April 21, 2017

One star food, WTF service

Pin It

WARNING: this is a long rant piece about why the service pissed me off so much that I won't return to a restaurant with good food.  If you have no interest in my rant, skip ahead to where the pictures start showing up and I actually talk about the food.  For the few of you who already have your bowls of popcorn or bags of peanuts ready... read on!


It's been a while since we caught up with Winnie the Chew, and I was pretty happy we could figure out a date that worked for everyone.  To my great surprise (NOT!) she requested that I take her to Neighborhood... but as I was already scheduled to dine there 3 nights ago, I turned down the request and looked for an alternative.  When Hello Kitty suggested that we try out Tate Dining Room and Bar at their new location, I thought it was a great idea.  Vicky Lau has been getting some love in the press lately about her move to the brand-spanking-new digs, most notably from Hong Kong Tatler.  Both of my meals at the previous location were reasonably enjoyable, and after reading such a flattering piece in Tatler, along with Da Jam's restaurant review, there was no reason not to check out Vicky's new "All the Odes" menu...

It had been raining heavily only hours before dinner, so I carried my umbrella to the restaurant.  I was surprised that there wasn't a place for me to park the umbrella, so I took it to our table and hung it from the side.  No one bothered to take notice, and it wasn't until I nudged it and the umbrella hit the floor with a loud "whack!" that someone came over and checked it for me.  Small matter, but many establishments would have taken care of it upon arrival.

We brought our own wines as usual, and I carried both a Champagne as well as a red Burg.  I asked the Bespectacled Waiter - whom I recognized from my previous visit a year ago - to chill the bubbly.  While I made clear to him that we would also open the red Burg, I told him I needed to think a little when he asked me whether I also wanted the second bottle opened at the same time.  He politely walked off, but left the bottle of red Burg sitting in the middle of the table.  This bottle would remain in the middle of our table for the next hour or so - without anyone coming to ask if they could help put it somewhere out of our way.  Nobody on staff thought it was strange to have an unopened bottle of wine sitting in the middle of the table during dinner - for a whole hour.  I finally asked the Bespectacled Waiter to chill it before having it opened.  Strike one.

Alas, that doesn't surprise me.  I remember the Bespectacled Waiter precisely because of the way I watched him serve wine to another table on my last visit... and was thankful that I didn't BYO that time.  And also because I just found difficulty in terms of communications with him.  Not that we don't speak the same language, but maybe we are just on totally different wavelengths...

For some reason, one of our waiter took away the Champagne glasses from two of us while was still plenty of bubbly left in the bottle.  When it was discovered that we hadn't finished the bottle, new glasses were brought out for those who longer had them.  How did this happen?  Did someone decide on our behalf that we didn't need to finish our bottle, or someone made a decision that two of us shouldn't have any more Champagne?  Strike two.

I know I can be a pain in the ass when it comes to wine service, and I normally don't want my glass topped up with a fresh pour until I have completely finished the wine in my glass.  This is because I want to taste how the wine develops over time, and I don't want to mix the old and new pours.  So I don't mind when I find my wine glass empty.

However, not everyone is like me, and Hello Kitty was feeling fairly thirsty tonight... so she asked a waitress to pour her some wine when her glass became empty.  Well... said waitress kinda just ignored her and walked away to do something else unrelated to our table, and her glass remained empty.  Hello Kitty was none too pleased about having to make a second request to get some wine in her glass.  Strike three.

Hello Kitty is a lefty, so she is used to moving the silverware from her right side - where waitstaff usually sets them down - to her left side.  Normally the smart waitstaff at restaurants would notice this after a couple of times, and begin to set the silverware down on her left.  When you are setting down silverware for the seventh course and you are still putting it down on the wrong side - YOU ARE CLEARLY FAILING AT YOUR JOB.  What made it even worse?  After Hello Kitty moved the silverware from her right to her left, one waitress came and MOVED THEM BACK TO HER RIGHT!  WHAT KIND OF BRAINDEAD PERSON DO YOU HAVE TO BE??  Strike four.

Good waitstaff needs to do more than just set down plates/silverware and recite the names of the dishes.  He or she should also be observant of the customers and - in rare cases where the staff is exceptionally good - anticipate the needs of the customers.  NO ONE was doing that here tonight.  Not even close.

While I am commonly referred to as the Arrogant Prick by my friends and well-known to be very, very picky when it comes to service (I once inadvertently caught a glance of Amber's warning note to their front-of-house staff about me...), Hello Kitty is generally very easy-going.  When you fail so badly that you bring out THE Hello Kitty - kinda like that time when Good Chucky made a rare appearance - then a good skewering is gonna come your way.  Hence this portion of this post.

Oh, one final thing.  I know not everyone is able to deliver the flawless pronunciation of every single term which originated in a foreign language - myself included - but I still think that restaurants need to train their staff to try and do better.  Waiters who tell their diners about the SE-VEESH on the plate will get the same reaction from me as shop assistants who welcome me to their VER-SAYS or CHANNEL store. I'll let a lot of this stuff slide when I'm at my local Spaghetti House paying 1/10th of the price because I don't have any expectations.  When you're charging USD 200 for a seat in your fine dining restaurant - part of which goes to pay for the fancy decor and the custom-designed fancy uniforms for your waitstaff - I expect you to do better.  A LOT better.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't enjoy skewering restaurants.  OK, maybe just a wee little bit, but it's far from my raison d'être.  Skewering is the inevitable result of an experience so poor that it elicits a reaction in response, and when I'm paying my own money to dine out, the last thing I would want is a poor meal - money down the drain and/or wasted calories consumed.

In case it isn't clear: I want Tate Dining Room and Bar - and Vicky Lau in particular - to do well.  Just last week I had written another rant piece about the hate that certain people have for the "Best Female Chef Awards" given out over the last few years, in which I defended the need for such awards.  Vicky is a previous recipient of that award, and I would love nothing more than seeing her succeed and inspire others.  I think we need to see more diversity in the hospitality industry - especially in the kitchen.  But at the same time,  it doesn't mean I'm gonna cut her and her restaurant any slack when they fall short of my expectations.

I've said many times before that poor service is one of the reasons why I don't return to restaurants - regardless of how good the food is.  And as a normally generous tipper, it takes a lot for me to put a big fat zero in the "tip" row on the credit card slip.  Which was what I put down tonight.


Vicky Lau's new "All the Odes" menu comes in eight parts, with an additional ode at the end of the meal.  The menu is presented in a book-shaped box, along with the wine list.  There is no longer a choice between a shorter and a longer menu - so a more economical option has been removed.  There is now only a choice between the "regular" menu and a vegetarian (and slightly cheaper) option.

INTRO. Sour dough with kombu butter - both "regular" and kombu (昆布) butter are served.  Naturally the kombu butter was much, much more delicious.

Hor d'oeuvre - oops, we did it again!  We didn't see any mention of beetroot on the menu, so we didn't tell the waitstaff when asked about any dietary restrictions or preferences.  And right off the bat, we've got cold beetroot soup with a yogurt foam on top.  As it turns out there were three of us who dislike beetroot... but thankfully there also seemed to be some tomato purée inside, which diluted the earthy flavors of the offending root.  The little bits of diced cucumber also helped.

I. Ode to Soya Sauce: tuna with steam fish soya sauce and scallion oil - with a dab of avocado cream. The rolls of tuna were pretty decent.  The bonito flake (鰹節) jelly together with the soy sauce was a little salty, but the whole thing still got some acidity for balance.

II. Ode to Scallop: scallop espuma, ceviche and dried - so we've got Hokkaido scallops and ark shell ceviche, caviar, and strands of crispy potato, diced green apple, and scallop espuma.  As I recall, my dinner last year also included a dish with scallop espuma and caviar.  A sheet of rice paper came on the side.

Horseradish snow was added on top.  Not sure I understand the rationale behind this... as the flavors of horseradish - who are much more pungent than wasabi (山葵) - kinda overwhelmed the natural flavors of the scallops...

Brioche with fermented tofu butter - the brioche was delicious, and the butter flavored with fermented tofu (腐乳) was very, very interesting.

III. Ode to Umami: miso grilled kinmedai with kinome purée and white asparagus - golden alfonsino (金目鯛) is one of my favorite fish to eat, and marinating it in white miso (味噌) is a nice touch.  Interesting for the chef to have included purée flavored with sansho leaves (木の芽)... which lent its distinctive fragrance.  The romanesco on the side was marinated in something a little fruity, which added a little sweetness as well as acidity.

IV. Ode to Hong Kong: Dai Lin abalone with tuna jus and vegetable ribbons - this was very impressive... Although fresh abalone from Dalian (大連) was used, the flavors here were so rich and intense that I thought the chef had used dried abalone.  Really, really good.  The now-ubiquitous abalone liver sauce on the side was tasty, too.  Lemongrass foam on top, and vegetable ribbons on the side along with some lily bulb.  Ties for my favorite dish of the evening.

V. Ode to a Chiu Chow Classic: foie gras royale with marinated goose - I'd read so much about this dish lately... a marriage between a classic French preparation with a classic Chiuchow dish.  Seemed like a natural fit, since many of us have had some incredible goose liver marinated in master stock (滷水) at Chiuchow restaurants in town.  The chef has also worked successfully with steamed foie gras before.  But what seemed like a perfect match on paper didn't quite work on our palates.  The sliced marinated goose was OK, as were the bits of crispy tofu skin, but all of us detected a bitter aftertaste.

Was it the quality of the foie itself, or did the master stock that we drizzled on top of the foie gras royale with the eyedropper react poorly to the foie?  Probably the latter, but the bitterness was certainly unpleasant.  The pile of Sichuan peppercorns outside our bowls also delivered fragrance that seemed to overpower the actual scent of the dish.

VI. Ode to Sakura Ebi: lobster tagliolini with crispy sakura ebi - this was really, really good.  Flavor-wise it was very similar to a dish I had on my first visit - down to the Château Chalon used along with the lobster broth.  The noodles were ever so slightly al dente, and of course the sauce had tons of umami here... and adding cherry tomatoes never hurt.  As for the crispy sakura shrimp (桜海老)?  Just heavenly.  I'd have no problem inhaling a couple more bowls of this.  Tied for my favorite dish of the evening - or maybe just wins by a nose.

VII. Ode to Meat: Kagoshima beef tenderloin with cauliflower purée and spring vegetables - yes, I know this is A4 wagyu (和牛) from Kagoshima (鹿児島県)... a premium ingredient... but I didn't see the point.  The beef was overcooked, and served a little tepid - perhaps a function of the fact that the slices were dainty and heat dissipates easily.  Served with tomato-flavored sauce on top, along with cauliflower cream, asparagus, fiddlehead fern, and leeks.  The little bits of spicy kimchi were interesting, though...

VIII. Ode to Sun: Alfonso mango gateau with sago pandan coconut ice cream - I was pretty disappointed in the Alfonso mango dessert I had last year not because it wasn't delicious, but because the mango played merely a supporting role.  That didn't happen this year.  We were advised to first suck up the contents of the glass, which was a mix of mango purée, sago, pomelo pulp, and pandan-flavored coconut ice cream.  This was a very intense and sweet take on 楊枝甘露, and I was pretty damn happy.  The flavors of the ring-shaped Alfonso mango gâteau wasn't as rich as I would have liked, but at least there was enough mango to make me happy.

END. Ode to Zen: mignardise - since we are treated to the same set of signature mignardises as my two previous visits, I'll simply copy and paste the paragraph from my last visit : "ah yes, the chef's signature mignardises collection... with passion fruit marshmallow, matcha opéra cake, dark chocolate with sesame ganache, and the "rocher" that looked like black volcanic rocks. All on a bed of charcoal sugar that we are encouraged to play with using the small rake provided..."

The three bottles of wine we ended up opening tonight were:

Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, dégorgée en Septembre 2008 - a little caramelized on the nose, lots of salty plum and minerals.  Delicious.

2007 Chapoutier Ermitage L'Ermite Rouge - very fragrant, nice cedar notes, with sweet fruit, smoky, a little vanilla.  Drinking really well.

2004 Domaine Leroy Nuits St. Georges - nose was really floral, really open and beautiful.  Really ripe, and almost overripe, with some toasty corn.

So... in conclusion: delicious food with some outstanding dishes.  Shit service that pisses me off.  Not going back.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map