I got into the taxi and sighed with relief. I had been almost in pain trying to keep my face from scowling over the past few hours and there was also the fact that I was absolutely starving – I had just been at ‘The Meal from Hell’. Pretentious overpriced food, combined with snooty yet inefficient wait staff AND that I was out with work colleagues I didn’t want to spend a second more than necessary with, this had all the hallmarks of uncomfortable dining before we picked out the wine.
I was in a very well known restaurant on Stephen’s Green. My boss was there to pay and the marketing witch was there to try and beat us into enjoying ourselves. It had been her idea, one that was met with rolled eyes and lots of grumbling, asking why did we have to go to dinner with people we barely put up with in work and who we most definitely didn’t want to go to dinner with. Everyone felt the same way, no one wanted to go as it was an unwritten thing that none of us liked each other and just accepted we had to work together. After one person dropped out with a pathetic excuse, the rest of us were told that no matter what we were going and that we were going to enjoy it no matter what. You can imagine how much I was looking forward to this then. Groan.
Sitting in reception, waiting for everyone to arrive set the scene for the uncomfortable silences that were to come. When at our table it started off with the horrible little annoying man, grabbing the wine list and arguing with the boss over which were the best wines and being told that he wasn’t allowed pick any bottle over £60 [this was a number of years ago]. And then the resident alcoholic slimy sales guy announced that he wasn’t hungry and didn’t want anything. The waiter that arrived merely added to the tension with his appalling attitude. Maybe our money wasn’t the same as everyone else’s eating there that night.
The menu consisted of lists of meals that I didn’t like, food I just couldn’t eat, everything seemed to have at least one element I hated – and I’m not that picky an eater! Very rich, very carnivorous, very continental, very much a heart attack on a plate. Let me simply go through what I ended up ordering as the best of a bad lot. My starter was spring roll with goats cheese and salad. The roll itself was room temperature yet the goats cheese inside was very cold and had a straight from the freezer texture and taste. There was nothing else in the spring roll, just the cheese, the salad was a leaf of rocket and a sliver of red onion on the side. I ordered scallops and black pudding with lemon risotto as a main. Five tiny scallops sitting on five barely visible discs of black pudding with runny slop in the middle arrived. There wasn’t a shred of heat in either the scallops or the black pudding and the risotto looked like rice pudding. The lemon risotto tasted like rice pudding, the scallops and black pudding didn’t taste of anything but were a challenging chew. Having only managed one mouthful of my starter, hunger took over and I ‘filled up’ on the scallops and pudding. Very quickly I was left to stare into space as everyone was only really getting into their mains. Oh, but that was after the boss had a loud argument with the waiter about why his steak didn’t come with potatoes or vegetables and that he had to pay an extra tenner per serving of potatoes or vegetables. By the time those who had also ordered steak added the necessary accompaniments, the bill had shot up by another £120 or so and there was only six of us. The fish main that was ordered came with salad and I was too busy gagging on a scallop to even consider ordering any side dishes. And anyway, I was hoping the ground would swallow me up as arguing over the amount of expensive wine being ordered had also started up again.
The dessert menu was about 3 or 4 items, and if you didn’t like rubarb crumble or tiramisu [I don’t, especially as I don’t like coffee] you were a bit stuck. Even the one chocolate pudding had something like lavender infused sauce on it [I find lavender very overpowering] . Then I was actually given out to by my boss and the marketing witch, ‘Don’t be so ridiculous, you have to like one of them! Order a dessert for fuck’s sake, just order one, we’re waiting on you now’. Apparently I committed a mortal sin when I expressed that I wasn’t really into any of the desserts – I was the scapegoat for the underlining snippy and sarcastic comments that had followed the latest ‘chat’ than lasted 3 times as long as the subsequent silence. The waiter said that there was sorbet in the kitchen, he wasn’t sure what but… I just said yes straight away, sorbet, grand, whatever type. I was presented with the most fabulous mixed berry sorbet with a mint flavoured coulis. As I was about to take a second heavenly spoonful, the marketing witch asked me a question, a bleeping ‘where do you see your life going’ type question and I had to answer – no one else was talking, just eating. I said about 5 words and tried to resume eating. She asked it again but slightly differently and wouldn’t let it lie. I got into a conversation and at one point my boss remarked on how my sorbet was melting and he proceeded to polish it off. Ate all but the one mouthful I’d had of the one tiny, tiny little bit of the entire meal that had potential. No, I didn’t want coffee!! I just wanted out of there. I wanted a very large drink. I wanted something to eat for God’s sake! I was starving. I’d been trapped at the table from hell and would swear Satan himself was hovering nearby laughing.
The final bill was close to £1300 for the six of us. I calculated that I ate ordered about £65 worth of food and had to battle the alcos to get even a couple of glasses of wine to try and dull the pain during one of the worst evenings I’ve ever had. And I did get a chicken burger in the chipper on the way home, just to try and find some semblence of normality out of the night . Sure you can’t beat an auld chicken burger to remind you that sometimes the simple things are best.