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
Wow. Way to go Susan! You should send your post to the manager/owner of the place.
Thanks Dad! If they had an email address on their website or a twitter account, I would. But that’s the power of the internet! It’s on my site and on urbanspoon and I’m confident that someone from the place will see the review.
I’m sorry you had such a rotten experience, but your recollection of the evening made me laugh 🙂 We’ve all been there, and I appreciate that you’re a fighter!
Thanks for the comment (and the validation!). Bad reviews are so much more fun to read than good ones, aren’t they? It really was extraordinary. I could not believe that she was arguing with me! Honestly, the worst service I have ever had, I think.
Great read that – sorry it was at the exspense of you and R’s evening plans… I can relate to pretty muich 99% of that. 1% being I have not, and probably now won’t visit the Westbourne.
Thank you so much Will, and thank you for visiting my blog. It’s really too bad — the Westbourne is a very popular place and I was looking forward to writing a good review of great pub food. Surfing ’round the internet afterwards, though, I found references to bad service from other reviewers (e.g. Hardens). It’s unfortunate that the prior bad write-ups haven’t effected an improvement.
Maybe they need to be thoroughly taken down. I think you just did that.
What a great write up of a clearly shoddily run establishment where they care so little for their customers that rudeness is just fine. Fat chance of them getting me there having read that unless, for some reason I cannot imagine, I want to get really angry and charged with righteous fury.
It would almost be worthwhile, just to see your write-up. Not that I’m recommending you go, of course…
What cheek. I bet their pours by the glass sucked as well.
They probably use one of those crappy little metal measuring devices to make sure it’s EXACTLY 125 ml. LAME.
Did you go across the street to the Cow? They are nice there. Or apparent THe Oak has some of the best pizza in London.
We did go to the Cow! And they were so nice to us! I love the Cow. I’ll blog it soon…
Whooooa, terrible! What a snooty bitch! It’s amazing how restaurants can easily forget that it’s the experience that makes up half the night — even if the food is amazing, bad service can turn a diner off forever.
SO TRUE. I read somewhere or other that service is the single most important factor (more so than the food) in determining whether people return to a restaurant or not. Based solely on my own experiences, I think this must be true.
To make a booking which was accepted and then just walk away, because some little girl is snooty and quite obviously in the wrong job, is NOT the solution. May I pass on a tip (which works around the world ! 🙂 – smile sweetly, ask her name, stay, photograph food, in case you can not find email, just telephone Secretary of GM (businesslike) and again sweetly! just ask her for an email id since you would like to send a letter to GM (what’s his name and what is yours? Secretarys are the real power behind the throne!) and in 99.9 % this works!!!! Keep “complaint” short, fair and down to point and mention that it is on your blog. Sadly this sort of behaviour mainly happens in London. Oh yes, We always stay in N.H. in our appartment – but dont go to this place!! 🙂
Absolutely fair point, and potentially the right thing to do if all I wanted from my evening was to make sure the girl saw some repercussions for her conduct. But really, I wanted to have a nice time with a friend I see infrequently. Instead of staying at the Westbourne, where I would have been miserable and upset and we would not have enjoyed ourselves, we went to another establishment in the neighborhood and had a wonderful time there.
Susan, I agree with you.Sorry did not explain properly obviously – keep my tip for another time and restaurant (and hopefully you will never need this)