you go to a restaurant for its food but return for its hospitality.

31. Know your Restaurants Menu.

This is the servers, supervisors and manager’s responsibility. How shit is it, when you ask your server about a certain wine or dish and they not only don’t know even vaguely what you’re talking about but they simply no nothing about the next three things you ask. Now everyone has to start somewhere but there really are levels of acceptability when it comes to menu knowledge and, frankly, looking like Forrest Gump when asked where your meat is sourced or what beurre blanc is simply unacceptable.

32. Clear Tables, Properly.


By this I mean debris. One of the best GM’s I ever worked for and witnessed working a floor continuously rammed this into all the floor staff and it’s a great habit to get into. The table should be as clean as possible with as little, minimal fuss as possible. Don’t be ridiculously overt with it, it’s all in the subtlety of movement. We are like silent dancers on the floor, only interrupting where necessary.

33. Never use the same glass for a second drink.

I guess this is for customers as well as servers , how often do we hear “oh its alright just put it in that (dirty glass) one pal“, It looks cheap and shitty, it’s illegal too. And it proper winds me up!

34. Always clear a table all at once.

Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Watch and Wait, wait, wait. The clue is in the job title!

35. Wine Etiquette (A few points in here but I thought it prudent to lump them in the same section)

Never let the wine bottle touch the glass into which you are pouring. No one wants to drink the dust or dirt from the bottle.
Never assume people want their white wine in an ice bucket, ask. Same with a Red, do they want it decanting, airing. Always ask. Yes, it’s time consuming but it’s our job.
For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or if they prefer to have it poured.
Do not pop a champagne cork excessively it looks and sounds wank. Ease the cork out gracefully. The less noise the better. Yes it should pop but not the sound of a trident missile hitting home. The flipside of this is obviously popping a wine cork. It is complete amateur hour If someone doesn’t know how to open a bottle of wine, sodding practice it.
If someone is unsure about a wine choice, help him. That might mean sending someone else to the table or offering a taste or two.

36. If a Customer wants to speak to a Manager, let them.

I was taught that a section waiter should command his/her section to such a degree that a manager shouldn’t really be needed for a complaint. If, for whatever reason, the guest is being particularly obstreperous inform the manager who’s running the shift. Get them to do the check back, take over dessert menus, whatever opportunity is afforded for the GM to spend 2 minutes to let the guest know they are being looked after will very often suffice.

37. Table Neglect.


Picture it….It’s rammed. Your section is packed, almost instantly and you know your going to get cluster fucked. The likelihood is out of 10 tables you’ll ‘build’ or have a good serving relationship with 3-4 tables who really want to engage you. This is good, it can be time consuming but very rewarding for everyone concerned. The tables around you will see your passion for service and food shine through and, although not directly, will, I believe, improve their opinion of the restaurant and the service.
However, this shouldn’t mean the other tables on your section get left to fester like a shit toy from auntie Joy at christmas!

38. Don’t talk Politics!


If a customer asks your opinion on something inflammatory, politely refuse by saying this is conversation for after work sir. After all, why risk making the guest look bad. Besides it’s easier to do this subtly with a slight refusal to join an inflammatory conversation. Once an old regular of mine, who supported a rival team to the one I follow made a horrendous jibe regarding the Hillsborough disaster. It ended in embarrassment for everyone on his table, for me and him.
Lesson being, always be mindful of exactly what you are saying and to whom!

39. Never assume the change is a tip.

Every server has been there… The bill is something like £72.80 or£35.50 and £80 and £40 have been slapped down respectively, the table have had a good night, food and service has been on the money, so a tip is coming right? Who knows, they might be non tippers.
Even if they are, its not the servers final choice to make so just put it back. Yes it can feel a like a bit of a charade, if you know its yours, but it’s a façade you have to keep up.

40. Never Run (even ‘runners’)

Making yourself look busy is a skill that has taken me years to perfect. I remember as a commis being told by a chef de partie that even when there is nothing to do there is always ‘something’ to do. If there isn’t and your struggling make it look like your working or you’ll be given all the shit jobs, or worse get a reputation as a slacker.
That said there is a difference in looking busy, occupied and attentive to running round like a headless chicken. Even if you want to, need to RUN you mustn’t. All it does is create unease amongst guests… It’s the mark of being in the shit! Which happens, but guests shouldn’t really have to know that you are!

41. Music.

Some places don’t bother with tunes, they don’t need to. I remember (name drop alert!) walking into many starred dining rooms with no background music. This is simply a statement which says that the proprietors feel the atmosphere is created by the environment, the food and the service. This works in fine dining but not, say, in a gastro pub.
Music, if played shouldn’t be overtly loud, too quiet or offensive. It should enhance not detract from the ambience of the establishment and NEVER be over repeated, for example back to back albums by the same artists!! (My personal pet hate is the ‘chill out’ albums that flood our markets and contain slowed down, shite covers of classic tracks!

42. The Service Charge.

Different places have different rules. Some places its on every table and in some it depends on the table size, normally 6 or more. What I’m getting at here is the doubling up service charge! If a guest, who has had a bit to drink, is unsure that the service charge has been added politely inform them it has. No one wants to feel robbed!

43. Team Communication.

Now, without sounding overly corporate! Communication is everything. No place more so than on the floor, how annoying is it when you order something two minutes later after your order has been sent the servers back to inform you it’s sold out. So you order again and the server runs back to inform you that the 2nd item you’ve ordered has gone. This is purely a communication error and is real amateur hour

44. Language.

I’m not xenophobic, nor am I a prude. I consider myself rather liberal. That doesn’t mean I want to hear the person serving me swear, ever. It’s not the place, in ANY establishment to do so. Why mention Xenophobia, well it’s often embarrassing for all concerned when a table cannot understand there server due to the servers English being very poor. I’m not talking accents here, I’m talking ineligible use of language. It puts unnecessary pressure on the server and the guests and isn’t right.

45. Up – selling Dilemmas.

There is a very fine line between promoting a product for a customers enjoyment and pushing a particular product to help the chefs/sommeliers GP or winning the bar/waiters bingo contest to win a scratch card or bottle of proseco at the end of your shift! In the worse case scenario you’ll sound like a pompous del boy best case you’ve really impressed some guests with your quite enthusiasm and knowledge and they’ll recommend your establishment to others

46. Announcing Dishes.

Whose the Tart?!
Are you the trout madam?!
Funny right? Yep I guess it is, but for some it can be a bit insulting!

47. Calling in Sick.

It happens. In my experience only in the catering industry are you so lambasted for doing this. Normally because it’s very hard to get cover for your shift. It’s a very warped badge of honour to not call in sick. The phrase, “only if your leg has fallen off” , is one I’ve heard a lot.
My opinion is if you’re sick you’re sick, but don’t take the piss.

On the other hand, I think it is an industry wide problem that proprietors and GM’s try to squeeze every last drop out of the staff with out giving very much back. This has to change in the UK and fast as less and less young people see Hospitality as a proud and viable trade

48. Table Turning Times.

This is a bit of a modern trend. I get it, I really do. Restaurants have to flip tables on busy nights in order to maximise profits. Whilst this isn’t a customers concern, rightly so I may add, I think its only fair they realise this. However, guests should be well informed if they have a table for a specific amount of time only and if needed be given a departure time, if this is accepted then no mention of this should really be made during the meal as it comes across as being even more rushed than is necessary.

49. The customer isn’t always right.

But it’s our job to make them feel they are, if they’re not, gently educate them.

50. Front packing a section.

If there are many open tables, do NOT cluster your customers in a string of tables, leaving the rest of the place empty. It’s a quiet lunch and your on your own or very low staffed in a big floor restaurant. But still tables should be adequately space out so they don’t feel crammed in. The same can be said of putting children next to a table who are clearly having a business meeting, it’s just simple common sense

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Like I said at the beginning this list is by no means definitive and all inclusive. There are probably many issues and points I haven’t raised but these for me are ones that spring to mind often when dining out and/or working

Cheers

Nofrillsfood

50 Things a Server Should Not Do: Part 1

Hello, feeling festive still?! How is the detox working out for you? Seriously though, I hope you all had a lovely time!

So, the title of this is ‘50 things a server should not do‘ Some points are ridiculous, obvious, elementary and some are serious pointers that I believe a server should be able to pull off.

It says server in the title but I’m going to include in that bar tenders, bar-backs, baristas, management, sommeliers basically anybody who has a face to face interaction with customers. I think that’s fair!

 

1. Managers Cunting off your Staff on the Floor

I could have chosen a different word to put in there but I thought as it’s the most commonly used     phrase ascribed to receiving a telling off on the floor, I thought it only right I would put it down. If you’ve witnessed it, been on the receiving end of it, or worse, delivered it, then you hopefully know how terrible it looks for all concerned. Nobody gains anything from reducing a member of staff to a bumbling wreck of an individual and it does no favours to hospitality and our reputation. Preaching aside, but if you do see it happen as a customer, say something. You may not think its your place to do so but it is. Same goes for those of us who see it happen to a colleague, stand your ground and have there backs.

2. Chef’s leaving the kitchen to do a Coupe de gras floor sweep.

Now its one thing to be asked to come out to accept the thanks from a grateful dining room. But to leave the Kitchen to go and talk to customers is just plain ego. I guess the exception to this is if it’s your own gaff when I suppose you have every right to do so. Having said that, I still think it’s a minefield best left alone. If a guest is really insistent on speaking with the chef, accompany them unto the pass! The Chef will then have the element of control and a guest is less likely to say something toxic!

3. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant/bar without a warm greeting.

Sounds simple, it is! The meet and greet is everything, it’s the fore runner to how you welcome people into your establishment and it sets the tone for the rest of the meal/drinks.

4. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.

By level I mean wobbly. Why should a guest have to sort this tedious job out? The answer is they shouldn’t  It’s lazy floor management. It’s not always financially viable to replace furniture continuously, sometimes we have to make do with what we’ve got. But a guest shouldn’t have to feel this is the case.

5. Do not announce your name.

There are many facets of the American service industry I admire, the honest charm, openness of servers, efficiency and professionalism I have witnessed are a testament to our American cousins advancement of hospitality. However, I absolutely detest the faux loose charm of introducing ones self at the start of a meal. By all means if a guest asks your name, give it, it would be rude to refuse. But it just feels so false to introduce yourself to some one you do not know. Also, it puts pressure, meant or not, on your tables to remember your name, and it is not about you the experience is ALL about the guest.

6 The ‘check back’

When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix, to the best of your ability, whatever is not right. In the UK, in general, people are very reluctant to complain, so its up to the server to pick up on the body language of what isn’t said, whats not eaten etc. Push it but don’t push to much, often its all it will take, and there is an issue pounce on it and rectify it immediately and to the best of your ability.
Every guest should be made to feel relaxed and that they leave with a good impression

7. Don’t shit in the customer toilets when guests are in the building.

Some places I’ve eaten and worked in don’t have a ‘staff’ toilet. It is imperative the 15 stone larder chef de partie is not allowed to let his bowel movements out anywhere near the time a guest is in the building. It’s filth (mildly amusing I wont lie) but still not very good for your guests is it!

8. Know before approaching a table who has ordered what.

Again so, so simple. A simple mark on the order pad is all that’s required. Yes not every gaff that does food is Michelin in service standards and I’m all for equality but what’s so wrong in making a lady feel special even over her lunch?

9. Never touch the rim of a glass, any glass, any cup.

Now this is one of those floor service pieces of snobbery that I totally agree with. It looks horrible, is horrible. Not it wont cause an Armageddon on the floor but it will look shite.

10. Never assume that the man will order the wine (Or assume the lady will be drinking wine!)

As more and more people are dining out the mix of who has an interest or knowledge in food and drink is increasing. Many of my female friends and colleagues have as good as knowledge if not better than mine. Lose the assumption that men know best as a server and watch your tips sky rocket!

11. Call a woman Sir!

If in doubt (of a guests gender) a simple afternoon, morning or good evening greeting is probably best thus avoiding the mortifying embarrassment of assuming a person is of a different sex, trust me I’ve done it one time to many and you want to disappear!

12. Comment on a woman’s figure.

The following is a true story based on my own inexcusable fuck up!
I used to have regular guest, a lovely couple in fact. Always smiling, knew each others names, took an interest in my studies as did I in there jobs and lives. Then Mrs X fell pregnant. I continued to serve them throughout the first 6 months of the pregnancy and was kept informed of events. Then Uni got hectic, I was travelling a bit over the summer and working around various other sites for my company so I hadn’t seen them for ages.
Then one busy Saturday lunch time they popped in, it was great it was like seeing old friends (genuinely, no sarcasm, it just is like that sometimes with guests you bond with) they were seated on a colleagues section so the tip wouldn’t be mine but I served them anyway and willingly gave the tip up. So, halfway through the meal we were talking I asked Mrs X “when is the baby due it must be soon”,……. silence……. Mrs X looked mortified …. Mr X replied “ She had it two and a half months ago son, but you’re right she’s still not shifted any of the baby weight so she’ll be having salad for main and no pudding”!!!
I was devastated, Mr and Mrs X thought it was hilarious. Mrs X left laughing her head off that lunchtime and I have never ever commented on a woman’s pregnancy ever since.
Save yourselves too people, just don’t do it!!

13. Give out your number to a guest.

By all means accept it (obviously it depends where you are working) but don’t give it out even if it’s a certainty. The skill is in getting it given, any monkey can give a number out. On serious note, it can cause quite a lot offence to both parties if declined.

14. Stink of fags, booze or have cocaine on your nose

The coke and booze aren’t so common but I’ve witnessed them all the same. That said the fag stench is a common occurrence. I’m a smoker too and I hate it. Surely as pro’s we can all wait until the end of service for a smoke? I can, no one needs a ciggy that much. Ever.

15. Have Last nights club ‘stamp’ on your wrist.

D12 or any decent glass or window cleaner removes those pesky stubborn marks. All keeping it on does is highlight your love for tech house and an absolute game giver, to a switched on manager, that your last drink or intake of narcotics was probably less than 2/3 hours before starting work.

16. Festival Wrist bands.

Possibly one of my biggest pet hates of all time. Unhygienic, not cool, (yes I realise work isn’t a catwalk but you are on display), and who really gives a shit that you’ve been to Leeds festival last year? I don’t nor do your guests.

17. Never mention the tip, unless asked. `

I’ve written before, in length!, about the politics of tipping so I wont waffle on to much. It is so insincere to discuss this, it’s also actually rather gauche to discuss money in this way with a guest.

18. Saying, “No problem” is a problem.

It has a tone of insincerity or sarcasm. “My pleasure” or “You’re welcome” will do.

19. Send your GM your CV and a cover letter with an open application letter .

The following is a true story. Don’t send a CV to various restaurants in your city enquiring about work only to cc your current boss and forward the same CV and cover letter. (The person involved received a very warm welcome upon there next shift and lasted another 4 shifts, I actually felt sorry for them!)

20. Steal Tips from other waiters.

This includes and is not mutually exclusive to waiters friend, pens, shirts, shoes. Ask, borrow by all means, these guys are like your family they’ve probably got your back but you’ve still got to ask.

21. Never slag off colleagues, managers or competitors to your customers

Even if you have a relationship of trust with a particular guest, for instance you’ve met them for a beer or some such chatting shite about others only makes you look the dick and even worse, untrustworthy

22. Never answer a question with “I don’t know”.

You look stupid, your establishment looks stupid. If you genuinely don’t know, go and find some one who does. Show some sodding initiative!

23. Never say, “Good choice,” to a guest.

Sounds unreasonable. Think on it. All you’re doing is implying that other choices are bad!

24. How to Impress a Wine Snob if your not that clued up.

If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill. It has the year, the vintner, the importer, etc. Shows you may not have their ‘knowledge’ but you have the appreciation of some thing decent

25. Do not compliment a guests attire or hairdo.

All your doing again is mocking/insulting somebody else.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my first post of 2013! I will be posting Part 2 next week along with my review of Michael Caines @Abode in Manchester very soon

Cheersssss
Nofrillsfood

The 12 Days of Hospitality Christmas

Christmas In Hospitality
Getting leathered in a juicer while the bar tender serving you is wanting to be where you are with their mates; enjoying fantastic service in a restaurant on Christmas eve and demanding another round of drinks at 11:30 when all the staff just want to at least see Christmas day arrive in their own clothes.

I’ve often wondered what people who don’t work in hospitality think, if they do at all that is, about those of us who do?
Of course, we in hospitality do not have the monopoly of working at Christmas time, we have our retail brothers and sisters, those in the armed forces, health and social care – the list is, unfortunately, growing in our modern 24 hour endless world.
Only till very recently did I, selfishly, not ever think on those who work in retail when it comes to working at Christmas. It must be a special kind of hell, and for that retail workers of the world you have my empathy. Yes, I am aware other trades and professions have to graft over the festive period and it is not solely the pleasure of us in hospitality, but a policeman doesn’t have to be overly polite to a ‘customer’! My point being, that whilst both professions have their difficulties hospitality at Christmas is a VERY special kind of hell, yet under Taliban cross-fire in Afghanistan it certainly isn’t! (That will please my mate, the Bear!)
I guess what a lot of people don’t understand about catering is that Christmas is not really a holiday at all for us, with that said we still party harder than any 9-5′er I’ve ever met and we all take a sadistic pride in that! Weird innit?! For example, I know not one single server who feels entirely happy about working Christmas day and has to wear the mask of a server when all they want is to be tucked up with a loved one, with their kids or just getting smashed in, don’t you?!
Yes, other industries work at Christmas time but often you get to enjoy a lot of the festivities that we simply don’t. Why, well the majority of fairs/events are held on a weekend which simply don’t mirror our weekend off! That’s if we get a day off in December that is. One year I vaguely remember working 6 whole weeks without a day off. I’m not bitching, I’m simply making a point. So the next time you wish a chef ‘Happy Christmas’ midway through December and you get a look that would rip old Father Christmas’s face off in a second, then now you know why.
For those of us in the trade, we turn into dogs in December. Well not actually, but what we share is the same ageing process. For every day in December the ratio of days work for a hospitality worker to the typical office worker is somewhere in the region of 3 : 1. Yes for every day in the office you put in our equivalent is 3 days normal output. Do we get a pay rise? No. Do we get a bonus? No. Do we get a Christmas present? (HAHAHAHA) no. We even have to pay for our ‘party’ in January! Or if we are really lucky the owners will buy 8 Domino’s pizzas for our buffet and a few warm cans of Stella that have been hanging around, left over from some function in May…Niceeeeeeeeeeee!

So as a light-hearted aside I thought I would attempt to ruin, as best I can, one of the shittest carols going.

Enjoy.
The 12 Days of Hospitality Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my Head Chef gave to me…
A rota from the pit of Hades. Rotas are normally done on a bi-weekly basis, if you are very lucky your GM will be organised enough to cover a whole month. In December no one is allowed holiday, It’s even rarer to be able to book a week off. This is all subject to which area of the industry you’re in though, and some people are very lucky indeed – with time off that is. In my opinion, if you’re not working flat-out in December, in this trade, you’ve got a wank job so who’s the real winner, asshole?!
On the 2nd day of Christmas my GM gave to me my xmas bonus…
Another no-show on that Christmas bonus! Who actually gets a Christmas bonus anyway? Seriously, do they even exist? Or are they, like Santa and his flying-meat-wagon, a seasonal winter myth? One year I was told “Your bonus is your job, and you get that present every day of the year so show fucking some gratitude.”
I never asked for it again!
On the 3rd day of Christmas an (ex) girlfriend gave to me…

An ultimatum, “you either choose cooking or a life with me“, well seeing as cooking was my life, go figure the answer. And she wasn’t that fit anyway, besides I’d had my eye on the new waitress for a month and she was keen so it WAS a happy Christmas after all!
She also gave me gonorrhea, but that’s another story.
On the 4th day of Christmas a regular non-tipper gave to me…
Well, aside from the usual refrain of, “you must really hate serving us, we NEVER tip you do we?! ha ha chortle chortle,” they actually bought me (and this is a true story by the way) a very decent-sized bar of chocolate! Whether or not they bought it with the intention of giving it to me, or whether it was found left over from little Jonty’s bounty of Easter chocolate I’ll never really know, I still stuffed it down in 5 minutes flat; not eating all day kinda does that to you.
On the 5th day of Christmas Mother Nature gave to me…
Coffee and sleeping pills. Not together, that would be stupid and wasteful.
Don’t get me wrong I love a cup of tea, Northern style (no nancy-boy builders tea, milk and seven sugars for me,) strong to the point of bitter, dash of milk and piping hot. Essentially, tea is ‘nice.’ Tea is more of a comfort drink for me than a need
Coffee on the other hand can be ‘nice’ but it is sustenance that is required in December’s cold heart. My normal intake of coffee is a lot – 3/4 a day including 1 double espresso. In December this is doubled and is absolutely essential.
On the 6th day of Christmas my company gave to me…
A letter.
Not a Christmas card.
But a letter, in this letter normally included in your December payslip envelope, (always thinking of the cost eh!?) are some elongated paragraphs thanking us for our hard work over the year, and for our continued efforts in December. No signature, no face-to-face thanks from the bosses. I am a cynic by nature, but I also believe in treating people how I want to be treated. Common courtesy goes a very long way with me, so to not even receive a personal thank you from anyone in authority is really rather galling. Then again what do you expect? They don’t even know your name!
On the 7th day of Christmas hospitality gave to me…
3000 covers – that is actually a figure plucked out of the air. Depending on what kind of place you work in, the trade will be different but it usually doubles, triples – often quadrupling than your previous busiest month of the year. There are simply not enough adjectives, metaphors and similes that I can ascribe to how ‘in-the-shit’ December is.

It is our Somme, our last stand, one big push forward to the finish line.

On the 8th day of Christmas the bookings diary gave to me…
The bookings diary and the table plan are the Holy Bible for any floor team, even more so during Christmas. In the diary is every nugget of information required to ensure a smoothness of service. This is why during December only management will take any bookings to ensure no fuck-ups occur. Parties are meticulously planned and timed, menus are drafted, costed, rehearsed and ascribed with military precision. Sure, this happens all year round but Christmas is all about maximizing as much as you can from as little spend as possible.
So, half way through a Thursday December lunchtime service, it’s getting to 2:30 and 100 covers are happily eating, drinking and finishing up then a random party of 25 arrives. Yep, it always happens. A booking where endless reminder emails, voice-mails and phone calls have been exchanged, with no reply from the lead booking, only for them to turn up and denounce you all as Satan for fucking up their Christmas party. So instead of them admitting their error, cue hysterical shouting in a packed restaurant, frazzled staff becoming even more frazzled and owners distraught at any damage to the reputation, they are secretly loving the fact that another 25 people will be eating for lunch – not forgetting the £600 extra in the till that night.

Which is one reason I never really dine out in December; the food is never as good as it should be, and in my heart of hearts I don’t want anyone to serve me.
On the 9th day of Christmas a Chef de Partie gave to me…
A well needed, but often scorned upon line of chizzle!
(I don’t encourage nor discourage drug use, we are all grown ups make your own choice.)
On the 10th day of Christmas my Butcher gave to me….
Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey.
Fucking tons of the stuff. Let’s be honest it really isn’t even that good. In the midst of Game season we decide to make traditional one of the least tasty birds there is and make it common for everyone to feel obliged to eat this fucking monster.
Turkey is the chickens fat, ugly, auntie. The one who smells of campari and has squeezed into a size 10 dress when she’s weighing close to 14 stone.
Better chefs and food writers have written on this subject in detail over the years so I wont blather on about it other than to say I prefer a massive fore-rib of beef, or any decent game bird for my Christmas dinner.
Having said that, for me Christmas Dinner is the ultimate roast dinner. It has everything a human could want for. More meat than you can possibly wish for, and if the cook is anywhere near decent, you are in for a treat.
JUST SAY NO TO TURKEY, IT’S WANK
On the 11th day of Christmas my staff party gave to me…
Now for the sole reason of the TV show The Office and the character David Brent, I have always wanted to work in an office at Christmas time. I want to see if the same levels of Roman debauchery occur with receptionists and admin assistants as does Sous Chefs and Chef’s de Rang! I doubt very many (this is a true story by the way,) business staff parties will see a director, an apprentice and the Human Resources manager, dressed as Bugsy Malone extras having a threesome in a golf buggy in the beginning of January. No I didn’t think so either!
Hospitality 1 : 0 Civilians!
On the 12th day of Christmas hospitality gave to me . . .
A DAY OFF!
(NB: The 12th day of Hospitality Xmas is probably the 3rd of January.)

One final point, for those of you who are unlucky enough to be working and away from where you really want to be this Christmas, as little as it may mean to you reading this now, I will spare a thought for you my brother/sister and thoroughly expect you to get royally fucked up when you can.

Cheerrrrssssss
Nofrills

To Tip or Not to Tip?

Top Tips for leaving Tips
Hello, it’s been a while. I do apologise for my lack of posting. It’s not been for the want of trying just sometimes things conspire against us and distractions take hold. That’s it, that’s what I’m going to blame it on, a distraction, and for that I blame a girl! That one sentence will cost me dinner for sure (what a shame, I hate eating, girls never learn!)

Enough waffle and now onto a subject I’ve been itching to write about, and I’d like to hear your thoughts too. In particular to hear from people who don’t, or haven’t, worked a floor and how they view tipping.

Now, obviously my opinion on tipping has been shaped by my experience of working in the industry, but I’ve also spent time as a civilian too and often (yep it happens) socialized with a few too!
This is by no means a definitive guide, just a few suggestions or, to put it bluntly, advice as to how to negotiate the minefield of leaving a tip, and the dilemmas a server faces that non-service personnel may not realise.
It’s a sensitive subject; servers can be sensitive souls, and we can also be utter bastards but that doesn’t mean we aren’t human! Yes, civilians, we are like you. We eat, breathe and shit. The difference is you can put us in the shit and give it to us both barrels and get away with behaviour that, if replicated in any other work environment, would cause a minor scandal.
This subject makes me, and many in our trade, sound a tad highly strung. Maybe we are, but many punters often forget we are only human and don’t deserve to be spoken to like a dog’s dinner, after all, let’s not forget slavery was abolished in the UK in 1833!
This article recently appeared on The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/aug/12/codes-waiter-really-thinking
I have to say it’s really rather tame. Most servers, management included, have far more ‘charming’ metaphors and similes ascribed to regulars! But it’s worth a read and lends nicely into where I’m going with this blog.
I’ve thought long and hard about the content of this blog, hopefully it shows, I’ve tried to make it come across not as an ‘end of a nightmare week’ rant but an informed piece. If I’ve failed, well first off I’m gutted. Hopefully you will laugh a little, and if this reads successfully, think a little more when you go out to eat. I hope it doesn’t come across as ‘taking myself too seriously’ it is meant to be jocular but some of the points raised are, in fact, serious. People’s jobs are at stake if a customer kicks off. Yes, I’ve witnessed a diner lie about his/her version of events in order to increase the level of righteous indignation they want the owner to realise just how ruined their evening/lunch or, heaven forbid, ‘experience’ by the waitress on section 2! Get a fucking life jack ass!

‘Leaving Your Change’
This is a tough one. Often customers, me included, can be caught short when it comes to tipping. This once could have been an excuse, but no more, the credit card machine has kicked this little bad boy into touch, or has it? Not completely.
I introduce you to the business person. That’s right, the “can I have a receipt for my glass of tap water please” type of character who, no doubt, has a decent wage but fails, time after time, to leave the 10% tip the service he has, probably, received thoroughly deserves. They often make you run, often get slaughtered, drip feed you what they consider ‘banter’ (as they still think they are holding onto their 20‘s) then leave fuck all! Yes, this is a generalisation and not all business travellers on expense accounts behave this way. But I can tell you now, if you know a server of any description, describe the above and they, knowingly, will nod their head and confirm that there are hundreds out there!

‘High Street Chains’
Now I will admit that I previously worked the floor at a well-known popular chain. I enjoyed it, for its limitations, and made a great deal of money as we kept our own tips. However, the pitfalls of the majority of these places are huge and, to a certain extent, are killing the independent restaurants who work their socks off to just compete. The chain I worked in was relatively good for its tipping policy. Each waiter kept his or her tips BUT had to pay a tronc fee to the tronc administrator for all credit and service charge tips which were then processed and paid with your monthly salary. The other down side was each member of floor staff was informed that we were not allowed to communicate this information to guests and told to say we kept all our tips, and that the company takes no money from us whatsoever. If you were caught by a member of management or one of the ‘mystery diners’ employed to ensure waiting staff stuck to the script of the ‘dining experience’ it was considered gross misconduct and you were sacked! Very harsh indeed.
The overall lesson, if you happen to have the misfortune of dining in a chain, tip, but do it in cash.
Tipping in a ‘Derogatory’ way’

 

I almost squirmed as I typed ‘derogatory’ just now, and looking back it still makes me shudder a little. Not shuddering at my terrible use of the Queen’s English, but because sometimes it feels like some customers genuinely enjoy being rude to servers. I remember reading, and I wish I could find it, an article about the psychology of serving. In a nutshell the crux of the theory was that when a customer relinquishes control of the situation to his or her server a customer tries to win it back with small, simple victories. When you think about it sounds crazy, but think again. You walk into a restaurant with no reservation and the first question on your lips is ‘do you have a table of 2 available’ or in other words ‘we really want you to feed this’. Push forward to when you’re being served over the course of a meal and for 90 minutes you are seated, lower than your server, and in a way he/she is in charge of your ‘feed’.
Having read this article a few years ago and having had the time to think on it further it actually makes a bit of sense. Pop psychology it may be, but how else do you explain someone being vulgar and rude throughout the meal then making ridiculous comments regarding your pay, how you should consider yourself lucky to be in a job, oh yes diners can be horrific. I guess though if you’ve never worked a floor you won’t know this, but it’s true. On a positive note 80% of customer’s are genuinely lovely people and don’t act as if they are in the ‘Human Alpha Zoo’!
My current gripe with customers at the moment is not necessarily rudeness. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard at the moment for everybody financially. As a consequence the demand for decent service and food product has never been greater in restaurants, bars and hotels. This is great as I can genuinely see, in Sheffield anyway, independent restaurateurs, landlords and café owners coming together, while still direct competitors, to honestly support one another.
Back to my point, I’ve noticed an increasing trend of customers exclaiming there faux disgust at prices of products. For one, it is 9/10 not the owner or patron serving you so why do they think we have an input into what prices/mark ups on products should be. The average hospitality employee sees very little regarding costing, gross product figures, consumption figures and staff costing spread sheets so why exclaim your horror at the front line worker? The better option would be to write to the owner/director to get a response or simply frequent somewhere cheaper which is almost certainly a shitter product and service, again its your choice as a consumer, so exercise it!
Being told to be grateful for the job – how fucking patronising can you get?
‘I’m paying your wages, so work for it!’ Actually the cost of your meal is probably contributing very little to each servers wage and the majority is being used to pay for product, rates and other costs (which every customer seems to forget!)

‘Service Charge Dilemmas’
This leads me nicely onto the automatic discretionary service charge which is sometimes, though rarely, added onto bills. Now most establishments I have worked in do this for parties of guests often over the number of 6. I firmly believe that it should be done to every table that sits down to eat/drink and receives some form service one way or another. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask.
Well In many high end establishments the service charge is not discretionary and diners are informed of this on the bottom of menus at the start of the meal. This is an acknowledgment by the proprietors of two things, in my opinion, (1) that while the staff are valued and well trained they are not paid huge amounts of money and (2) that the service and experience on offer is truly exceptional and deserves financial reward. The debate here for some would be, surely, employers need to pay staff more but the reality is that in many places the cash flow and profit margins are so tight, that it is often impossible to pay staff higher than above the minimum wage, sad as that may be. Sadly, it is often the case that several owners don’t really give a toss about the staff and while often demanding the earth very rarely rewards them with any decent financial gain.
It is the this sad short-sightedness which contributes heavily to the negative stereotype of hospitality being an industry where the lowest common denominator of the population goes for employment simply as a stop gap. I’m not for one minute saying this is the definitive rule of thumb and, while this is only empirical evidence, the amount of university students, graduates and people who leave school with very little or simply no qualifications, and then start a career in hospitality and cooking is astonishing to say the least.

‘Shite Food, Banging Service or Vice Versa’
This is the age old dilemma of what actually deserves a tip. Well, this may well be a simplistic reductive approach to a question mired in uncertainty, but ultimately if I’m completely fair and honest I would say its 50/50 when it comes to tips. As much as the greedy bastard waiter inside me screams at me for my leniency, I have to be true. A restaurant is a team, not just one side of the pass, but everybody. It’s why the KP is the most important player in any kitchen. Ask any chef how fucked they are without their trusty KP sidekick for the weekend barrage of covers and if they are honest, will admit to being in the shit. My point is that a team should exist from top to bottom. And, as such, tips should reflect this. Yes, I know servers get paid fuck all and the majority of chefs are on salary, often an insulting one, but still it’s not that rosy! Most chefs work over 65 hours a week MINIMUM, most floor staff work no more than 55, FACT, so minor grumbles aside, the financial side sorts itself out, if you like.
When I was a chef and, before I had served, I rarely tipped unless it was added onto the bill. Now it’s different. A friend’s recent experience just about sums it up for me. He recently took a date to, what is considered to be, one of Sheffield’s food ‘institutions’. I asked him how it went this was his (edited) response:
“There was a hair in my bread (stale) and (fridge hard) butter”

“I was brought out the wrong beer in a warm glass, my date ordered a Hendricks and Tonic, we weren’t informed there wasn’t any cucumber (to which he admitted this wasn’t essential but still?!) but still that was fine. But the drink when it arrived had no ice and had never even looked at a lime, never mind a cucumber”

“Weren’t informed properly about missing menu items before we ordered so had to revise our choices, twice”

“The meat was uninspiring as was my fish dish and lukewarm at best”

“When I asked about digestifs and after I’d ordered one, the same waiter who had served us all night (Just felt like his first night and he was in the shit throughout) came back and apologised offering to give me a completely different one because it was a lot more expensive and therefore MUST be better!”
Now, all of these things sound like little, pathetic niggles, but they can really fucking ruin a perfectly good meal and from my friends account nothing was really done to rectify any of this other than a slight reduction in the bill. Which is so frustrating as this gesture is often missing the point entirely.
I then asked him if he tipped and his response to my question was as predictable as my questioning

“Yeah, of course I did, you’ve got to haven’t you.”….. I shook my head, agreed and walked away!
‘Is there a ‘right’ way to complain?’
Short answer: yes there is, but I’m not going to leave it there.
When you think about it this is a frivolous point, I mean shit the whole idea is we shouldn’t have to complain in the first place, is so important but feedback good and bad is required. It is essential, in fact, and always welcomed when it’s considered and thoughtful it’s one of the ways restaurants improve for the guests. If you have enjoyed elements of your meal/drinks/service say so for heaven’s sake.
Don’t just walk away and be a Trip Advisor wanker…. See Chefs Unite post!
Students/Youth!
Always a jug of tap water with one or two soft drinks the cheapest dishes to share when I was a student it wound me up that they never tipped! That said I kind of get it though, I’ve been an undergraduate and, ancient stereotypical jokes aside, it is tough financially even more so now.
But still, what’s worse than the student non-tippers is those who have been students and continue the practice of not tipping. Did they too not have to work in similar jobs to help support them!? If they didn’t and were lucky enough to not have to work to live did these fortunate souls not at least socialise or heaven forbid live with these unfamiliar beings?!
It may come as surprise to some, but not all front of house are tip hungry, obviously it all helps, but please understand that for some, especially in the financially restrained times we see ourselves in at the moment, that a guest tipping, or not, makes the difference between getting a cab home, having a coffee or even dessert to share after dinner. Not all of us think people are tight fisted if they don’t tip on a bill and we have run hard to ensure they have a fantastic time. The thing is, some people just don’t tip and that is cool. It hurts, of course it does. Not only in the pocket, but also professionally, as often it leads you to question whether or not the customer actually enjoyed their experience, get 4 tables in a row not tipping and you can seriously start to doubt your ability. Obviously, if the table or customer is a verbal tipper (somebody who is over gushing in the praise of food, wine and service) and believes not one jot in adding money to the bill that’s already been paid then that is also cool. Often these customers have been an absolute pleasure to serve and as a server you take pleasure in serving but still feel a little disheartened when no tip is left. But you accept it of course.
The non-tippers that really hurt are the ones who leave copper coins or tell you to keep the change on a bill that totals £29.95 and leave £30 cash! Do they not understand how genuinely insulting it is? Why do they feel the need to voice ‘keep the change’ and not just simply say nothing? It screams of someone taking the piss and it’s not funny at all really. In fact it’s rather insulting and makes it hard to welcome back someone who knowingly tries to take the piss out of you time after time. Yes, hospitality is the trade and most of us who are in it for real take it seriously, but there is simply no need for this type of one-upmanship.
There are those people who are already in the trade in one form or another and tip 10% and often more even if things aren’t as expected. I count myself and most of the servers I know in this field. I will always tip the only exception is if someone is outstandingly rude to me or tries to blag me when I know its bullshit, but even then I’m a sucker and will leave 5%. I guess it’s because I understand, and a little because I don’t want to be remembered as ‘that knob head who was on table 9 two weeks ago.’

Then you have the ‘verbal tipper’. This is a customer or tab le of guests who have enthused through out the meal at various stages, paid and then left no tip. It’s kind of understandable if these guests fall into the student category of customer but when they’ve spent £40 on a bottle of wine, had the taster menu, praised the whole evening then not tip its very hard to understand. Then again, it takes all sorts. Word of warning though, if you are one of these customers and you become a regular the staff will know and adjust their attitude accordingly. I’m not for one minute suggesting that something disgraceful will befall any of your food but you will notice a lack of intimate attention paid you. I mean, I’m all for taking pride but why go above and beyond for a guest when a different table on your section might possibly be great people who tip? Figure it out yourselves!

On the other hand, I can imagine tips being both embarrassing and a stupid concept. It’s a low form of haggling, which the average Briton is no longer accustomed to, or prepared for. If in the price of a meal you are left with the assumption that the proprietor/owner has accounted for staff costs, heating, décor and other such expenses why is the service left out of the price?
Paying for service, depending on how good it is, means you will never snap a bargain. If you go to a cheap restaurant and have a brilliant meal you feel justifiably smug. But when the service exceeds your expectations, so should what you pay for it. Staff can give you five-star treatment that is beyond your budget, you must then either stump up or feel like a miser. It’s being forced to buy lobster when you wanted fish ‘n chips.
With that said, the inclusion of service charges in the bill will make things more comfortable for the guest thus removing emotion from any tip based decision. I mean who really gets satisfaction out of under, or over, forced tipping? Not I for one and I hope the majority of you don’t either?
Lots of people find tipping interactions perfectly normal and can say: “Keep the change!” without breaking into a sweat. More than that, they say it with pleasure because, if they’d been unhappy with the service, they would have said that as well.
“If you’re unhappy, you should say something!” is my refrain. “Otherwise how will the restaurant know?” Some people find this impossible. I don’t consider myself rude nor do I consider myself socially awkward so have never really had a problem with what some people find confrontation.
Leaving a gratuity can be agonising because we know that waiting tables is exhausting and one of the most underpaid jobs in modern Britain. Our financial excess at the end of a meal is often elicited through pangs of guilt rather than that of a reward.
Unfortunately though this guilt is rarely shared by many employers who often use service charges to bump up or oversell a pay. If you count what I would consider to be average day’s tips of £30 onto the minimum wage, you’re only looking at just about £7 an hour for most waiters.

Cheerrrrrsssss,

NoFrillsFood

#ChefsUnite

I’m not really a band-wagon type of person, but last week’s events on Twitter involving 2 Michelin starred Claude Bosi and amateur blogger/trip advisor reviewer have moved me to comment.

Not only did twitter erupt into a hurricane of claim and counter; claim for and against each party involved. The Guardian was moved to publish this piece the next day; http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/nov/08/top-chefs-unite-against-blogger-s-review

After a little bit of research perusing the author’s biography (http://www.lukemackay.co.uk/biography/) I found that the author of the above piece, who, whilst being a chef, has never cooked for length in a kitchen inhabited by the likes of Claude Bosi, Sat Bains and Tom Kerridge.

And here I get to the crux of my understanding of the whole debate. There is a militancy of cooking in Michelin kitchens: it’s a lifestyle choice. It is a hard place with rich language and often populated with hard, borderline psychotic people. With that said, those behaviours are not always elicited, but like a wild boar if you poke it often enough a chef will bite you. Bearing that in mind, I understand the arguments on both sides, but to call it ‘bullying’ is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

We’ve all seen videos on YouTube of people stroking wild animals in some messed up South East Asian zoo only for the same, apparently tame, little-incy-wincy ‘cute’ tiger to turn around and bite the stupid twat of a tourists sodding arm off! And what is the common response after the shock and awe of watching this freak show? Well, most people, like me, cannot believe someone would be so inexcusably thick and tricked into thinking this animal won’t fuck you up in a heartbeat. The same is true of chefs.

You can dress them all up on TV and put them in pretty looking books but at the end of the day, ask any front of house worker, a chef can turn on you quicker than splitting hollandaise. Whether it’s a complete verbal evisceration on the pass or something slightly more physical is irrelevant.

I didn’t say it was right ‘nor did I say it was wrong, I’m simply pointing out that poor James Isherwood should have realised the dangers involved in what he was doing.

Finally, If people seriously think that most chefs, at some point, don’t think of all guests as a c*%t, then I’m afraid you are seriously deluded!  After all, as with a review, it’s never personal, is it?!

Cheers

Nofrillsfood

The Showroom Bar and Cafe

Hi people (always have to stop myself from saying guys, very bad habit!)

As I previously stated in my last blog, I ddn’t realise how time consuming this writing malarkey actually is. Respect and kudos to you pro writers/journos out there! I try and write as much and as often as possible but can’t promise a fixed date.

Day off plans can change depending on how much you’ve been rammed with work, as can your plans to do something after work. Often these last two weeks I’ve planned to sit and write after work only for, after the quitest night of the century, a table of two walk in with ten minutes left on a Tuesday night service, and then order dessert at 11:30pm! Good for doing paperwork and actioning staff to clean but shite for staff costing and gp’s, shite for the kitchen brigade and, even worse, shocking for my after work alloted writing time.

Anyway, this week’s review is about The Showroom Bar & Cafe. (Not the cinema, I ain’t no Barry bleeding Norman)
As I previously stated, I try and review a place only having tried it out a few times to give as balanced a view as is possible. So I’ve been three times now for lunch, dinner and the evening. And, in a way, I am dreading writing this as, well, basically it was piss-poor. ALL. 3. TIMES.

As I understand it the chef, who has taken over at the showroom, has obviously got talent but you wouldn’t think it to try the food that is currently being served under his name.

The service is varied; both floor and bar depending on who serves you, what time of day it is and what mood they are in. To be fair that is not totally accurate, the black shirts, (waiters/waitresses and bar staff) are all very good. Honest, friendly and into the job. Those who wear the shirts of management I have found to be disintrested, borderline lazy and obviously not that into the job. I could be wrong, and If I am, genuinely I am sorry.

Well how do I come to these seemingly rather harsh critiscims? The first time I dined here back in February was a quiet evening and the wait for the rather unimpressive steak was ridiculous, 45 minutes for a rare steak! The food really doesn’t merit much more discussion than that I’m afraid.

The second time I dined here was a few months ago and the place was admittedly busy, it had been a hot day and the staff had possibly been at it all day. That is never an excuse but I get it, I really do. You have to order at the bar here, no real waiter service at all, and I’m not really sure why.

So when you spend an amount of time figuring out from the menu what you want to order, place your order then pay for it only to be told “I’m sorry guys, I think thats the chef shouting at me to tell me something is missing off the menu.” Why!? Now, I know only too well that things run out or even worse still they have been prepped badly so cannot be served so why-oh-bloody-why are the front of house staff not already informed of this? It makes them look bloody stupid and amateurish. And it’s very annoying to boot.

So, I went simple and ordered the Showroom burger. Simple is often the hardest thing to get right and in this case that was true. The brioche it was meant to come out on had turned into a soggy granary bap, the salad inside was soggy to the point of death and worse of all the burger, the showpiece, tasted like a frozen Tesco student BBQ special, so bad I left half of it. Now this sounds bad but the very worse is yet to come! The fine sounding fries came served in a small chauffant/frying basket which is a nice touch, however, they were pushed down hard which created a soggy chip like pomme puree! What was worse than this was the taste, yes they were soggy etc but the oil in which they were cooked was obviously old and dirty and hadnt been changed for a while. Every aspect of the dish was more or less inedible.

Now you would think it couldnt get any worse but what happened next really took the biscuit. Admittedly the bar was a little busy so the standard check back never materialised. But when you take into account the same member of management walked past our table 5/6 times during our meal then about the same amount of times after we had finished before clearing, you might get my gripe with the service (or thereof!) Now I dont ever like complaining but I will say if something isn’t right. Never rudely, never for gain, just to say my point. It’s the same if it’s been great, offer thanks and what I liked. So I informed the guy that I didnt really like the burger, as it was barely touched and I mentioned that I thought the chips werent to clever and that maybe the chef should try one to see if he agrees. Now the door into the kitchen at the Showroom has a little round, glass window which guests can see into. As I was making my way out and putting my jacket on I saw the server showing the chef my plate, obviously passing on my feedback, and the chef was pulling the universal hand sign for a man that is masturbating! Now if I had been a civilian I probably would have reacted badly, but I didn’t, I just laughed it off as something I had seen a thousand times before. However and on reflection later I was a little angry and shocked and swore I wouldnt return.

So the other day I was persuaded to try it again, “lets go for lunch, when its quiet.” I thought, and hoped, it might just be that they had ‘one of those days’.

So lunchtime, same labourious, tedious ordering and payment at the bar system. I ordered a starter and a couple of simple sounding mains, the ham hock terrine, poached duck eggs with asparagus and spinach cream sauce and the wild garlic gnochhi with purple sprouting broccoli and spring cabbage.

Within 1 minute of the order hitting the kitchen, the really pleasant server informed us “that’s the kitchen calling me to probably tell me we havent got some of your dishes.” WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AGAIN?

He came back, all apologetic, and informed us that the terrine was off the menu, so I opted for a simple, yet nice sounding salad of prawns with sesame bread sticks and lemon mayonnaise.

Now the wait for the food was 40 minutes, after half an hour the server came out and apologised, which is good but what he said really rather perplexed me; “I’m really sorry about your wait, it will only be another 5 minutes.” It wasn’t, it was ten, so if you know it’s going to be ten flipping well say so, “I don’t understand what chef is doing today.” I said that it was fine but was getting annoyed.

Then the food turned up.

The prawn salad was a really rather generous portion of frozen, unseasoned mass similar to what I imagine kerry Katona serves at her awful-looking Iceland tea parties! The prawns were pushed on top of of some mixed leaves with a dollop of mayonaise, which wasn’t even lemon mayonaise – the only lemon it had ever seen was the two slices next to the glass it got served in! As for the sesame breadsticks, well they hadnt seen a single sesame seed and where so hard they would break King Kong’s gnashers!

The gnocchi was dry and uninspiring. The purple sprouting broccoli wasnt purple sprouting broccoli at all just standard green. A very dry dish which wasn’t seasoned correctly at all.

The duck egg dish was again simplicity personified, 3 key ingredients which marry so well. The duck eggs were a lovely shape but the yolk was over-easy, bordering on hard. The asparagus still had the woody inedible end on and each piece was a mixture of being under and overcooked. It wasnt peeled either, which is sound for smaller asparagus but for big spears of the stuff it is criminal. The spinach cream sauce wasnt spinach cream sauce, it was a dollop of cooked spinach with a beurre blanc type split cream sauce again, dissapointing.

You will notice I haven’t mentioned the desserts/cakes. Well to be honest the food I had eaten really rather put me off and I had in mind to eat popcorn anyway. But they do look nice in the display at the end of the bar, but there is nothing on the menus to highlight or sell them which is very odd.

My final point is yes 2/3 times I tipped! ‘Why?’ I hear you ask. Well the food may have been poor but when the service is acceptable I always do. It is NOT the servers fault that the kitchen has let him/her down and most often they are working for minimum wage and almost rely on tips! That’s just me, but I think a lot of people forget that when they have a bad food experience they take their frustration out on the floor team who have, 9 times out 10, worked hard and are as embarrased as you are that things haven’t gone quite right.

I’ve actually taken no pleasure in writing this review, I didnt even want to write it. I was concerned I was being hyper-critical. On reflection, I’ve just been as honest as I can be. One of the reasons I wanted to write a sort of review/blog was to be honest and write what I dont think a lot of full time (pro) reviewers do and say its truly bad when it has been and then massage it up a little for fear of offending chefs/propretiors/owners. Yes, it can be damaging but I dont think my opinion, just one person, will do that much damage. I can already hear in my head what the chefs in the Showroom kitchen are calling me and to be honest I’m fine with that, I’ve done the same. The good thing about that is it shows that they care and I hope when I go back (not for a while though) it has improved.

It is with all this in mind that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend you waste your time and money eating here.

That said the cinema is absolutely brilliant, just eat before you come or snack out on popcorn, I will!

Cheerssss

Nofrillsfood

The Kitchen, Ecclesall Road

Hi Guys,

Now, i’ve thought long and hard before writing this blog/journal. I may be setting myself up for a massive fall but, if life aint about taking risks then fuck knows what it’s all about? I was once a chef, of dubious ability, and after a hiatus of 5 years I find myself back on the front line of service. I was lucky; I was one of those guys who fell into catering & hospitality and was rather good at it – there arent many, believe me.
Even with all the ups and downs this industry has to offer I still love the bones off it! For those of us who work in it, it’s hard to explain to our friends and loved ones just how and why we get up in the morning after fourteen hour days (nine days straight) and still turn up to work, early, with the same enthusiasm as a teenage boy virgin about to pop his cherry!

There are a legion of reasons, but I’ve always maintained that it’s because, if you’re a pro, you cannot bare the idea of letting the man/woman beside you down. The only other job or vocation I can think of that inspires such loyalty and camaradarie among those who work in it is those who decide to join a sector such as the armed forces, police service and nursing; that and a deep rooted sense of pride.

It becomes your spouse. If you’re good it is your only love, passion and soul mate. The harsh mistress of hospitality is an unforgiving lady but, my god, she is worth it! It’s an all consuming love of which you’ll never be able to fully explain to those which have never experienced a single, fucked up, ‘dans le merde’ service. Anyway, enough of the Anthony Bourdianisms! My reasons for attempting to write this are three fold;

To give a voice and perspective to those of us who are/have been in and love the trade and want honest, respectful feedback. And to share this insight with regular folk who simply love food and eating out but managed to get a 9-5 instead, because I am sick and tired of reading online self prophesised ‘experts’, bloggers and Trip Advisor knob heads who, while they have an opinion which may have some validity, have no real understanding of the trade, from their 9-5 armchair supporting safe seat, and the effort which goes into producing a dining experience but think they do based purely on the basis they eat out a lot and cook some recipies from Jamie Olivers latest shite ‘any commis worth his weight in salt can do’ cook book.

I wanted to see what people thought of my opinions. See, that old chef arrogance never really dies! And also to get some feed back from your perspective, see what you think; did you have a similar experience, could you see where I was coming from? Or thought I was way off the mark and a little out of order?

I will try and review as many restaurants, bars, pubs, coffee shops and hotels. Basically anywhere that is classed under the hospitality umbrella as is possible, and also talk about various other elements of the industry which come up in my day to day job which I want to share.

(N.B. I would like to say that this will be weekly and give a set date every week but owing to my trade I cannot make that guarantee, I hope you’ll understand?!)

Also suggestions and recommendations would be most welcome so please feel free, but dont expect me to ‘check out the new Nandos on Eccy road’ as you probably wont get a response! As well as longer reviews I plan to write a few shorter pieces in the interim, in which I plan to discuss general day to day issues which I feel are relevant topics for discussion. Examples may include: ‘Side orders: rip off, or valued meal accompaniment!?” or “What warrants a tip?” In general these are topics that get discussed an awful lot by past and present colleagues but are insights I think people who have not cooked or served for a living may find interesting.

Back to the meat of it…

So, I’ve been lucky the last few weeks and eaten some fine food but I wanted to write my first blog about The Kitchen  on Ecclesall road.
Now if you’re like me, Eccy road/Sharrow Vale is one of my favourite places in sheffield city centre. However I have noticed a very annoying and disturbing influx of repetitive, shite, same old same old chain restauarants popping up left, right and centre.

I mean why, oh why, is there a need for 4 sodding Pizza Expresses in the whole of Sheffield? Yep I have no idea either…So to find a tidy little independent restaurant a little way up past Endcliffe Park was a dream.
Obviously being into my food I had heard about this place through its recent award for value from the editor of the Good Food Guide, so I thought I would check it out.

I’ve dined here 4 times in total now, why? Well it is my opinion and belief that I cannot give a completely rounded opinion of a place unless you have tried it more than once. Which is why if a place is dissapointing first time round I think you should always re-try. After all, if you grow to like a place and visit often one shite meal isn’t going to put you off going based on one bad experience is it?

I’ve eaten here both at lunch and evening and, in my opinion, I prefer the lunch. It feels more relaxed, less hurried. Again, just my opinion, you, on the other hand, may have a completely different experience. What struck me first was the obvious care and attention to detail. A small but well rounded food, wine and drinks menu. In my opinion a good sign. It’s a marker, they are saying ‘what we’ve got is good and we dont need to go crazy or punish the kitchen with an excessive work load.’ Those of you who cook for a living will appreciate the sentiment in that im sure!

The front of house guy, whose name escapes me, is a cool customer. He doesnt flap, is controlled and takes obvious pride and satisfaction in serving his customers. His knowledge when called upon is not bull shit designed to please the masses a la chain service, but he’s obviously educated in his food and drink and his passion for it shines through, something you may have guessed, is a MUST have quality.

Those of you who have worked a floor will know that a lunchtime service can be boring as tits with cleaning jobs galore if excessively quiet however it can also go mental if your on your own and all of a sudden you have 6/7 tables walk in within 10/20 minutes of each other, which is what ALWAYS happens, (so for those of you not in the industry, this is why you may wait an extra few minutes for your coffee or for your order to be taken so dont click your fingers as most waiters can fucking work a section and already know the next 7 or 8 jobs they need to be doing!) You’re basically in the shit straight away. Now i’ve seen this guy work the floor on his own, with a team, during quiet and busy shifts and he can hold it together so kudos to him.

Also, any waiter/ress who can keep a straight poker face when a table of 8 brings in Tesco’s Cava (it was a birthday party!) and 3 bottles of Blossom Hill rose to a bring-your-own-wine night deserves my respect. If it was me, it would take all my self control to keep the food snob inside me to not roll around on the floor in hysterical laughter! I mean you are saving money, so buy a nice bottle of bloody wine, another example of moronic customers! (Also, people keep in mind that most servers would pass this knowledge on to the rest of the floor staff, after all it’s in there interests to look after you, the guest, even if you are a moron.) Yes you may say ‘its not their fault’ or ‘they just need educating’ Both equally fair points I agree, to an extent, but when you’ve served hundreds and hundreds of people you learn to read people and some people just cannot be educated so they are logged in the lost cause customer section!

On to the food;

I’ve sampled quite a few of the dishes now and have to say it is remarkably consistent. I dont know how strong the brigade is or how many are in it, I’m guessing 5 maximum, but what they do they do it well and in a very small environment. (The disabled toilets are obviously the chefs changing room!) Not a critiscm, I kind of like it, it adds a certain human quality to the restaurant.

Dishes such as trio of pork are cooked very well. No need for over elaborate presentation or garnish each cut of meat sat beautifully cooked on its garnish. The belly atop a potato puree was tender and crisp where it needed to be. The fillet rested perfectly, still pink, (yes, pork loin/fillet should most definitley have a pink twinge to it for those who just freaked out about ‘raw’ meat) sat on what I hope was homemade black pudding ( I didnt ask as I was (A) to busy eating and (B) forgot to ask when I was cleared as I had a happy food smile/belly on!). Again, delicious. The cheek was perfectly braised and trimmed, sticky, but not oversweet and well seasoned.

My only critique of this dish was that I should have ordered some sort of side as the dish itself was extremely generous with meat. This isnt a critiscm of The Kitchen menu, but of me. Again, the waiter recommended but I said I would be fine. His good, my bad. Listen to your server people he/she is not on sodding commision (tips are not commision before you start) they want you to have a good time. Three times now i’ve eaten the bread and each time it was excellent. Served with different butters and, more importantly, warm!

Other dishes i’ve eaten or shared include the duck confit, cooked, seasoned and executed perfectly well served with a white bean and tomato cassoulet.

I’ve tried 3 desserts. The Valhrona Chocolate mousse; rich, good texture, generous portion size and simple. The other two were Paris Brest, again well executed choux pastry and the Praline Cream. All in keeping with the clear Kitchen ethos of simply cooked classic food.

I refuse to mark any restaurant out of ten or give it a star rating but what I will do is provide a recommendation. It is with this in mind, and based on my experiences so far, that I can’t recommend The Kitchen enough.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and will be posting again soon.

Cheerssss!

Nofrillsfood

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.