Well, we were looking for a memorable experience during the Edinburgh Festival and boy did we get one, starting with the surly welcome (how inappropriate the word sounds) from a smile-free waiter who showed us to our table with all the warmth and grace of a lion inviting two gazelles to join him for a meal.
Our first request for a kir and a Martini Bianco were received as if we had ordered an arsenic with a side order of belladonna (needless to say, the Martini that was brought turned out to be Extra Dry, but let that pass).
We were next told that three items were off the menu “because it is the weekend you see” – excuse me? One of the items was the only fish dish available, so hey ho.
After we had ordered three haggis starters, we were told there would be a wait of 12-15 minutes. No problem, we agreed, although I myself have often stuck a haggis in a microwave for 30 seconds with remarkable results.
75 minutes later, we had received nothing but some bread. And what bread! The sundried tomato bread had obviously had perhaps the vapour of said 80s comestible sprayed on it from a distance of two kilometres. The white and brown varieties offered would have disgraced Greggs.
When finally the haggis arrived (“sorry, there was a problem in the kitchen but I wasn’t supposed to tell you”) it was adequate, but you’ll find better at the Café Royal. And so to the mains, and the lowlight of the evening. A dish of scallops contained four shellfish so minute that any one of them would have lost in a contest with a Silk Cut filter tip. Two of us shared the beef Wellington at £78 (yes, that is not a misprint), and I swear that foie gras had never seen the inside of that pastry. But the French beans! That is another story. They were approximately 20 seconds shy of being raw, and had been flashed in a pint of clarified butter. When I told the maitre d’ that they were inedible, he aggressively demanded why I did not like vegetables al dente… clearly at the Witchery, it is not the customer who is always right. A replacement dish of beans was brought within a nanosecond, and these almost ripped my teeth out. A second complaint almost drove him into a fury, and we were ignored for the rest of the evening. Incidentally, we had also ordered a dish of peas (origin Bird’s Eye?) which arrived floating in a sea of some milky substance – more of these later.
A tasting dish of desserts is so unmemorable as to have faded into a dark hole, but I have yet to describe the fiasco of the wine… As hoteliers from Montpellier, we began by consulting the wine list – in itself a few pages longer than the King James Bible. Therein, Languedoc-Roussillon was there none. Therefore Simon-Peter, for it was he, looked in wonder at the French Regional page, but knowledge came there none. At this point, we called over a waiter, who was mystified by our requests, but promised to send over someone more informed. A second waiter appeared and suggested what we might be looking for was “something dry”. By now, I was beginning to wonder how this establishment had retained – nay even gained – any reputation whatsoever. Finally a “sommelier” was called from the depths, who bore a very close resemblance to an Australian gap-year backpacker, who decided what we needed was a Shiraz. “But I haven’t tasted much of the stuff on this list” were his final uninformed words on the matter. The tasting glass was duly poured … straight into the used kir glass! When a second bottle was ordered, we were not offered (but demanded) that the glasses be changed.
When the bill was presented, the maitre d’ very generously told me he had knocked off the price of the peas because of the beans saga. In other words, he now presented me with a bill for £291, excluding service. What can I say – as cabarets at the Festival go, this one was the most expensive ticket in town, but if it was meant to be comedy, I only laughed bitter tears.