When we arranged to meet up with family friends for dinner, the Beefeater seemed a sensible choice – a good way to accommodate 11 people from three generations. Little did we know, however, that we were going to be eating in the restaurant on the last night before it closed for refurbishment. You couldn’t make up the evening that followed – every word that I am about to tell you is 100% true!
A table had been booked for 11, so when we were shown to a table with 14 table settings we were quick to make sure that they had shown us to the right table (the last thing you want is to be asked to move in the middle of eating!). They confirmed it was indeed the correct booking – pretty believable as the restaurant wasn’t busy – and the chirpy waitress proceeded to take our drinks orders. Before she went to get the drinks though, she asked for our attention so she could tell us the dishes that were not available. She proceeded to list 2 starters and 4 main courses (including two fish options) that were unavailable, explaining for the first time that they were closing for renovation. With our choices narrowed, we set about choosing before she arrived back to take our order.
Working her way down one side of the table, the waitress took an order including a number of steaks, a salad and a lamb (for me). Two minutes later, when the next order for lamb was requested, I heard the fateful words “We only have one lamb left.”. Given that the other person choosing lamb was the youngest member of the group I quickly switched to a sirloin steak without really taking the time to take in much of the menu. The rest of the orders were taken and we settled in for a relatively long wait for our starters to arrive.
A few of us had chosen the Sticky Duck Wings as our starter, receiving four duck wings coated in an Asian-style glaze. While they certainly lived up to the description of sticky, I wouldn’t have said that there was a strong duck flavour, and they could have been a little hotter for me. Next to me, dad had ordered the Crispy Flat Cap Mushrooms, billed as being slices of deep fried breaded mushroom. What arrived certainly wasn’t slices of mushroom, but instead the typical balls of fried garlic mushroom that I have come to expect in places such as Beefeater. Dad commented on the lack of presentation, but frankly presentation was the least of my issues on this particular night!
Starters cleared, we waited for the main courses which came out in dribs and drabs. Only a few of us had our meals, although we felt compelled to eat given that the wait was far longer than it should have been. Particularly disgraceful was the time it took for a bowl of tomato soup to appear. One of the members of the group was having this as her main course, and despite the ease with which it could be prepared (let’s be honest – it could have been heated in two minutes) it was the last thing to arrive by some way. In fact, I would wager that it had been completely forgotten about, because when reminded about it on one trip to the table the waitress claimed they were “making sure it’s hot enough”. It was still a good five minutes before the soup arrived, with half of us a good way through our meals already.
The food itself can’t be raved about either, I’m afraid. Many of us had gone for steak (most of the other dishes were unavailable after all) and there were some definite issues with these dishes alone. Dad and I had both ordered medium-rare and the steaks were still a pale shade of pink in the middle. However, across the table, Chris’s rare steak looked like it had been cooked more than our two, making me wonder if they had all been slapped on for a similar amount of time regardless of the order preference. Next to me, Lesley’s Surf and Turf was a bit of a joke. At £18.49 for a sirloin steak topped with king prawns, I’d be expecting large, plump, juicy prawns to top the steak. What she actually received may have looked good at first, but by the time she removed the shell from the prawns she was left with something which definitely wasn’t worth the money.
My steak itself was a bit gristle-y and both it and the skinny fries could have been hotter. The fries were also pretty poor – a little chewy and lukewarm, it’s a shame that they couldn’t get something as simple as fries right. Along the table, mum felt there was something missing from her Chicken Caesar Salad – very possible given the amount of things off the menu that night!
When it came to desserts the waitress decided it was easier to tell us what they did have, rather than what they didn’t, with only three of the eleven menu options available, with the added option of plain ice cream. Other than mum, everybody was going for a dessert meaning that there was going to be a lot of repetition (well, four desserts between ten – you do the math). Before we could even order though, the waitress returned to tell us that although the Raspberry Cheesecake was available, there were no raspberries to go on top of it. This meant that people could have either plain vanilla cheesecake, or have raspberry sauce (usually meant for the ice cream) on top, a choice that a couple of people went for. By far the most popular choice, however, was the Chocolate Melt in the Middle Pudding which six of us ordered. Moments later, our long-suffering waitress returned to break the news that she only had three Melt in the Middle Puddings available. I couldn’t quite believe what we were being told, with three of us being forced to change our order. I said that I would have the Warm Chocolate Brownie instead, and was served a plate with two dense squares of brownie on it. We figured that, given it was their last night of operation, they were now actually trying to use up what they had by giving each of us a double serving of brownie.
One of my brownies was very hot when I bit into it (it had probably spent too long in the microwave) and was definitely overcooked, with even it’s colour betraying it as nearly burnt. I moved to my other brownie which was marginally better with a nice chew, although it certainly didn’t benefit from the cheap, synthetic tasting chocolate sauce drizzled over the top. Again I have to mention that two orders took an unacceptably long time to appear, especially given that one of them was plain ice cream!
All in all, this was a pretty dismal experience and I do have some issues with the way it was handled. I find it problematic, for example, that when phoning to book a table Lesley wasn’t informed that a restricted menu would be in use. For smaller parties this might have been less of a problem, but for a party of eleven I would think it obvious that a wide range of options would be desired.
There was also very little apology to accompany the continuing disappointment. While our waitress tried hard to keep the mood upbeat, there should definitely have been some compensation for the problems which we faced. While I understand that it was not up to her as our waitress to provide anything complimentary, the management should have made it their job to ensure customers were still having the best possible experience.
Hopefully when the Black Bear re-opens it will be fully stocked and raring to go – I quite believe this will be the case. However, our disappointing experience could make us all think twice before heading there again.