I have an idea for restaurants everywhere. Maybe, just maybe, you should do some analysis. How long does your average party of two take up a table? Your average party of four? Your tables that make reservations? Your tables that don’t make reservations? If you do this type of analysis, you will avoid treating your customers poorly.
Like Chick ‘n’ Sours did to me when I popped in at 12:20 pm on a Sunday, hoping for a quick lunch. I knew I’d be in and out in 45 minutes. I know myself well. I don’t know if you can believe this, but I’ve been feeding myself for over 40 years! Unless there was a problem in the kitchen — the restaurant’s fault, not mine — I would be quick. Very quick.
So I walked in off the street and asked for a table at a restaurant that doesn’t really seem like the type of place where you need a booking. I was led downstairs to an empty dining room. I lie. There were maybe two tables seated and it’s a pretty small dining room so it wasn’t empty. The host asked me “Where would you like to sit?”
“Well,” I responded, if you’re not too busy, I’d love a table.” (I prefer not to perch.)
Immediately, she responded. “Well…I don’t know…we have a lot of bookings today…I’ll have to check.”
Restaurants everywhere, don’t ask the question if it’s a false choice. And don’t make a big deal about this if your restaurant is still going to be half empty an hour later when I leave. (And for the record, I’d be the first person to take the bar if the restaurant were full.)
Why do restaurants prefer mysterious unknown **future** business over mysterious unknown business sitting **right in front of them**? Money, I know. But if they did the analysis I suggest, they would not freak out about these situations. I imagine a world in which they instead think, “Ah party of one. She’ll be done in 45 minutes. We’re usually pretty quiet between 12 and 1 pm. We’ll be fine.” I’ll chalk this one up to inexperience and move on.
I liked my fried chicken at Chick ‘n’ Sours (unphotogenic as it was) although maybe the xian xian spice was a little too subtle. I also REALLY liked my fried aubergine. And the wall of print blocks from an old printer in Manchester on the wall. And the light fixtures. Hipster central! And the music! I really liked the fun music.
The Verdict: Go, but make a booking and sit where they tell you to if you want to maximize their utility and forget about your own. Even when they are empty.
The new sightly unemployed Krista is the “Say Yes Krista.” Yes, after years of saying NO, I’m saying Yes. Because someone has to. And I’d rather it be me then some of the crazies. (Sorry, crazies.) So when Jamie’s Italian offered me a £50 voucher to eat at one of their restaurants, I said YES and invited the infamous Wine Sleuth along with me to check out Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden.
And you know what? We had a great time. The atmosphere was lively! The food was enjoyable! The wine was in abundance! And even better, our server, Carlos, was pretty much the nicest, best server I’ve ever had in London. When he told us that he helped train new staff in new restaurants, I totally got it. If I ran Jamie’s Italian, I’d want Carlos to train all my staff too. Thank you, Carlos, for a wonderful experience and for making the Fritto Misto happen!!!
In short, my main takeaway after my £50 voucher experience at Jamie’s Italian was that I should SAY YES more often.
Jamie Oliver is a cheeky chappy now isn’t he? And so is his food. He is being funny sometimes with his menu. Me? I would like to have a long talk with the person in marketing who called the fried ravioli “Italian Nachos,” but otherwise, how can one NOT enjoy fried ravioli?? I accidentally ate the entire spicy pepper on our bruschetta which caused some problems for me the next day (!!!) but damn if we still didn’t polish off both the ravioli and the bruschetta starters and a mixed basket of very nice bread as well.
The carbonara was luscious although after discussing it with Carlos, we determined that it was not of the creamless variety. I don’t care! The SAY YES Krista is less of purist than the old fully-employed Krista. The carbonara was still enjoyable! My dad would have loved it! (I’ve learned over the years to never take my father to an Italian restaurant in London. He is always disappointed. I don’t think he would be disappointed at Jamie’s Italian.) The sausage pappardelle was less enticing — lacking a depth of flavor — but we still polished it off.
Carlos had initially suggested that we try the Fritto Misto but then it turned out that they were still waiting for their seafood delivery. 20 minutes became one hour and 20 minutes but Denise and I were catching up on all things social media and drinking all the white wine, so it didn’t matter really. When the huge platter of Fritto Misto finally arrived, the Italians at the table next to us looked on in horror. I don’t know if you know this, but I can totally read people’s minds and I knew exactly what they were thinking.
How are those girls eating all of that?
We want some.
And while the Fritto Misto was a little short on seasoning, multiple lemon wedges delivered by Carlos on request made up for that. Even my arteries acknowledged that the quality of frying was commendable. Also, a great selection of seafood. Not a one-trick scampi pony. Excellent work, Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden. Excellent work. (But try a little pinch of Old Bay next time.)
In short, we had a good time here. I’d go back and bring my dad. We meant to stop in the front of the restaurant on the way out and check out the books and products on sale, but 1.25 liters of white wine later, we forgot. This means I will have to go back.
The Verdict: Fun for the entire family. Say yes!
Marketing bit: Jamie’s Italian does a Gold Card membership which is free and offers members little treats and promotions whenever they visit any of the restaurants. Join now.
Obligatory disclaimer in a normal font size that humans can read: Jamie’s Italian was kind enough to give me a £50 voucher for lunch at one of their restaurants. We still managed to spend £42 extra pounds AND we still tipped on what would have been the full amount. As you can (I hope) tell, I still wrote whatever I wanted to write, even with the voucher.
Let me get this out of the way. Generally, I don’t believe in queuing (or running) for anything. I have other things to do with my time. But…having shown up at Kanada-ya once before and having been denied…I was on a mission. A mission to see if their ramen was really all that. Excuse to visit? Elisa was in town from Chicago and when she saw my post about why I had lunched at Ippudo instead of Kanada-ya, she offered to join me at Kanada-ya. THE PRESSURE. Nothing worse than being denied a second time, so I forced poor Elisa to meet me at 4:30 pm — a full 30 minutes before Kanada-ya opened — so that we were guaranteed a spot. Luckily, we weren’t the first in the queue. We were #3 and #4. And within a few minutes, #5 and #6 were queued up behind us. We spent our time waiting catching up while alternately watching the team at Kanada-ya set up a scary looking heat-lamp that dispensed flames — unnecessarily so in my humble opinion.
London is not cold. London is balmy! I am wandering around town with a lightweight jacket! Why do they need this heat lamp?? It is very kind of them, but they already have other heat lamps so this one seems unnecessary. And unnerving. A column of fire!
The doors open at 5 p.m. on the dot. We are quickly seated and quickly place our orders…original ramen, hard noodles, with an egg each and Elisa opts for the garlic sauce too. 10 minutes later, our bowls of porky goodness arrive. It’s all pretty delicious and pretty satisfying…but is it worth the (sometimes) queue? Hmmm. I liked my ramen at Ippudo too, and I didn’t have to wait. Although the egg at Kanada-ya is better…it’s a (seemingly marinated) hanjuku egg, whereas Ippudo seemed to forego the marinated and just serve me a soft-boiled egg. I don’t know if the egg alone would make me wait in the queue at Kanada-ya though. There’s something to be said for Ippudo’s full service bar…(Priorities, people. Priorities!) Kanada-ya does offer a few Japanese beers though…
We tried to add service to the bill and we were denied! There’s something to be said for that. Also, that they are so concerned about their poor customers queuing up for them in the “cold” London air that they went out and purchased an outdoor heat lamp to supplement the already existing heat lamps. Nice of them. Caring. Sweet.
The Verdict: Nice. Small. Compact. Tasty. But if there’s a queue, Ippudo across the street is just fine.
A three-trick pony. Do you want a burger? Or do you WANT SOME LOBSTAH? Lobstah for me, please. Ah look, it’s a decision tree! Lobster-lobster or lobster ROLL???
I choose roll. And it’s a mighty fine lobster roll, given that it’s on the wrong side of the Atlantic and all. Even the fries are good. I want more sauce. More sauce! You can do all the tricks in the world, pony, if you do them all THIS GOOD. And Burger & Lobster isn’t even new! It’s new to me, but it’s old for London. The bloom should be off the rose, but it’s not. It’s really not!
I have a moment….Why did I ever leave this place? Why???
I am prepared to throw it all away for a mini-chain lobster roll.
The weird part though is that there are 20 million Japanese tourists there when I’m there and they are all taking photos of their food. (Errrr…yes so was I. Awkward.)
I’ve been trying not to be so gluttonous these days. Six oysters, not twelve. Six at the bar at J. Sheekey along with a glass of champagne. A pretty good value, if I ask me. (I’m not asking you.) No celebrity sightings. Just me, at the bar, by the handicapped loo. Slurping oysters, drinking champagne, and out of there for less than 20 quid. Got to love that.
The Damage: £20 each for food, but our alcohol was comped.
The Background: First, the disclaimer. My co-worker Banita is married to one of the owners of Dishoom (Amar). This means that I probably got a bit of preferential treatment on my visit to Dishoom the other night. So for example, although Dishoom doesn't take reservations, I had one. However, had I arrived at 7 p.m. on that Tuesday without a booking, I would have gotten a table anyhow as there was plenty of availability. Also, our drinks–a Bolly Bellini for me (Cardamom in a Bellini! Why hasn't the world thought of this sooner?) and a St. Martini for Julie (pomegranate and chili, in a gin martini), followed by Bombaladas for both of us (pineapple, coconut milk, rum, herbs)–were comped. And Amar spent a lot of time at our table, explaining the dishes and talking to us about the restaurant.
OK, now that I've gotten that out of the way…
You should try the Bollybellini. It's lovely. Rose, lychee, and raspberry.
And I'd also recommend the calamari. I think this was my favorite dish of the night. Good crispy, fresh breading, with a bit of heat. Nicely textured calamari.
There have been conflicting reports about the lamb chops, but I loved these. Great char, and spicy to boot. Some have said that they were too dry, but ours were perfectly moist, with that nice crunchy barbecued outside. Prettily presented, sprinkled with pomegranates.
Less interesting for me was a pau bhaji (mashed veg with hot buttered bread) and a cheesy nan. Also, the more I've thought about the biryani, it was just, well, biryani. It was good–don't get me wrong–but it wasn't a stand-out, memorable dish. It was "just" a very competent biryani.
For dessert, we had gola ice of pomegranate (are you sensing a theme here) and chili. You might have noticed that I'm not the biggest sweets person (unless we're talking about macarons or lemon tarts), so this was just a personal preference thing for me. Not my thing. But it was interesting, for sure.
One of my favorite items of the evening was the chai…a spicy tea that I could have guzzled a dozen cups of. I can see why Dishoom might be pulling in a good breakfast crowd. With free wifi and a couple of cups of this, I could be very happy, working away at Dishoom.
There's one thing I want to mention before I get to my final verdict. The prices. They are awesomely low, especially considering this place is on Upper St. Martin's Lane and the kit-out could not have been cheap. The calamari was only £4.50. The chicken biryani £7.50. The lamb chops came in tops at £9.20, but I'd say they were worth it. Can they keep up these prices? I don't know. But if they keep up the quality of the food, they have a winner on their hands.
Ah, and Banita wanted me to mention in particular…all those pictures on the wall? They aren't just random stock photos. All of the photos are connected to the owners in some way. (Including the photo of Amar's dad's ex-girlfriend in the booth we were in!)