It's good to see that shite service knows no class boundaries around here – you try to get on with life without causing too much of a fuss, but things just keep happening which cause you to scratch your head and say “What? WHY?!”.

Part I – the paupers: Steve from work & I happened by a local hostelry the other night for some post-work cleansing ales, as we'd both worked til about 8:30 and decided it was the right time for beer. We went to the Bag O' Nails, an chain alehouse within walking distance from the office. I'd been in there before and it wasn't too bad, although for a long time all the ale taps were out of order, which seems silly because there's about 7 of them and yet this meant you would be forced to drink lager. Anyway as it had been a while I thought we'd give it a try, and I'm happy to report that now, 12-18 months later, they have indeed got the taps working. Sadly that was about the only thing that was working… Firstly when I ordered dinner there was a sign on the bar that said “Fish & Chips – £8.50”, so I thought that would do me! When I said to the guy “Fish & Chips”, his response was “6.99”. I looked curiously at the sign, substracted the two coins from the handful of money I had prepared, and handed it over with an apprehensive look in my eye. It turns out that the 8.50 one is a large F&C, run as a special, however it seemed odd that somebody working in a not-at-all-busy pub might not be aware of the special, or indeed try to upsell me.

About half an hour later it was my turn for a round, so I went up to the bar and found that there was nobody there. I wandered up & down, peeped through the relevant windows, and confirmed in fact that there was not an employee to be seen. I think one had gone to the cellar, but no idea where the other was. I waited about 6 or 7 minutes before the cellar guy came back up, where I stood at the bar while he busied himself stocking crisps for about another 2 minutes without checking to see if anyone might be waiting. Muppet number 1 came back in, and asked for my order – a Guinness and a 6X. Ineptitude leapt into the driver's seat as he poured the 6X, then asked me twice what the 2nd order was, and then started pouring the Guinness. Now as anyone who's ever ordered a Guinness can tell you, it's a thick viscous fluid which takes a while to pour and takes a while to settle, so for economy's sake it's best to get on with something else while you're waiting for it – ideally, pour the other drinks in the order. However this guy thought it better to give the Guinness his full, undivided attention and only when it was almost settled did he proceed to the payment gambit. Now I appreciate the visual poetry of a settling pint of Guinness as much as the next man, but muppet-boy had already made it clear he wasn't interested in my company by way of ignoring me for 10 minutes in the first place, so my hypothesis was that he was just a bit of a thickie. My suspicions were confirmed when he handed me the PIN pad for payment – a wireless unit (as is now commonplace), but he handed it over mounted on the base-station, feeding the power cord over the counter to me.

It's not like he spat in our drinks or anything… it just has me flummoxed as to how landlords hire these goons. Surely it can't cost that much extra to run a pub well, can it?

Part II – the princes: K & I went out for dinner at The Park restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park just for a special treat, and had one of the most sumptuous meals ever. My beef carpaccio rivalled the one I had in Marseille, K's crabcakes were made of genuine pink crab meat (not the mysterious white flesh you become resigned to round here), the Nasi Goreng was spot-on, my teriyaki duck maigret was tender, succulent & flavoursome, and the desserts were perfect – a final burst of flavour but not so big as to make you feel stuffed at the end. The waiting staff were attentive and genial, and the whole experience was nearly faultless – certainly a welcome contrast from the pub adventure.

Following dinner we elected to treat ourselves to a cocktail in the bar before ambling home: K ordered a Manhattan, and I ordered a Martini with a twist (I was keen to see how a place of this stature & opulence went about a martini – a great leveller of mixologists). The waitress returned to confirm with me how I wanted it: “Dry martini with a twist, no olive.” / “Ice?” / “No”. Should have gotten suspicious right there.

K's drink looked great, and my martini came out in a weird round-bottomed tumbler, which I put down to quirkiness. I was a bit disappointed as they'd really gone heavy on the vermouth: martini are essentially a really really cold gin which has been shown to a bottle fo vermouth, but not bathed in the stuff. A few sips later I thought “This can't be right, I'll check the receipt”. There it was though – Manhattan, £14, Martini, £7. What the hell? Why's my martini cost half as much… Oh. My. God.

She's poured me Martini. A whole glass of the stuff. And charged me 7 squid for it.

Again, it's not the most heinous crime ever committed, but it does make you ponder what the hell's going on in some peoples' minds. Surely in a cocktail bar it would seem obvious that if someone orders a drink that's the name of a cocktail, that's what they would be referring to. And if there was any ambiguity, wouldn't you check?

Then again, I don't work in the service industry, so I suppose I've no right to point fingers.

Although I can feel a sternly worded letter coming on.

2007-11-29 : Nothing more lonesome, morbid, or drear, than to stand in the bar of the pubs around here.
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