For us, this is a return visit having eaten there back in February 2011 when the excitement over the opening was still fresh. We enjoyed the meal then, praised the restaurant extensively but had some reservations about the historical food thing being a gimmick (and even potentially a liability) and wondered how the concept and menu would feel on repeat visits.
The food (while it played a part in all this) wasn't our principal issue today, rather it was the service, or lack of it. Our first minor brush with this occurred at the exterior reception desk which wasn't manned so you wait around the lobby before realising that no-one is coming. A 'reception closed' sign was all that was needed. After that, it wasn't until 30 minutes after sitting down at our table that our food order was taken. With another 15-20 minutes until the starter arrives, it means that we've been at the table for an hour and a quarter before main courses arrive, enough time for us to be staring at the walls, noticing that they need a good clean.
But more than all that, it was the indifference of the front of house team that was most irritating. When our dessert was put on the table, the waiter said 'hope you enjoy' but even before he got the words out, his body had rotated round and he was leaving our table. The words are said because he had to, not because he meant it. And with the FOH staff having clearly defined roles, the ethos appears to be "this is what I do, that however is not in my job description" leaving tables ignored by staff who, standing around chatting, clearly didn't believe they should step outside of their mandated role to help a customer who wanted something.
Dinner is a big restaurant and has been set up on along brasserie rather than fine dining concepts and any awards it gets are clearly granted externally, but even in a small town brasserie we would expect a higher quality of service. The problem here seems to be that Dinner is like an industrial age restaurant, a machine, and rather than see the diners as customers, they're simply part of the machine too. One feels the aim of Dinner is process perfection, not customer orientation. Such an approach can be pulled off if it works well but when it fails, the machine looks broken and there's little to fall back on as no relationship with the customer has been established.
The mains are good enough as dishes, the turbot well cooked even if the cockles have little flavour while the sauce lacks adequate depth. The pork chop is a decent example of the kind but is broadly what you get if you place a good pork chop in a Josper grill. The mains are good then but not exceptional and at the much lauded Dinner, that's an anticlimax.
The tipsy cake was ordered for dessert, no picture here as we forgot, our attention now drifting elsewhere. The cake itself was great, like last time when I was wowed by it, but this time the pineapple fell short, the spit roast doing very little for it and therefore for the dish overall.
But at the end of the day what food did we really have? Saffron risotto, mackerel, turbot and a pork chop. In a week's time, we will have almost certainly forgotten these plates. The food was in our opinion as described, not elevated to something special, it's not food with a twist and the historical references already seem like a tired gimmick. Elsewhere on the menu, there are three varieties of steak with chips cooked on a Josper, sounds like Goodman.
We revisited Pollen Street Social a year after it opened and loved how Jason Atherton incorporated feedback from that year to improve the offering while changing up the menu, relaxing into the cooking and really offering customers holistically a great time. A year on at Dinner and things are very much the same. The excitement of the launch has gone however but the machine rolls on playing to a full house every day. We wonder if being voted the best restaurant in the UK has blunted their edge to try. It certainly felt that way to us today.
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Dinner Feb 2011 CC post