"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Someone posted a question yesterday about why HP did not complain about his seemingly dire meal at The Salisbury. His response quite rightly was, to tell the anonymous poster to mind his or her own fricking business.

However, it did raise an interesting point about why, here in Britain, we are so reticent about complaining. It may be because of our innate British reserve. It may be because that, on the whole, most people in this country don’t know if they are having a good meal or a bad one so don’t recognise need for complaint. It may even be that the restaurants are wise to us and put barriers in the way of genuine and polite complaints.

Some, all too few in number, may actually try and do something to rectify the situation. But, many, truly don’t give a damn and will often send out some aggressive sort to argue the toss until bewildered and confused, you slink out into the night feeling cheap and used.

However, yesterday’s strategy, during and after a truly abysmal lunch at The Commissary was a new one on me. Just make sure that the only staff available to customers, treat the English language as a work in progress.

I had chosen The Commissary at the request of my friend, Ashika, as a “cheap place with decent food near to Old St” and, based on one previous visit, it would have just about filled all those criteria. It’s not easy to find, down by the canal and with the entrance only through the gates of The London Studios. Now I can only wish that it had been even harder to find or indeed impossible, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Bar a few tables filled with people from the adjacent studios having their lunch, we were the only people in there and, looking at the short menu, we selected our food and a bottle of cheap Spanish wine and I went to order at the bar.

The wine arrived immediately and tasted like it had been left next to a radiator. Not a good start, but we were too engrossed in catching up to notice. We did notice however when our starters arrived. In fact we noticed when our main courses arrived too as all four plates came up at the same time and the waitress struggled to fit them on to our small table.

Our attempts to explain that the notion of starter and main course meant at least a short gap between courses were met with a blank stare, the first use of the “meee no speekeee English” gambit from the Eastern European wait staff and the plates were plonked down as we were left to our own devices as she scurried off to chat to a friend behind the bar before we could be more firm about matters.

Faced with four sizeable plates of food, we began to pick at random, hoping that it would at least be worth the effort. It wasn’t. I can say, hand on heart that this is seriously some of the most disgusting food I have ever encountered anywhere on earth and one wonders what kind of people would have to be in the kitchen to send slop like this out without an apology note or at least a gun so you had the option to shoot yourself first?

A few miserable rings of Calamari were like small inner tubes and came with a sharply dressed salad that made our mouths pucker like we were receiving a thousand paper cuts and sprinkling them in vinegar. A plate of chorizo saw large, partially cooked potatoes tossed with strips of leathery sausage in the most inappropriate marriage since a judge once said “Michael do you take Lisa Marie………”

By now, we had forgotten which were main courses and which were starters, but it didn’t matter as the few mouthfuls we took just made us sorry we had woken up that morning. A goat’s cheese “stack” took matters to a whole new level of awfulness, with particular points for leaving a nice tough skin on the cheese to add extra texture.

I could only dream what texture they were looking for in the burger, but I am guessing that mushy wasn’t it. The chips were, once again, barely cooked potatoes tossed in raw paprika the sort of dish even The Kyhmer Rouge would reject as being a crime against humanity.

The waitress came to take the barely touched plates away with hardly a raised eyebrow, a sure sign that this may be an all too regular occurrence at The Commissary. If I had been able to get a decent signal on my Blackberry I would have googled to see what “That was fucking disgusting, please kill me, kill me now” is in Polish, but, as HP so often says after a meal where you feel that the whole operation either doesn’t know or knows and doesn’t care, that it is so wretched “what’s the point?”

So bad was our whole experience in fact, that Ashika and I came out shaking with laughter, almost forgetting the £40 our “meal” cost us. But, it will be a cold day in hell before I forget easily one of the worst meals I have ever been served in London.

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Anonymous Oliver said...

The 'goat's cheese stack' looks worringly pretentious. Did you consider refusing to pay?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 4:54:00 pm  
Blogger Gill the Painter said...

I'm suspicious when businesses are this bad, it just doesn't make sense to me otherwise.
I guess they are running it down to get change of premises/ building consent.

You might be buying a swanky apartment de luxe on that site is 2 years time.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 5:02:00 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

Love the menu: kick off with a filmic theme to introduce the "crew" and then carry the motif through with... "Nice things to eat..." Genius! Probably just as well there were no "Dailies".

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 5:10:00 pm  
Anonymous Paulie said...

The most scary thing is that the presentation would suggest that whoever is in the kitchen is taking his work seriously.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 11:02:00 pm  
Anonymous Andy Watts said...

There are 2 types of problems.Something the kitchen can fix with no downside to you(i.e. they are not going to spit in it;put fecal matter in it etc) and something that is insurmountable. Easy to fix would be if the food is cold/tepid instead of hot;or well done instead of rare and so on.Complaining about it being medium instead of medium slightly rare is ridiculous.But a major problem such as you encountered is not worth sending back.Howwever it is worth retaining the evidence on the table and asking for the manager ,and obtaining an adjustment on the bill to reflect the non-consumption/poor quality etc.At this point you don't want them to try again,and you can say you don't have the time to wait around.If you just pay and never complain then these places will continue to be in business well beyond the date when they should be put out of their misery,or the kitchen staff overhauled by the manager.
If we don't speak up then we should not slink out and complain on a blog.It's a "cheap shot" and unfair to the restaurant too.Have the courage of your own convictions if you want to effect change.Otherwise you are just an observer more interested in making snarky comments for your own amusement .I like your approach to food,but your reticence to complain is very dispiriting,especially since you actually know food and how it should be..

Thursday, April 02, 2009 8:58:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Hi Andy

Thanks for the comment and even more for doing it with a name attached.

Your points are well made and under normal circumstances, I have no problem complaining. I can be firm, but polite and good restaurants normally know how to deal with the issue.

At The Commissary, there was simply no point. If the it was impossible to get over the simple fact that starters and main courses should not be brought out together, then actually complaining about the food would have been pointless too.

We could have made more of an effort to complain but, in the end, some experiences are so wretched, you just want to get out of their without confrontation. Perhaps, that is too British and perhaps there is part of any blogger who revels in the chance to let rip at a dreaful restaurant.

But in this case, I truly just wanted to leave



Thursday, April 02, 2009 9:08:00 am  
Blogger Gourmet Chick said...

This meal does sound awful although hilarious to read about. I think as a general point people are reticent to complain as it spoils your enjoyment of the evening often when you complain (unless your complaint is dealt with brilliantly eg copious apologies, refund and/or complimentary something) and since you are not just eating out for the food but also for the enjoyable experience this means that people (myself included) are hesitant to make what is looking like a bad meal even worse.

Thursday, April 02, 2009 10:55:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...


What a load of BS. We're not some sort of unpaid consultants to the catering industry, we have no responsibility to restaurants where we eat out beyond paying for our meal.

In cases where we do complain we sometimes (but not always) get a very defensive response. In cases where we haven't said anything and have posted about the experience we have received a mail from the owners apologizing and offering to compensate in some way. The owners have never accused us of slinking out or of being snarky after the event.

In the end it's up to the restaurants themselves to be any good which they can be if they give a damn.


Thursday, April 02, 2009 11:02:00 am  
Blogger unc said...

I have to be honest, I read the last post about the appalling restaurant where you couldn't finish your food and thought why is this guy being such a damn wimp. I understand your reluctance and the perceive impotence in complaining, but sometimes you just have to speak up.

Maybe it's easy for me, I am an Aussie, we are loud like some Americans but nice, some Americans. I think in this case you may have jsut been able to say to the plate taxi that the food wasn't very good and leave it at that unless pressed for further comment.

I weight just about 20 stone. BEFORE I lost 12 stone, yes, lost 12 stone so far, no-one told me exactly how enormous I was, so I never really knew. Maybe the reluctance for people to not tell the truth and not want to offend people is more damaging that setting yourself free and saying what you think. Of course, you can come across as an arse(I know I have had to explain myself on this front) but the net benefit to society is positive.

Don't worry though, you are normal, I may be slightly sociopathic in my outlook on life.

If you are in Broadway Market in Hackney anytime, ask at the Vietnamese coffee stall who Andrew is, I will defend my point.

Great reviews by the way. I read one about Puji Puji, great satays, average laksa.

Thursday, April 02, 2009 11:26:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I visited a restaurant a couple years ago where I sent back two main courses that were very poor. The manager was really apologetic and offered to pay for the meal but I turned down the offer. I didn't want a free meal just a decent one.

The net result was I felt shit and the manager felt shit. It may or may not have improved things (I suspect not) but I'll never get that wasted meal back again.

Thursday, April 02, 2009 11:43:00 am  
Anonymous Patrick K. said...

No one is suggesting DH be
unpaid(yr word), consultants to the catering industry.If you are not happy with the food,then you shd say so and get the bill rectified,without getting angry or emotional.It's a simple transaction-they are supposed to do their job and make you happy with yr meal,and you pay for that.
When the experience is as bad as you describe,then they have failed.What do you do when you buy a TV,bring it home and it doesn't show any pictures,only sound?Do you accept it and resign yourself to having a strange over-sized radio?Or any other product or service that is deficient?Restaurants are no different.It will make you feel better,as you can say,the food was awful....but at least I didn't have to pay for it!Isn't that better than the food was awful,and it also cost me £60!

Thursday, April 02, 2009 12:34:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Yes they are - read AW's comment again.

I'm not sure what TVs have to do with restaurant meals the two scenarios you describe are completely different. The Sale of Goods Act would apply in one case, I don't know how you'd apply it to some badly cooked food.

In any case it's nothing to do with money which you seem to think is what it's all about, missing the point by a mile.

Thursday, April 02, 2009 1:14:00 pm  
Anonymous George Patterson said...

As per the musical Cabaret....

Money, Money
from the musical: Cabaret
Money makes the world go around,
the world go around, the world go around,
Money makes the world go around,
it makes the world go round.

A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound,
a buck or a pound, a buck or a pound,
Is all that makes the world go around,
that clinking clanking sound,
Can make the world go round.

If you happen to be rich, and you feel like a night's entertainment,
You can pay for a gay escapade.
If you happen to be rich, and alone and you need a companion,
You can ring ting-a-ling for the maid.
If you happen to be rich and you find you are left by your lover,
Tho you moan and you groan quite a lot,
You can take it on the chin,
call a cab and begin to recover on your fourteen carat yacht.

Money makes the world go around,
the world go around, the world go around,
Money makes the world go around,
of that we both are sure.
(Raspberry) On being poor.

When you haven't any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter
And you curse to the wind at your fate.
When you haven't any shoes on your feet and your coat's thin as paper
And you look thirty pounds underweight,
When you go to get a word of advice from the fat little pastor,
he will tell you to love evermore.
But when hunger comes to rap, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, at the window
See how love flies out the door.

For money makes the world go around, the world go around,
the world go around.
Money makes the world go around,
the clinking, clanking sound
of Money, money, money, money,
Money, money, money, money,
Get a little, get a little,
Money, money, money, money,
Mark, a yen, a buck or a pound,
That clinking, clanking clunking sound
is all that makes the world go round,

Restaurants are in business to make it,and you have to pay it to eat there.No pay,no eat.So asking for a reduction of yr bill due to poor food can assuage the feeling you have been ripped off in a poor restaurant..

Friday, April 03, 2009 9:12:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

The wonders of google and cut 'n' paste eh ?

You're wrong of course getting a bit of money back never really compensates for a bad meal unless you're a complete breadhead in which case you may have been looking for an opportunity to complain.

Friday, April 03, 2009 11:33:00 am  

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