On Saturday it was my niece Becky's birthday. I, another niece and Becky decided to have lunch at a little restaurant near the pavilion in Brighton. It had been recommended by a friend of Becky's and from the outside it looked inviting. Inside the décor was interesting, huge blown up photos of Paris and Venice and London adorned the walls and large artificial fig trees grew out of the tables and were sprinkled with fairy lights, all very attractive. On a bench by the entrance sat a full size puppet of an elderly lady which was amusing and quirky.
We found a table and a waitress, (we'll call her Dizzy) who could hardly speak English, attempted to take our order. We asked her what the ‘specials’ that day were and I have no idea what she answered. So we ordered coffees while Becky went to look at the 'specials' board. This was hardly any clearer to understand and so we beckoned over the young waiter (we'll call him Smiler) who, although he spoke perfect English, informed us it was only his second day in the job. Dizzy brought the coffees. We had previously asked her to wait for Becky's order while she was looking at the 'specials' board and she said she would come back - but she never did.
So, we beckoned over Smiler again and ordered a Cappuccino for Becky. He had by then found out what the 'Specials' were and we put in our order. Fish and Chips, Moulles and Chips and for my other niece who is on a strange diet white bait and soup of the day (we asked for these to come all together) As it was Becky’s birthday we gave out her presents and cards and were laughing and clowning around in a jolly birthday kind of way when we noticed (or sensed perhaps) a strange presence, who although he was dressed as a waiter didn't seem to be doing much waiting, unless you count waiting around and occasionally wiping dishes with a white cloth. He had a strange hunched stance and kept nodding his head in a peculiar way at customers and grinning in a ghoulish fashion. (We’ll call him Igor)
We had by then been there about half an hour and were beginning to feel hungry. In the far corner of the room was a service bar where 2 young men (who looked about 12) were plating up food onto which they seemed to be sprinkling copious amounts of salad dressing. We kept looking over expectantly hoping to see our order appear. After 3/4 hour we asked Smiler if our food would be long having noticed numerous orders of Paninis and such like being served to people who had arrived a long time after us. He said he would enquire. Five minutes later he came back and informed us that there were problems in the kitchen because the Chef had walked out that morning but we would be served as soon as possible.
We waited a further fifteen minutes and I called over Smiler again, he squatted down beside us at the table and apologised profusely about the delay. I said to Becky shall we have some wine. She agreed and Smiler returned with two very large glasses of white wine which he said were on the house because of the wait. We drank the wine which was very good and waited. All this time Igor continued nodding and grinning and wiping and unnerving the customers.
Just then a sinister looking man entered the restaurant; he was very tall and very fat and wearing a floor length leather jacket. He walked up to the service bar and spoke to the two twelve year-olds (who were still sprinkling) He then went round the back of the bar and returned out front 5 minutes later sporting a chef's hat.
Oh well, we thought, he might look strange but at last a chef had arrived, maybe we would soon be served. After a further 20 minutes I saw some Moulles and a plate of something golden brown appear on the service bar, hooray I thought, our food at last! But alas no, the food was taken and served by Igor to the table just in front of ours, they had only been waiting about half an hour, the food into which they, with no conscience whatsoever, proceeded to tuck in.
We were all feeling slightly hysterical by now not to mention drunk from wine on an empty stomach. I called over Smiler again and he squatted down next to the table again and apologised again and told us that they had just served our food to the wrong table (which we had already guessed) and what was more the soup that was on when we arrived was now off!!
It was just about then that I felt as though we had wandered into an Alan Bennet play or that we were part of Victoria Wood's 'Two Soups' sketch.
We were now giggling hysterically when Smiler returned and I shared my thoughts with him, he smiled and told us covertly that the man with the Leather Jacket had just walked in off the street with his CV and they had asked him to start immediately. Due to shock we giggled even louder (if somewhat hollowly). I asked Smiler if he was going to come back the next day. He smiled and said probably not.
Poor lad kept smiling attentively and apologising and I suggested that perhaps we ought to just leave. He said he quite understood if we did but he would really like it if we stayed. Because we had waited so long it was hardly worth going somewhere else and there was also a kind of morbid fascination with the whole situation.
The table in front of us (who had eaten our order) were now complaining about the food, this rankled with me and I thought “you've eaten our bloody food so shut up bloody complaining!”
In desperation I called over Igor, who stopped wiping for a moment and nodded in response, he then sloped over and hovered near me, his uneven teeth exposed in a ghastly grin. I ordered more wine. Informing him, nervously, that it was on the house!
The wine arrived and to our amazement so did Kim’s Whitebait, great we thought our’s would follow shortly but alas no. We watched Kim with drooling mouths, eat her Whitebait, and by then Becky and I were laughing almost insanely.
Kim had had to change her order to chips instead of the soup (which was on but was now off) to arrive at the same time as the whitebait, needless to say they didn’t arrive. Another table, who had also obviously ordered something more complicated than Panini’s, were looking pretty fed up too. Igor continued to nod his bald head and grin and wipe, Dizzy continued to talk incomprehensibly to customers and wander about in a daze and Smiler continued to smile apologetically, but still didn’t bring our order.
The irony was that Becky had asked to meet us early as she was going out that night and her friends were all coming round before hand for drinks and nibbles and she didn't want to spoil her appetite for the lovely nibbles by having lunch too late!
Up until then we had been, if somewhat hysterical, in pretty good spirits, our interchanges with Smiler had been good humoured because we prided ourselves ,as a family, to always see the funny side of things (or maybe because we were drunk). But then, finally our food arrived.
It was horrible, the chips were tasteless and greasy, the fish overdone and the sauce for the moulles had no flavour whatsoever. We ate in silence having finally run out of laughter. We had walked in there at 1pm and the time was now 3.45pm. We ate quickly because we were starving, asked for the bill, paid half of it, left very honest and brutal comments on the feedback card, gave Smiler a big tip and advised him to find another job and left the restaurant. It was 4pm.
I only wish that I had stuck a notice on the old lady puppet saying “I WAS A YOUNG WOMAN WHEN I ARRIVED AND I AM STILL WAITING TO BE SERVED!
Later that evening Becky texted me to say she kept giggling throughout the day about Igor and co and hadn't laughed so much in ages. She had had a great birthday!
I went past the restaurant the next day and there was a blackboard outside saying “New Chef!!” I looked in the window and Smiler was still there. Still smiling.