For two years I’ve lived five minutes away from the Westbourne, reputedly one of London’s best gastropubs. I’ve felt guilty and faintly disloyal for never having eaten there, so when a friend proposed we have dinner, I told him to come meet me in my ‘hood. We’d go to the Westbourne! Just to be certain I made a reservation. I rang at midday, and spoke with a nice-sounding man who said that the restaurant was not fully booked for that evening. He took my booking for two people at 9 pm. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
The Westbourne looks as if someone had picked up an expensive home from Richmond and plopped it at the head of a busy street. There’s a huge plate-glass window and a front garden with tables where smokers congregate after dark. When friend R and I turned up for dinner, the pub was rammed with braying well-moneyed young drinkers. It was hard to find the hostess. Eventually I spotted her – a waifish young thing with a sour expression, who made eye contact with me and then slithered away. We chased her down – literally – and I smiled and said we had a reservation for two people at nine. You know, the usual. She regarded me with a repellent look, as if excrescence adhered to the bottom of her shoe had assumed form and started speaking to her, and said, “We don’t have any reservations tonight.”
At first I was baffled. I said, “No, I called earlier, I made a reservation. There must be some mistake. Can you check?” She repeated, firmly, “There’s nothing on our books, I’m sure of it.” I found myself recounting my earlier conversation in tedious detail. From her responses, it wasn’t clear to me whether (a) she was denying that the man I spoke to earlier existed; (b) she was asserting that the restaurant had a no-reservation policy; or (c) she was accusing me of having invented my reservation in a cheeky attempt to get a table. I had no idea the Westbourne was competing with the Fat Duck for hardest table to book in England.
My new best friend, apparently weary of being asked to do her job, then actually turned on her heel to walk away. I was feeling that familiar, unpleasant sense of humiliation you experience when someone calls you a liar. I know I must have turned red. The sensible thing to do, at this point (in fact, five minutes earlier, when she first was rude to me), would have been to leave. But a kind of bullish tenacity had set in. Nobody puts Susan in the corner! I reached out and caught her on her pointy little elbow. This of course was an invasion of her personal space, to which she reacted as if I had shoved her. I am certain that if she had been able she would have ground her heel into my foot or pulled my hair. She was totally the girlfight type.
Looking around the room, although there was a crush of people standing in the bar area, more than half of the tables were empty. (Not surprising, given the formidable obstacles to getting seated.) “Are all these tables booked?” I asked. In a dark corner, next to the bathrooms, there was a sunken mustard-yellow velveteen couch beside a low table. She said, “We can seat you over there.” I pointed at one of the vacant dining tables and said, “Can’t we sit there?” I think at that point she finally realized that we weren’t backing down, and with a thin sickly smile said, “Oh, you are only two people! I thought there were nine of you.” She plainly had thought nothing of the sort. First of all, I’d told her repeatedly over the past five minutes that the reservation was for two, at nine o’clock. Second, it was nine o’clock. Third, there were only two of us.
Having achieved my prize, I no longer wanted it. As soon as we sat down I became flooded with outrage. “I don’t want to eat here. We shouldn’t support this establishment. Let’s go,” I said. Friend R hadn’t yet lost his cool. He said, “Let’s wait five minutes. If she hasn’t taken our order, then let’s go.” I stared at the beautiful antique clock hanging above the arch five feet from me. I was panting with fury and frustration. At precisely four minutes our heroine walked over and snipped, “You order at the bar.” We rose from our table as if from a dream, angels at our feet, and gratefully sailed out into the warm London night. The evening was once again full of possibility.
The Westbourne, London
101 Westbourne Park Villas, W2 5ED
Website: http://thewestbourne.com/ (The website claims they accept reservations and keep tables open for walk-in customers. Both claims evidently are cruel jokes)
Phone: 020 7221 1332
Price per person: Who cares?
The verdict: Avoid