Day & time of dining: Saturday, 7pm
Number of party: 3
Cuisine of restaurant: ‘Classic dishes produced with a contemporary twist’
So many restaurant reviews focus too much on the food. A critique of the service is often limited to a couple of lines, maybe a short paragraph at most. Good service is becoming a rare species in Britain. My colleagues and I have found that trying to get British hoteliers, restaurateurs and store managers to realise that customer service is crucial is like trying to sell sand to the Arabs. Complacency has developed within the service industry, and in turn I feel that the clientele have lowered their expectations and almost given in to trying to fight for a good ‘customer experience’.
I recently dined for the second time at ‘Room’, which purports to be one of Manchester’s leading restaurants. Room is located in Spring Gardens, one of several restaurants within literal spitting distance of each other. With such close competition, one would think that the restaurants would have to try even harder to get things right. In Room’s case, this is sadly not the case.
The building is lovely, as indeed most of the buildings in the centre of Manchester are. A former gentleman’s club, the actual restaurant is just one big, high-ceilinged room. The ceiling is carved wood with very intricate features in points; two massive lampshades and bulbs hang down and gently light the restaurant. Although I am still not sure about the quasi-William Morris wallpaper, the décor is quite nice, with the exception of the stairs leading up to the restaurant, which has plastic treads reminiscent of a school staircase.
Upon arrival the hostess and a man wearing one of those now trendy (I think?) flat-caps greeted us. The obvious ‘gentleman don’t wear hats indoors’ rule aside, the welcome was welcoming although nothing special. The man asked us whether the three of us would like to share a coat hanger; being British and not wanting to create a fuss, we said yes. Our coats were all very smart coats – one of which was quite expensive and having other coats sit on top of it is not a good idea. But what stunned me was his lackluster approach to putting the coats on the hanger. He hadn’t even bothered to get the shoulders over the hanger and I had to re-place them, as he was about to hang two other coats over the top, which would have creased the bottom coat.
Upon entering the restaurant proper, I was struck by a funny smell, which I had noticed the first time I ate at Room a few weeks ago. The smell mercifully dissipated as we walked over to the far side of the restaurant.
Our waiter – who should have been clean-shaven or at least had a tidy beard (a bug-bear of mine) – persisted in calling us ‘guys’ throughout the meal, which normally I’d be fine with (so many restaurants do it, sadly) but due to the other misdemeanors I was on ultra-critical form.
We had to wait 25 minutes before our drinks came to the table. An apology was offered (last bottle of wine in the cellar) although 25 minutes to search for a bottle of wine without alerting us to why we were waiting… ? Our first courses arrived before any drinks had been brought to us. Extraordinary.
I had the pate & brioche toast (£6.50), which to be fair was delicious. I had this dish the first time I came to Room and experienced deja vu when there was more pate than toast (this is not a fault exclusive to Room – so may restaurants world-over don’t serve enough bread/melba toast meaning there is a large portion of pate that goes uneaten).
The main courses came, and again – delicious. The food is clearly not Room’s problem, although one diner did say that the chips from the ‘Posh Fish & Chips’ were a bit too hard. I had the Beef Wellington (£17.50, plus sides), which like all of Room’s food is ‘deconstructed’ and does not look (or taste) anything like the dishes from which they take their name. As I said, I am not reviewing the food as I am not a chef or foodie and as such I will not attempt a detailed critique. But maybe the chef could rename the dishes, as using well-known names gives diners a pre-conceived idea as to what is coming – only to have equally as delicious but very different food arriving.
Some of the dishes came on slates, which I must say does make it look quirky and quite smart, but they are totally impractical from a service point of view. Like with hospitals nowadays not being run by doctors & nurses, Room’s table settings were clearly bought by someone who has not been a waiter (or ‘table host’ as they are called in Room). Both waiters who cleared our table struggled to pick the slates up, as unlike a conventional plate, there is nowhere to pick up – instead the slates go flush against the table and the method the waiters used was both inelegant and indescribable.
The bill came, although was presented not in any book or with any covering, which was bizarre. A minor transgression but at this point I was noticing everything (including the diners on the next table who were getting a bit too merry and boisterous for my liking).
Upon leaving we once again met the hat-clad man who handed back our coats in one ham-fisted go. Rather than helping the lady of our party on with her coat, he just stood there watching, leaving me to aid (not that I mind in the slightest but at a restaurant at these prices, that is the level of service you should be getting).
The first time I came to Room I left with a weird feeling not knowing what I thought of the place but decided to give it a second go. My second go has now passed and I left feeling mightily unimpressed. Yes, the food is good but the service leaves a lot to be desired. For the prices you pay (which are normal for a London restaurant but higher-end for Manchester) you expect good service. I do wonder whether this is all just noted by me and me alone, but having trained (now) first-class service staff world-over, I am probably more susceptible to noticing the hiccoughs. All the problems (and there were more I have left out of this review!) are easily fixed and like so many other restaurants, Room needs to take the time to train their staff and iron out a few of their rather severe creases.