Wednesday, 23 July 2008
I blame myself. I should have known that drawing attention to my recent run of what I will call, for want of a better word, "luck" with budget restaurants that I was only setting myself up for a fall. But then complacency is never a good thing, and having an unpleasant dose of reality does occasionally help give you a sense of perspective. In other words, it will be a lot easier to count my blessings at the end of the next bad meal knowing that, all said and done, at least I'm not eating at Grumbles.
Things started going downhill almost the moment we were set down, antisocially close to diners on either side of our pokey table. Finding nothing of particular interest on the laminated main menu, I found myself browsing the specials, which listed items such as Aylesbury duckling and swordfish steak, but at prices more suited to grander surroundings - £16.25 for example, for the duck. Thinking they must have something to brag about in charging that price, I threw caution to the wind and ordered it. What arrived was a sad lump of boiled broccoli, a huge anaemic slab of duck, cooked through to fatty grey oblivion, and a little stack of salty fried potato cake. It wasn't anywhere near as good as the duck and orange dish I was served at the Spaghetti House in Tufnell Park back in March, and cost more than twice the price. There was no excuse for it.
Having skipped starters with the intention of trying desserts for a change, I was therefore left with a decision to make. Should I give Grumbles the benefit of the doubt and soldier gamely on, or cut my losses and have dessert at home? I let my gaze wander to the open kitchen, where a grubby-looking chef was slumped next to a microwave, head in his arms as some unfortunate diner's meal rotated quietly beside him. The 'ping' as the timer ran out roused him just enough to shovel it onto a plate and to the pass, then he went gratefully back to sleep. It would all look like a scene from Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares were it not for the fact that the place was so inexplicably popular - they were turning people away by the time we were halfway through our dinners. Maybe it is after all possible to build a viable restaurant business by relying solely upon tourists and idiots. I necked the rest of my house red and waved for the bill.
It's not that Grumbles is the worst meal I've ever had, or even had this year. No, that accolade is held by Boyago and I don't see it being toppled any time soon. But by serving such a mediocre meal, charging near top-end restaurant prices and having the nerve to slap on a £1 cover charge (as if I needed any more reasons to hate the place), it is doing just about everything wrong.
And there my unhappy story would have ended, were it not for the lovely people at Gü chocolate puddings, who were nice enough to send me some of their latest range to try. And so back in the comfort of my own living room I tucked into a creamy chocolate trifle, which, being delicious, comforting and inexpensive (well, free), was exactly the opposite of my meal at Grumbles. There's something refreshing about a convenience product that makes no pretentions towards health fads - this is comfort eating, shamelessly decadent and all the better for it. And before anyone starts thinking that Cheese and Biscuits have sold out and the age of the independent blogger is dead, I didn't think much of their melty chocolate puddings that you heat up in the oven. And anyway, you just wait until somebody offers you free chocolate and see how you react. I'm only human, after all.
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