June 28, 2011

The dinner that never was

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I do think I'm a little cursed recently. I was on the receiving end of some sub-par service at one of my favorite restaurants for my birthday last week, and tonight I had the rudest service from a restaurant that I've ever had in my entire life.  For only the second time in my life, I stormed out of a restaurant without having eaten a single bite, on account of rude and/or arrogant staff.

I was very much looking forward to getting together with my friends, as I haven't seen them in over a year.  I definitely wanted to see Rickachu before I left town, and they had decided to book tonight's dinner at g.e.  (it's supposed to stand for "gastronomy extraordinary", but believe me, the only thing extraordinary about this place has nothing to do with the food...)  Anyway, I was a little curious and wanted to check this place out, as the chef is ex-Kee Club and had apparently spent time in the kitchen of El Bulli.  I will just say that I went to Kee Club for dinner once a few years ago, and had some of that "molecular" cuisine, and never bothered to return.

My friends arrived and started talking to us about how they had almost dined here on an earlier occasion, and described the various themed rooms of the restaurant to us.  Jessica Kwok, the Restaurant Manager, then offered to take us on a tour of the various rooms.  I wasn't very interested so stayed put and studied the menu.

The menu reminds me of the one I had seen at Saint Pierre in Singapore all those years ago.  Basically the chef has decided to list every single ingredient used in the dish, but with no descriptions of how the ingredients have been prepared.  Fortunately they decided to highlight the main ingredient in bold, or else I would be just as lost as I was at Saint Pierre after going through the 10th item...

The menu was a little annoying in several ways:  first, the font was tiny.  While I'm no old fogey, I don't understand why a restaurant would make its diners squint while studying a relatively complex menu.  The other annoyance is that about 1/3 of the items were labeled "coming soon" in red.  Jessica explained that they are still in their "soft opening" period.  WTF?!  After almost 4 months they are still "soft opening"?!  And what is the point of putting all those dishes on the menu when the diner is denied the pleasure of ordering them?  Another funny thing is that while the menu professes to withhold printing prices for ladies out of deference, the two ladies tonight both received menus with prices.  Do I need new glasses? Was I eating with two dudes?

We were discussing the pros and cons of the menu, and my friends were sounding a little upset that the dishes they most wanted weren't available.  Perhaps we could have been a little more quiet with our discussions, so as not to annoy the table behind us.  I was told later the host of that table was the restaurant's PR, out to entertain a group of people from concierge service Quintessentially.  The staff and the host were doing their damndest to sell the virtues of the restaurant and the menu.

After I decided on the dishes I would order, I started to do my usual routine of taking pictures of the menu.  I do this at every restaurant because I wanted to make sure I am absolutely correct in the naming of the dishes.  I do this all over the world and so far nobody has objected.

Waitress:  "Excuse me, we don't allow people to take pictures of our menu."
Me, a little surprised: "...but I want to know what I'm eating."
Waitress:  "Sorry, we don't allow picture-taking."
Me, now a little annoyed but speaking softly: "...then I will not eat here..."

In a split second, as I still held my iPhone above the menu but had withheld from taking additional pictures, Jessica Kwok the Restaurant Manager swooped in, yanked the menu out from under me, and said less-than-politely: "We don't allow pictures of the menu!"  She looked so pissed off I thought she was about to club me on the head!

I was absolutely stunned.  All of a sudden I found myself without a menu in front of me.  After a few seconds, I recovered somewhat and wondered out loud how I was to order any dishes without a menu, but no response came from the staff.  All I got were glares from the staff.

My friends and I discussed the situation, and started thinking of alternate venues for dinner. I double-checked with them to make sure that in their minds, what I was about to do wasn't considered over-reacting.  Afterwards I called a waiter over and asked for the bill.  I paid for my corkage of HKD 350, 2 bottles of Hildon water (how they manage to open a second bottle of water for 3 people after 20 minutes, when we haven't even started ordering is beyond me...) for HKD 156, HKD 15.6 of "service" charge, and left.

We felt pretty incredulous.  First of all, I had never been refused to take pictures or copy down a restaurant's menu.  Is the chef really so insecure that he is afraid of people stealing his ideas?  Every restaurant from a top chef that I've been to - and I think I've been to quite a few - have always been happy to give out their menu of the day to guests.  I have a few from places like the French Laundry, per se and Philippe Rochat.  Hell, each of us got one from El Bulli!  Does this guy think he's more creative than Ferran?!

Second, I think this Jessica Kwok person forgets that she works in the service industry.  I may not have been the most polite customer - although I don't think I was very rude tonight as I spoke softly and never once raised my voice - and perhaps I should have considered an alternative to taking pictures of the menu, but to grab the menu by force from your customer is just something I've never seen.  Never even contemplated possible.  And sure hope never to see it again in my lifetime.

So I shall never know the taste of g.e.  I will never spend a dime of my money - or anyone else's - at that establishment.  I certainly will stay away from anyone associated with that establishment for the rest of my days.  If that is what you call customer service, then please, there's no need to serve me!

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually it makes sense that the restaurant doesn't want photos taken of the menu if they are still in soft-opening stage and 1/3 of the menu is not yet available. I suspect the order comes from the chef. Exposing their full anticipated menu at this stage raises the expectations in the blogosphere/media beyond what they are able to currently deliver.

Not sure why they are still in soft-opening after 4 months but from what you have described, they've got some serious issues to iron out.

Peech said...

I only take pics of parts of menu which bear the names of dishes that I order, so nothing from the unavailable "coming soon" side would be in my pics.

Why are the unavailable dishes (and there were so many) on the menu in the first place?!

HK Epicurus said...

This is in its 4th month of operation already and some anonymous being comes on to here and tries to argue it's still in its Soft-Opening stage? Pleaseeee...

Rather like it's a restaurant which can't get itself up. :)

I'm sorry to say, I think this episode of A.D.O.A.G.B. has now catalyst-ed and sparked GE's demise to come in this cut-throat competitive city. Sad but true. They can continue to serve their poo-poo dessert all they want, except no one is going to visit GE any more, because they just DO NOT get it..

Derek said...

This is a complete disgrace. Their attitude leaves a lot to be desired. Definitely off my list of restaurants to try.

Brian said...

Some of the most eminent restaurants in the same category that this place aspires to be a member of are also the most open about their creative processes. If this place can't even allow someone to remember what they eat, perhaps it doesn't intend to cater to the discerning diner at all.

Anonymous said...

You are a douche.

Anonymous said...

Jessica Kwok is THE most professional and courteous person in the hospitality industry! Oh and I'm gonna name drop too... I OWN el Bulli!!

Douche Basher said...

I second that!

Anonymous said...

consider this comment me pissing on your review just like the waiter pissed all over you :)

Anonymous said...

@HK Epicurus
Excuse me? How rude! I think it was the restaurant claiming it was still in soft-opening. Or did I read that wrongly?
As for anonymity, I could be Mr Geoff Geoffty Geoff for all you care - I don't see your name being used anywhere on this page.
And no - I'm not the other Anonymous who left the "douche" comment but hey I'm sure "Peech" can check the IPs if he were that way inclined.

-The original Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

How can you be the original Anonymous when I am? You are an IMPOSTER!

Peech said...

HKE, methinks u misread the comment from the first Anonymous.

Oooh how I wish I have a video of what happened... I could post it on YouTube and make Jessica Kwok as famous as the woman rolling on the floor after missing her flight in HK!

Anonymous said...

I like peaches! =)

Jason said...

Woah! I think I should dig up my pictures from my g.e. meal during their first week of soft opening and start posting since now they don't allow pictures, those I took before would be the precious few! Then again, are they really worth posting after your incident? I am not too sure ...

Mochachocolata Rita said...

They don't allow pictures of the menu ar...but we-were-sent-a-copy-of-the-menu-right?

Peech said...

I love peaches, too! XD

Jason said...

@Rita: You are RIGHT! I still have that PDF menu in my inbox! Maybe we should post it out just for the sake of it? I mean they sent it out didn't they? Can't blame us on that ...

Mochachocolata Rita said...

post-post-post-post-post

Janice, aka e_ting said...

I definitely received a menu in an email attachment. There are some places that, upon entry or booking, you're advised you can't take photos. Then, should you decide to go in, you have inherently accepted this 'contract'. But swooping in to take a menu away? Er..?!

And Peech, I'm very sorry to hear of all your bad dining experiences lately! I guess everyone's just trying to make you miss HK less...? :(

Anonymous said...

Wow~ that sounds terrible. No matter what, you don’t yank the menu from the customer and look pissed off, especially when she IS the MANAGER of the restaurant. You shouldn’t do that even when your customers are really pissing you off for whatever reason, ‘cuz it’s the basis of being in the service industry. You should solve problems nice and smoothly. After all, this isn’t a local char-chaan-teng, is it?

Well… I would have talked to the hotel management if I were you, just to let them know what happened in their restaurant and how the guest has been treated, to see if they also agree on this kind of behavior for their restaurant’s manager.

hkFashionGeek said...

I've never been a fan of Bonelli's cuisine so don't have an inclination to try this at all. What a horrendous dining experience. How I wish you HAD captured a video and posted it online! I'd love to see it.

PS I like peaches too! =P

Anonymous said...

La Cie; that you bitch?

Anonymous said...

1. No restaurant stays in "soft opening" for four months, regardless of what management says. Four months of soft open means dead restaurant.

2. That said, if a restaurant IS in a "soft opening" stage, it's common courtesy not to take pictures of the menu or service. The whole purpose of a soft open is to iron out those details. The menu is still being tweaked.

Peech said...

It is well-known among my friends that I normally do not go to a restaurant within the first 3 to 6 months after opening. I know they are still trying to get things right and it's not fair for me to judge them during that time.

That said, my fellow bloggers who were invited by the restaurant at the beginning of their soft-opening period were given menus by the management. Other friends have also indicated that they themselves have taken pictures of the menu while dining there. My big SLR was sitting on the table during the entire time we were at the restaurant - and I had even taken test shots to set my white balance - yet no one bothered to say anything to me until I picked up my poor little iPhone to try to take pictures of the menu.

Finally, most people are missing the point. The point is not whether you can or cannot take pictures of the menu or the dishes. The point is no matter what happens, you do not angrily snatch away a menu from a paying guest. That sort of rude behavior has absolutely no place in the service industry.

Anonymous said...

I visited the restaurant's website and read the bio of the chef - pretentious would be an understatement! The whole website irritates me. Too slick, we need more restaurants with honest cooking. Peech, the table with the PR lady trying to impress the concierge service must be stunned? Sophia

Cathy said...

While I'm not in Hong Kong and know nothing about this restaurant, the fact that it is still in it's soft-opening period after all this time reminds me of a similar situation in NY. That would be the disastrous, seemingly unending previews of Spiderman on Broadway. Hopefully no one is injured at the restaurant, as they were on Broadway, although it sounds like that Jessica woman might have wanted to do you some harm, Peech! The gall of some people, especially those in the service industry never ceases to amaze me.

kian said...

What they did (snatching the menu out of your hands) was completely out of order. I am surprised you did not demand for the service charge to be removed (which is discretionary). I would have loved to read your blog post on you opening a whole can of whup-ass.

While I am not sure what the laws are in Hong Kong, at least in the UK:
1) the laws are pretty clear that if a restaurant does not want you to take any pictures they can actually tell you to do so.
2) they cannot however snatch your camera/ phone from you and delete the pictures or make you do it

Whilst most restaurants don't mind you taking pictures because it gives them good publicity, some may be afraid that their ideas/menus are copied. Sadly it is their right too.

Unfortunatley this also occurs in michelin starred restaurants. I have had the misfortune of this happening to me as well at Hakkasan. Also a place infamous for inforcing a no-photos policy is Masa (3*) and Momofuko ku.

As much as we paying customers think it is 'our right' to do so, in most cases the restaurant holds all the power. The way I have been explained by a person well versed in this law is that when you are entering a restaurant you like you are entering someone's house. They can set whatever rules they want (within reason) and you can choose to abide by them or choose not to dine there. So in your case, you were within right to leave.

Thermomixer said...

Think it was impolite of you to take photos without asking.

I have plenty of menus from restaurants going back over 20 years and most signed by the chefs. I have six from dinners at Paul Bocuse restaurants signed by the great man. The last time I visited Lyon I forgot my camera, but M Bocuse sent his staff off to get their camera, took a photo of us with him & then had a 30x20cm photo printed and signed & 2 personalised menus produced with our photo inside the menu.

Many chefs I know take photos in restaurants. I have taken photos in restaurants for over 20 years & so far never had a problem, but I always ask first.

Good luck with future forays, Ask & you will receive.

Honch said...

Marcus Lee
Marcus is the entrepreneur behind The Luxe Manor and Hotel Soul. He is the founder and CEO of GR8 Global Ventures, president of GR8 Leisure Concept and chairman of RCL Semiconductors. His business interests include hotels, properties and hi-tech manufacturing.
(From the Tatler)

GR8 is the owner of g.e. and other hospitality outlets in Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

Dear Peter,

Your comments are much valued and important for us to keep improving.

We are now investigating the incident and we shall get back to you very soon in order to recover the service.

Thank you for sharing your dissatisfaction. From this, we can only get better - and we will.

Sincerely,
g.e

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