Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hendon Hall Hotel - The Fringe Restaurant

With two friends, I spent a frustrating evening at Hendon Hall Hotel trying to find something of the 'delicious dining in elegant surroundings' promised by the website. When we arrived at the hotel, we were unable to detect any sign directing us to the restaurant, and so we went through the little door behind the odd Corinthian columns of the front portico and found ourselves in a respectable corridor near the loos. Strange to have the back door at the front, I thought. Pressing on, we found a young lady at a desk who, upon our enquiry, informed us that the restaurant was 'on the left'. We tried the left. Then we tried the right - and, there it was, on the left hand side after the right turn. There was one lady, possibly a customer, at a table. There were no members of staff to be seen, despite the fact that the restaurant was open, that we had booked, and that we had arrived on time. We wandered up and down this Marie Celeste of a restaurant for a while until a young man with a large belt buckle showing the words 'GET BEER' wandered in and apologized for keeping us waiting. We were seated and presented with a menu much shorter, cheaper and less imaginative than the one which we had eagerly studied on the website. Now there four options (not six) for the starters, idem for the main course (four, not six - one veggie, one fish, two meat), a choice of three puddings or cheese at £25.00 all in. It was smaller, cheaper, duller. At pudding stage, one of us ordered the chocolate tart, which turned out not to be available. We were the second table to arrive in the restaurant. It was the beginning of service. There were only three desserts advertised. How many portions of chocolate tart had the lady sitting on her own eaten before our arrival? Or is this just an appallingly run restaurant? The wine was mediocre - Champagne OK but pricey, Albarino poor, and the glass of Chianti ordered with my cheese tasted revolting (nothing like any Chianti that I have tasted before, thank God) and had clearly been poured out of a bottle opened a couple of days before. The replacement glass from a fresh bottle of Chianti was less stale but equally unpleasant. Coffee and brandy in the garden went reasonably until we were told that the phone line was down and the restaurant could not take credit card payments. We had spent £189 pounds for one of the most dispiriting evenings that I can remember.

To resume: the restaurant is hard to find, the lady in the lobby doesn't care and there is no-one to welcome customers to the restaurant when you eventually find the place. The carte is not at all what is advertised on the internet, and the service is friendly but limited in ambition. The food was adequate, with touches of real competence, and I pity the chef struggling to make his restaurant work in spite of a management that has so totally lost the plot that one wonders how long they can possible stay open. I remember how Hendon Hall was twenty years ago: the contrast is depressing.

There are restaurants and hotels in England which seem to take their customers for granted at best, and for fools at worst. This is one of them. If you feel like trying Hendon Hall after all that I have written so far - don't bother to book. There won't be anyone else there.

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