20 February 2013
You’d be forgiven for thinking this place is an underdog: the forgotten offspring that stayed home and worked the farm, while the fancier, better looking sibling slinked off across the courtyard and made it big in the city. But based on last week’s monumentally bad experience, the aptly-named Bleeding Heart Tavern deserves no pity while its neighbouring affiliate big kid, the Bleeding Heart ‘proper’, basks in fine-dining glory. This was the final nail in the coffin of dining out on Valentine’s day.
The set menu seemed like a romantic departure from our usual haunts. Nothing frightening or overly formal, and not extortionate at £40 given the occasion. Certainly when we visited years ago for dinner a deux, it was an outrageous splurge beyond our budgets yet we were completely enamored with the place. The halls rang with laughter and what sounded like Audrey Tautou’s Amelie sharing a quick ‘sante’ with the lovely Marion Cotillard. (Forgive the shameless embellishment, but my unbridled rage demands I at least attempt to paint a seductive picture of yesteryear). I remember parting with the feeling of being celebrated and adored as a patron, lodging it firmly in my bank of fave foodie times.
I hate to play the grump, but I am genuinely baffled as to how things went so wrong on such a tentative night for so many. We assumed the worst – that some mischievous tinker had buggered off on a date rather than reporting for duty – but were assured this wasn’t case. Did someone forget their mise then, and impose an untimely kitchen shutdown while they prepped an evening’s worth of shallots too late?
I’m inclined to think that chefs weren’t to blame for our lovelorn experience. We were seated for a full 90 minutes before our trio of requests/pleas successfully lured a pad and pen to our table. Curiously enough, the head waiter (dapper, apparently hardworking and whizzing about at speed) and his team (a couple of whom were regrettably apathetic and ineffective) were adept at stinging us for champagne as we waited. And waited. After drinking yet another flute dry, we settled on a carafe of wine on the strict condition that we were in no way paying for it.
The majority of lusty looks were reserved for the waiters as the whole room willed them to serve. We swooned over notions of urban foodstuffs we could forage if midnight fell and we remained unfed. An atmosphere that was formerly electric and rich with the sound of good times grew more haunted and melancholic as the evening went on; the longing soon turned to a sense of raw disappointment. Gee, happy Valentine’s all.
We’d have walked after an hour were our credit card details not being held hostage. Our first scrap of food materialised almost two hours in, by which point we were bloated by two baskets of bread and reckless quantities of free booze that we’d ceased to enjoy. (Hell, we lucked out – we only had to ask twice for bread and water whereas the next table got nothing of the sort, and they later gave up on pud entirely).
The starters were good, though I’ve no idea why beignets and pre-cooked beets should command such a wait. The mains displayed solid continental cooking, but weird portions. (Do three, minute gnocchi dumplings even count when billed as a main ingredient?) By dessert, we’d given up, and so had the chef. The pear tarte was slopped on the plate without grace or care, and had the unnerving texture of plasticine. When the time came to leave (long after we’d missed our last train home), I slumped rather than skipped into my lover’s arms.
So less ‘Bleeding Heart’, more ‘still-warm corpse of a wonderful bistro gone bad’. I didn’t see any diners leave without complaining that night, bar the one blessed couple that was inexplicably served three courses within the hour. Alpha links in the evolutionary food chain, perhaps, or just mates with the manager?
Eating out is my reason to be and I’m lucky enough to do it quite often, but I’m upset that this restaurant knackered not only my evening but no end of other nights too, simply by being a crap date.
Tempting though it is play out naff, festive metaphors before the inevitable dumping – that it’s not me, it’s you; Bleeding Heart Tavern, etc- I’d rather rise above it and hammer home my lasting impressions. They aren’t good, and what’s more, the recent experience has eroded the golden memories of the good times we once had.