Haz – St. Paul’s

I read an article that claimed the majority of people make their decision to return to a restaurant based upon service, rather than food. As with all generalizations, one can always think of exceptions – I’ve returned to restaurants where the service has been pretty flaky; indeed, sometimes slightly inept service can even be charming. In the United States, of course, there is a tacit understanding: good service is rewarded with a good tip. Actually, having worked in the restaurant industry myself, my rule is slightly different. Always tip well, and when the service is good, tip exceptionally well.

In the UK, things are a little different. The majority of restaurants automatically tack a “discretionary service charge” onto your bill. While some restaurants in fact give this money to their servers, many do not. Instead, the house pockets the entire service charge, so it functions essentially as a 12.5% surcharge on your meal. The thing that I’ve learned to do is ask, when I get the bill, whether the servers get the service charge. If they do not, I ask for the service charge to be removed, so I can leave a cash tip. The resistance one encounters to this seemingly simple request is remarkable. On one memorable occasion, the frightened server refused to take off the service charge, on the grounds that the restaurant management would “find out” and she’d get in trouble. On another occasion, a server pointed out that the word “discretionary” did not precede “service charge” on the bill. In other words, the restaurant pocketed the service charge, and there was not a goddamn thing she, or we, could do about it.

Which brings me to Haz Restaurant St. Paul’s, in the City of London Continue reading

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Chor Bizarre: Not so much

As a general rule, I don’t go out to eat in Mayfair unless someone else is buying. This is because it is practically impossible to dine in Mayfair without basically emptying your bank account. But when a Bollywood insider suggests you go to an Indian restaurant, the sensible thing to do is immediately agree, because this particular Bollywood insider usually knows what she’s talking about. On this occasion, however, not so much.

Friend J invited me to Chor Bizarre, a venerable old Indian restaurant on Albemarle Street across from posh five star Brown’s hotel. Chor Bizarre is a successful franchise, with restaurants in Delhi and Noida. In London, it’s frequented by wealthy Indian travelers and suits striking deals. It’s a cute concept: a sly wink at a thieves’ market with tables like jewelry cases filled with found objects. But Chor Bizarre doesn’t deliver, either on concept or on food. Continue reading

Manchurian Legends: Not so Legendary

I admit I am as much of a food fad follower as the next urban foodie. The words “regional cooking” immediately make me start drooling, particularly if they’re paired with words like “pickle” and “spicy.” So of course I had to try the new Dongbei restaurant opened by the group behind the Legends chain as soon as I read the favourable review in Time Out, and enlisted reliable food buddies J & T to join me.

I had high expectations but for the first time ever, I think, Guy Dimond let me down. Continue reading