Yesterday I went out with some friends of mine to see a show followed by some drinks and dinner.
We had a great time. Handbagged was witty, topical and a lot of fun and with a few drinks under our belts (there may have been three grapefruit Cosmopolitans involved...for me), we expected that dinner at American-eatery-in-Soho, Jackson and Rye, would contribute some worthy state-side vittels to finish off our evening.
And the verdict? My inaugural grits (a kind of polenta porridge) were weird, pleasant-ish but not right with shrimps, my sea bass with apple and fennel slaw was light and lovely and the pecan pie was mmm...mmm scrumptious!
But I digress. You see, Jackson and Rye don't take reservations which is a pet peeve of mine. And I am coming across this situation in London with greater and greater frequency.
A catch-up dinner with a friend at no-bookings Italian 'tapas' joint Polpo last year was planned around being there just before 7pm to ensure we got a table rather than when we were actually hungry or what was convenient for us. And looking for somewhere to eat after the theatre with Lil Chicky last October was fraught with queue after queue.
(We eventually found a table at Tuttons right on Covent Garden which was lovely...and for future reference, book-able.)
I remember when Jamie Oliver opened his sans booking restaurant chain Jamie's Italian in 2008 and we thought we'd head down to the one in Kingston to give it a try. We queued outside - no room inside for waiting - for a barely acceptable 15 minutes. I've been to Jamie's Italian once since when we were lucky to have only a five minute wait.
To say I was put off is putting it mildly. I accept that if I haven't booked then I have to take what I can get but this we-don't-take-bookings nonsense is all getting a bit much for me. I don't want to have to trawl Soho post-show because of this growing 'no booking' policy. What ever happened to looking after the customer? Couldn't they at least allow some tables to be booked, leaving some free for these apparently all-important walk-ins?
Polpo's website offers an explanation of sorts, saying that their casual Venetian 'bacaros' are designed to encourage the locals to pop in for a bite to eat and to build a sense of community amongst their regulars. There are 3 Polpos and 1 Polpetto in Central London, none of which take bookings. Who are these 'locals' I wonder?
In any case it would appear these places are doing rather well and that the standing in line has become a badge of honour - after all, if you've queued (or waited in the bar) for at least an hour, the food had better be rave-worthy, or at least good enough for you to tell everyone about. I don't know about you but after an hour, my palate becomes a little less discerning, swamped by a-drink-(or two)-while-I-waited or the sounds of my stomach growling with hunger...or both.
Luckily last night's drinks were at one of our favourite drinking holes, the Freedom Bar, just two doors down from Jackson and Rye so The Umpire kindly did a recce before we gave up our pre-dinner perch. And the meal was delicious.
But if I'm really honest, I have my reservations as to how long I really would have waited for it.