Tuesday, 4 December 2007
The Great Eastern Dining Rooms, Shoreditch
Don't think for a moment that I am not eternally grateful that Tayyabs exists. I consider it one of the greatest blessings of my life that I can eat such superb food in welcoming surroundings for an almost derisory amount of money, and each repeat experience makes the 8/10 score I gave it on my first visit somewhat churlish. There is, however, a downside to being so terribly spoiled and that is that after every meal anywhere else you end up looking at the bill and thinking "I could have had two meals at Tayyabs for that", and chances are they wouldn't have been half as good. And the Great Eastern Dining Rooms is not even anywhere near half as good.
The room was completely empty when we sat down at a table (inexplicably covered with both a linen tablecloth and a paper cloth on top of that) near the window at around midday, and we were quickly told that the kitchen didn't open until 12:15. An odd time to open a kitchen, you might think, but I am nothing if not patient so we spent a quarter of an hour looking up the unfamiliar ingredients in the glossary at the back of the menu - a nice touch. However at 12:15 there was still no sign of our waitress. There were plenty of other staff racing around with bags of ice and buckets of food but all did a very good job of ignoring our table and I eventually had to walk up to the bar and wave someone over myself.
We ordered the last 5 items on the Dim Sum section, so prawn dumplings, chilli salt squid, pork belly, spare ribs and lamb cheung fun. Barely ten minutes later the food started arriving - and most of it was lukewarm. Now as we were the first customers I can be fairly certain that these dishes weren't someone else's rejects, and in this day and age I would hope they weren't cooked yesterday and reheated. But God knows how else they managed to get them cooked and left around to cool down in under ten minutes - maybe I'd rather remain ignorant. The chilli salt squid was good - slightly better than the kind of thing you find elsewhere, and the lamb inside the cheung fun didn't taste of a great deal although the sauce was nice. Prawn dumplings were fluffy and tasty, the sauce over the ribs was rich and meaty, and the pork belly had the potential to be very good as the meat had a good flavour and was prettily presented. But having gone cold somewhere along the line, what should have been a crispy pig skin had gone chewy and separated from the softer meat beneath. A shame, if nothing else. I should also mention that while the main meat dishes all arrived suspiciously quickly and more or less together, a side order of bak choi took another half an hour. Half an hour(!) to cook a few green leaves and 10 minutes for pork belly. The mind boggles.
After the table had been cleared, we tried in vain for about 15 minutes to attract the attention of a member of staff to ask for the bill, which when it finally did arrive sat for yet another 15 minutes on our table with my credit card perched proudly on top, nobody looking like they were interested in picking it up. I finally had to walk up to the bar to pay, and for the first time in years I asked for the 12.5% to be taken off. Lukewarm food, disinterested staff and inexplicably long waits between courses - these all point to major problems with service, and I felt completely justified withholding it.
What was left of the bill came to around £20 a head. Not an astronomical sum, but in my new foodie currency that makes it 2 Tayyabs, which makes the whole experience hard to justify. Being so close to my place of work I imagine I will be back to the Great Eastern, but next time I will steer clear of the food and stick to the drinks. From the looks of it this lunchtime, that was what everyone else was wisely doing too.