October 31 2019

The Worst Meal I’ve Ever Eaten

I’ve been busy flicking through my saved-file memory bank on behalf of a Bath-based publisher who wants to publish a Top Ten selection of my best/worst reviews (hoorah!) When I came across this one (below), I just couldn’t help remember what restaurant reviewing could be like before advertising sales teams became food section editors and critics were allowed to say it like it is – or rather, in this case, was; the restaurant in question – thankfully – closed almost a decade ago, but I’ve still blanked out its name here ‘cos hey-ho, karma, y’know…

The Worst Meal I’ve Ever Eaten: Life’s a journey, not a destination; to travel hopefully is better than to arrive; I would do anything for love but I won’t do that – such are the quotes, homilies and platitudes that inspire me when the (free range) chickens come home to roost. But I’ve yet to find a really good cliché to pacify me when huge disappointment sets in.

I’ve been walking past XXX for years, and always thought that the cute little caff at the epicentre of Bath at its most picturesque looked rather inviting. I’d perused the daytime menu – sarnies, omelettes, afternoon tea, etc – and promised myself that one day, I’d pop in and check it out. But I never did. Until, that is, I came upon the restaurant’s website (as you do) and found myself seduced by the promise of great things. That little café turns into a bistro by night! White tablecloths are flung over the tables, the candles come out…. wa-hey! Could this be an alternative destination for the Monday evening curry club that usually kick starts my social life for the week ahead?

Unfortunately, XXX is more likely to launch the next series of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares than appease our fevered foodie dreams. You can see the opening sequences now: Gordon sitting at an overdressed table – a cluttered riot of vast, vinyl-backed menus, sugar bowls stacked high with crumbling cubes and 65 items of cutlery all wedged between those poor, overlooked flowers and potential fire hazard candles. He has his head in his hands, an untouched plate of baby back ribs (‘The Best In Town!’) beside him and a dessert menu that includes ‘full or half-size cream tea’ and ‘toast with jam’ under his feet. His lamb hotpot – the meat tasting like its been boiled with Oxo cubes, the whole thing woefully under-seasoned – sits undigested in his stomach. “What the **** are they doing?”, he mutters to two confused tourists (the only other diners in the room). He picks up his notes, which include a printout from the website information: ‘Our dishes are evocative, sophisticated, full of romance and rich with flavours’, it says. “Fajitas! Pizzas! Ribs!”, he wails. “Where’s the passion? Where’s the …”

We know he’s going to find the Olde English word for balls eventually. But on the night we visited, our chef’s were clearly big enough to give him the audacity to serve a portion of lamb hotpot alongside a weak, sad seafood version (seafood hot pot? Really??), ‘Moroccan-style brochettes’ that turned out to be the saddest version of a beef kebab I’ve ever encountered and a chicken burger that could possibly have been made with Spam. Before that, we shared platter – sorry, a ‘beautiful selections’ – of unidentifiable Mediterranean mezze, which was just about passable … if you’re very, very hungry, and don’t have any tastebuds at all.

With wine, our bill came to £28 a head. With hindsight, we should have gone for a curry.

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