Once a month, we go out for dinner. We rarely go to white tablecloth places; our budget doesn’t accommodate that. Instead, we enjoy family restaurants in and around our town. Despite the humble destinations, these dinners are a fairly big deal for us: We save up in order to afford them. They are a special occasion and much care goes into deciding where we’ll have our monthly treat.
When we bought our place last year, we were delighted to discover a fish and chip restaurant just a couple of blocks away from us. It was small and dowdy, with friendly, middle aged waitresses who called their customers “dear,” and it served not only very good fish and chips but also an excellent sticky toffee pudding. I’m really fussy about my fish and chips so having this restaurant only five minutes walk from my front door has been a boon to me. It’s been a favourite choice when deciding upon a destination for our dinners out. Thus it was that we made our way there this evening.
Our first clue that something was amiss in our neighbourhood café was a change in décor. We walked in the door to find the walls painted bright white. The old souvenirs and hand-written signs were gone, replaced with trendy, expensively framed, black and white photos of London. The tables and chairs had been replaced too and the windows—once covered with reflective film—replaced with new, untinted glass.
Gone were our familiar waitresses, replaced by pert young things in short black skirts. Our new (polite and efficient) waitress presented us with a new (shiny, laminated, graphically pleasing, emblazoned with Union Jacks) menu.
We ordered cod and chips, just as we would have from the old menu.
Our meal arrived quickly, presented prettily on new, square, white plates…and sitting in a pool of grease. The fish was Atlantic cod and the chips were pre-cut. From the texture of the finished product, I surmised that both had been cooked from frozen, in oil that was not hot enough to crisp them properly. Even the coleslaw appeared to have come out of a bag, and the tartar sauce was cloyingly sweet.
Some of you will have read my previous blog about fish and chips so you’ll know how I reacted to this meal. We live on Vancouver Island for Pete’s sake! There’s ocean all around us, and Pacific cod is available at every fishing dock and fish market!
Good fish and chips require fresh local fish, hand cut potatoes, the right cooking fat, and the correct cooking temperature. When all of those things are just right, you get a marvelous meal. When even one of those things is wrong, your meal can be very bad indeed. When—as with tonight’s meal—all of those things are wrong, the result is nigh on inedible.
Because we had ordered it and would be obliged to pay for it, we ate what we could of our meal. I commented on the poor quality while paying our bill, and we made our way home to take an antacid.
Five hours later that meal is still revisiting me and I find myself feeling that we were robbed. The new management at the fish and chips shop stole not only the pleasure from our special evening out but also the happy knowledge that we had a neighbourhood place we so enjoyed. I’m angry that our money was wasted on food of such poor quality. I’m angrier still that the new owners should invest so much in appearance and so little in substance.
I understand that every restaurant strives to make their place both comfortable and attractive in the hope of drawing new customers in the door, but if you serve bad food it doesn’t matter how appealing your dining room is or how pretty your waitresses are. People won’t come back.
Lesson learned. We’ll be going somewhere else next month.