Tuesday, 4 June 2019

A London Mystery

Following the recent demise of Jamie Oliver's restaurant chain (of which I never heard a good word), Mr Appleyard remarked that it might have had something to do with the fact that, in his experience, the staff seldom got round to taking your order, however long you sat. I think he's put his finger on an interesting phenomenon of our times – the reluctance of serving staff in our trendier establishments to make themselves known and offer to bring you something in the way of food and drink in return for money.
  I experienced this in extreme form recently, when my cousin and I, weary after a long London walk, in desperation dropped in on achingly trendy cafe/eaterie/bar near St Pancras. We knew it was a mistake as soon as the wall of sound met us – loud and unpleasant music plus a hubbub of voices worsened by atrocious acoustics. Various young hipster types were milling about, chatting with each other, sauntering to and fro to no obvious effect, sitting down and standing up, wandering out and back in again. No uniforms, needless to say, so no way of telling if they were on the staff or just acquaintances passing the time of day. Similarly, of course, there was no indication of whether table service was on offer (it seemed unlikely) or it was a case of ordering at the bar, when there happened to be someone there. At least there was a menu, and on it a range of teas were listed – including, I was glad to see, Keemun, which I rather fancied. After much mystified waiting and speculation, I spotted a young man who, from his position behind the bar, I felt fairly sure must be a member of staff. He was indeed – though, when I approached to make my order, he reacted as if this had never happened to him before and he was none too pleased at the impertinence. Bellowing over the background noise, I managed to get him to understand that I was after a pot of Keemun tea. 'No,' he declared firmly, 'we don't have it.' I was too far gone by now to protest and draw his attention to the menu. We settled on another tea, which was eventually brought to us by a young woman who was presumably a waitress. We did not linger long over it.
  Experiences like this make London seem ever more mysterious to me. Not that long ago, it was a city I felt perfectly at home in. Now, if I stray from familiar haunts, I find myself increasingly unable to make head or tail of the place. Maybe it's just age – we must remember that oldsters like me and Bryan are invisible to the hipster eye.


  1. In Washington, DC, one usually finds prompt, polite wait staff and accurate bills of fare. I wish I could say that one does not find atrocious acoustics. We had dinner last night at a good restaurant, where we were slightly out of the way of loudest noise, and I still felt disinclined to talk. It is true that the area where we seated looked to have an average age at least twenty years older than that in the main room.

  2. Yes, acoustics are a serious problem. I look back fondly to the days of sound-absorbing flock wallpaper, plush upholstery and carpets – and no music. In the UK, Indian restaurants were the last bastions of this style – but no more, alas.