For most of my life, being the food-loving (okay, food-obsessed) guy I am, when I’d come walking into a restaurant, if the owner saw me, he’d know that a lot of food would be consumed, ergo, that he was going to have a good night, dollar-wise. If it was a buffet place, oh dear, I would be kicking his ass.
Anyway, I don’t know why it is, but perhaps, when hungry, I become wide-eyed, a bit wild-looking, and, sadly, I drool when I get excited. I loves me some good food!
Nowadays, that perception may have diminished somewhat, because my girlfriend, Lin Kensington, is ultra-fit, and quite trim. So upon seeing her, you’d think, “Here comes another sensible couple; probably won’t order apps or dessert…and God forbid, might even want to share a main course.” But the fact of the matter is, my Linnie can eat me under the table (no pun intended), blessed with the metabolism of a hummingbird, and the appetite of a lumberjack, or whatever the female version of a lumberjack is called.
Ok then, the stage is set.
It’s a cold and windy late-afternoon in London, and here we are, in Chinatown. For some reason, not feeling particularly peckish, we really mostly wanted to escape the weather and get a nice cup of tea, or some soup. After all, being a Chinese place they are bound by law to have stand-out versions of both those offerings, right?
We walk in and are seated. The teapot contains some kind of blend of jasmine and Lapsang Souchong (style points given here), and the menu is dense with all kinds of nice-sounding dishes. The soups, however, was our desire on this day.
We ordered a sweet corn and crab-meat soup, along with a dumpling/won-ton/veggie combo, each of them bound to satisfy beyond a doubt. (More on the soup a bit later).
What followed was a long silence, with our waitress fixated on her pad, ready to write the rest of our order. But that would not come to pass. After about what seemed like half an eternity, I said, “Thanks, that’s it” and hoped she’d walk away and fulfill our wishes. Well, think again.
She was all like, “What else do you want” – and quietly stared us down while we held our ground. “Nope, soup’s all we want today, thank you.” Finally, she relented, and took care of our order.
Geez, what’s with people? I catch hell when I eat too much (my inner guilty self), or too little (from restaurant staffers). Leave me alone and let me eat in peace (my lifelong mantra, by the way).
The soups, both of them, were fantastic. I couldn’t come close in my own kitchen (that’s always been my standard unit of measurement) and we were banging our soup spoons and slurping appropriately to get every last drip-drop from our bowls. “Wow” and “ooohhh” and “yippee” would be what you heard if you were seated near us. I know, such technical jargon coming from a former chef and food writer may seem a bit arrogant, but it’s true.
Later, when the flavor of the soup abandoned our taste buds once and for all, we loaded up on more of their yummy tea and readied ourselves to brave the cold before tonight’s theatre engagement.
The check is brought out, and for some reason it doesn’t look right. They tacked-on an extra 5 pounds for the tea, which I might add was brought to our table and poured when we were seated. It’s one thing to order tea in a proper restaurant and pay its price, but in a Chinese place it’s an automatic, right? I’d never heard of being charged for tea in a Chinese restaurant before. Never. And, oh yeah, I wasn’t going to allow such cruel and unusual punishment to happen to me and my lady, no-no.
I grabbed my ballpoint and crossed-out the 5 pound charge, adjusting the final price on the check. Then I placed my credit card inside to be taken away and processed.
What came next was being confronted by our server, berating me for crossing out the 5 pound charge for tea (how dare I!?) stating they do not accept credit cards for under 10 pounds. I looked around and didn’t see any signs to that effect, and told her that. She picked up a menu and pointed to, in half-point type on the back cover of the menu that said, “Minimum charge for credit card is 10 pounds.” The type was SO small, honestly, you’d need a magnifying glass to make it out.
But I took another route and replied with, “Sorry, I can’t even read this, plus I do not carry cash, only credit cards.” It was a take it or leave it situation.
Standing up, I blurted, “If you want to call the bobbies, then go right ahead!” making sure all the patrons heard me. I leaned over to Lin and whispered, “Do they even call them bobbies anymore?” I looked back at the stunned staffer and offered, “It’s your move; either take my credit card or call the police.”
I saw her walk over to the manager of the restaurant, engaging him in a bit of side-pocket conversation, returning to our table, fuming. The manager followed her to the table, and I was feeling a bit of the old fight or flight in this moment.
“`Had I led us to a throw-down?'” was what I was thinking to myself. Lin’s burying her face in her hands, lord only knows what she’s thinking, although quite likely it’s along the lines of, “Matthew needs to choose his fights more wisely.”
Finally, they relented, wishing not to rumble with another ugly American, and took my card. “Now, how hard was that?” I said when she returned to the table.
To add soy sauce to her wound, I said, “Next time, and keep this in mind; `the customer is always right’, especially if you are working for tips.” And, with a mighty flourish I signed the receipt and called to my girl to blow this joint.
I was engaged, pumped, alive… the adrenaline was flowing and I was feeling extra-warm in this moment, ready to brave London’s crazy-kooky-windy and cold weather that awaited outside.
The show was great, by the way…
And that’s how you can stay warm in London.