The omission of a single word or a single instruction [in a recipe] can inflict a humiliating fiasco on the unsuspecting home cook. Which of us has not completed a recipe to the letter, only to look down and see, lying by the side of the sauté pan, a recriminatory pile of chopped onions? One early disaster of my brother’s, making a doomed attempt to impress some hapless love object, was occasioned by the absence of the small word ‘plucked’ – he removed from the oven a roasted but full-fledged pheasant, terrible in its hot sarcophagus.
While Lanchester skewers the moment with comic genius, we kid you not, L’Autre Pied served up for a main course dish a grouse with feathers still on the bird. And though Lanchester’s early use of the phrase ‘humiliating fiasco’ may on such an occasion be an appropriate description for the have-a-go home chef who might forever after hang up his apron in favour of some other pastime, how should we think of any professional kitchen that lets such a feathered fiasco be served to a diner, let alone a restaurant that possesses a Michelin star? Sadly, it doesn’t end there.
When the Maître d came over to see what was wrong, pointing at one of the sauce covered feathers we asked ‘what’s that?’ Part of the bird he explained, ‘perfectly normal’. Yes, it is part of the bird, it’s the feathers, and while it’s perfectly normal for a bird to have them while it’s skipping around the Scottish moors without a care in the world, it’s not perfectly normal once it exits a Michelin starred kitchen. Or perhaps it is at L’Autre Pied.
He took it back to the kitchen and offered to have another cooked but why in the face of such negligence we would want the kitchen to send us anything else? The Maître d was losing interest now guessing (correctly) that he’d lost credibility and the initiative so life would just be easier if we now left further guessing (correctly) that we would not be returning customers anyhow so perhaps it didn’t matter. We said the chef should explain himself, the Maître d said we should send him (the chef) an email. Hang on, isn’t the chef 20 yards away behind that wall? From grouse to chicken it seems.
Fuming, the meal ruined, we couldn’t wait to leave and asked for the bill. While the grouse was taken off the bill, they included a service charge; jokers to the end. We refused to pay the service charge at least. They charged us for both starters, the other main and the (unfinished) bottle of wine that we ordered to drink with the meal that was left uneaten with the Maître d saying that charging for these other items was ‘only fair’.
With the chef though on this occasion lost for excuses and ways to make up for it, we pointed out that this grouse had moved through prep, then taken out the reach in, cooked in the pan, sent to and looked at on the pass, then sauced and then sent out. Anyone, bird still has feathers on, gonna say something? Seemingly not.
So incensed at not only the fiasco meal but of the Basil Fawlty school of customer care that we then received, for the first time ever following a bad meal experience, we decided to take it higher. Accordingly we phoned the Pied à Terre, the 2 starred sister restaurant, and asked to speak to the group manager. To their credit, the manager invited us to stop by, sat us down with a glass of champagne, offered the potential explanation of the feather being embedded because of the impact of shot, and on being told that this was not the case, accepted their mistake, apologised profusely and promised an investigation. We also said we wanted to cancel an October booking we had made at Pied à Terre but she said she’d hold off from cancelling the table, said that she hoped we might reconsider and that she would look after us personally on the night. She did okay under the circumstances.
Everything else now about the meal at L’Autre seems inconsequential, like the DFS circa 1960s style laminate wood table with the embedded acrylic place mats; all scratched and soiled as table cloths are absent. My first thoughts on entering the place was that it was not a good interior but that didn’t matter because this is a restaurant where the food speaks for the venue; sadly I was right. The amuse bouche of a sausage roll for example was totally bizarre, is that really how the kitchen wants to first present itself to guests?
The chef can cook clearly but this whole episode was something else, somewhere between laziness or negligence, perhaps a mix of both. We hardly need to add a conclusion for the sum of what happened is clear; while most blogs we post might talk of taste, texture or balance, we never even in our most out the box/drunken moments thought we’d ever write up a restaurant (Michelin starred or otherwise) where our lead would be that they hadn’t plucked the bird properly before serving. Accordingly, everything about L’Autre Pied can be summed up in a single word: unacceptable.