There are three key factors you might look for in restaurant. Food, ambience and service. Not necessarily in that order. For many people, ambience is all: the packed-to-capacity Ivy restaurant illustrates this point well. For others, gastronomic perfection is the be all and end all, at any price: witness the remarkable number of utterly dreary and overpriced restaurants awarded Michelin stars. In most restaurants service barely merits a mention, as it is usually perfectly adequate. Sometimes, it is exemplary and gives you a warm glow. And very occasionally, you get service of the kind we recently experienced in The Clarendon.
On arrival, no one greeted us. Eventually attracting the attention of the man who appeared to be the manager at the bar, we enquired about our booking (we were on time). ‘We don’t have a table for you,’ he said, ‘but you can sit here.’ He directed us to a table with a ‘reserved’ notice on it, then wandered off. Five or so minutes later, I went back up to the unmanned bar to collect a menu. I helped myself. We waited, and waited, and waited to have our drinks or food orders taken. Fifteen minutes passed. By this stage we’d normally be tempted to walk out and go somewhere that actually wants our custom – but we were hungry enough to eat a scabby donkey.
So when someone chipper did appear to take our order, we relaxed a bit. Big mistake. Over the next hour we witnessed two other tables complaining about delays, or receiving the wrong order. Food was brought to some diners in groups, but not others; cutlery was also provided randomly, or not at all. The well-mannered folk of Holland Park around us were audibly tutting. Quite how service could be this clueless was beyond us. There was a modest five tables of diners, a well-staffed kitchen, the orders were simple, yet half-a-dozen or so waiting staff – it was hard to tell who was actually working, and who was just chatting and distracting the staff – couldn’t get it together to bring food to the right tables, in timely fashion, with cutlery.
When our gastropub-style food orders came they were lukewarm, adequate, but dull. We ate quickly, paid cash to speed things up and left. Upstairs, the bar was hopping – there’s a roof terrace, making this seem like an appealing place for a drink. But on the basis of adequate food, a tetchy atmosphere plus inept service we suggest you eat elsewhere.