Kids

Just on the subject of restaurants, it is very common in mid-price restaurants, especially chains, to find hordes of kids running around using it as a playground. The adults will be off in a corner laughing and drinking wine, and the children will be running round, screaming, knocking over tables, even breaking glasses and annoying everyone else, at least until one of them gets hurt and starts crying, loudly.

Look through the window of any restaurant you are interested in, and if you see kids, go elsewhere.

My worst experience was at a local place. The kids were maybe 5 or 6 years old, running around and playing hide and seek behind other customers. Why I went in I have no idea.

Then one of them was sick on my coat which was hanging on my chair. UK restaurants don’t do cloakrooms, or even hangars.

The parents thought this was very funny. I did not. When I started to complain, a rather burly father (I suppose) got up and started to threaten me. Surely my kids had done the same? No, no kids here. I was told to shut the fuck up (or else a punch perhaps).

The waiter was very apologetic. He helped me clean up, and I went elsewhere.

Just so you know.

Food

One of the worst things about traveling on your own, and probably the only thing that always concerns me, is eating out. Now, I love a nice meal, in comfortable surroundings, with a glass of wine or two and friendly service, and I always leave a good tip. But it is something that is quite hard to do.

Go into a restaurant on your own and ask for a table and you get one of three reactions:

  1. a genuine welcome, they find you a nice table, give you attentive service and make you feel welcome
  2. you can go in but you have to be out by a certain time
  3. sorry, single people are not served

The first is very rare. If you find a place that accepts single folk and serves good food, treasure it.

The third is most common, in London and in much of the UK. The restaurant does not have to serve you, or anyone, and at least you know where you stand. You can appreciate they would rather have two people at a table than one, but I always try to eat at quiet times and surely an occupied table is better than an empty one?

The second reaction is the most common. Actually, in London, even in a couple or group, you are frequently given a time limit. Get out by X or else… Personally, I think it is a reflection of their speed of service in cases like this.

My worst experience was at a well known pizza chain in a very large branch on the south bank of the Thames. This is somewhere that seats maybe two hundred people. I arrived at around 4.30pm. Even though maybe 10 people were in there, I could have a table only until 5pm.

I ordered starter, pizza and a drink. Drink and starter came quickly, as did the bill! Then there was a long wait for pizza.

At 5pm, I was packing up to leave as instructed when the pizza arrived. I ignored it, left cash for what I had eaten and was ready to go. The confrontational waiter asked why I was not paying for my pizza. I haven’t eaten it, you told me I had to go by 5pm, I am going. I think he was more concerned not to get a tip, to be honest.

The waiter was shouting at me to pay the full amount, then a ‘manager’ was called. I explained – they had told me to leave by 5pm, and I was off. There were still maybe 20 people in the place, it was empty. They were extremely rude, but eventually I left and went to McDonald’s. I wrote to head office for the chain, but no reply of course.

Food

It’s not for us to tell you what to do if you are visiting London. What we enjoy doing may well not interest you. Just look on some web sites, get a decent travel book and ask your friends.

What we can do, what we feel we must do, is tell you things we think you should avoid. Ignore our advice if you like, of course.

This is about food.

You will recognise all the usual suspects in London, McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Burger King and so on. They will probably be very different from your local outlets. They may sell different things, the items may taste different (different ingredients tuned to different tastes), probably more expensive. If you want something special, say, X but with Y not Z, the server will look at you as if you are stupid and will probably give you a sharp no! No flexibility here, they don’t bend over to accommodate your needs. And more expensive.

The UK has a number of chain restaurants. Some are OK, others may well be best avoided. Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, Garfunkels, Prezzo, Aberdeen Angus Steak restaurants and others seem, in our experience, to offer poor quality at inflated/tourist prices. Never has the microwave worked so hard. Some have been involved in a tips scandal.

Lots of pubs serve lovely food, but beware of these terms. Some offer an extensive menu at cheap prices. Others offer ‘home cooked‘ food, which probably means bought in frozen and microwaved. Some offer ‘home made‘ food. This usually means there is one item, maybe a few, highlighted with the words home made and they should be. It does not mean necessarily that all items are home made. If you are in a pub where you order at the bar and food is brought to your table, then tips are not appropriate.

We know people who object to certain restaurants because of the companies that own them. Pret A Manger had associations with McDonald’s in the past, Giraffe and Harris + Hoole is or were owned by Tesco.

It’s really hard, near impossible, to get a really cold drink in a shop. We don’t do ice.

On a different matter, Brits eat pretty much everything with knife and fork. Well, not fast food burgers, but everything else, even pizza. We know how to use cutlery: knife in the right hand, fork in the left. We don’t use one hand, we don’t cut our food up like baby servings, then swap a fork to the other hand to eat.

Your forefinger should be along the top of the knife and fork…

and it is probably the worst bad manners ever to use your cutlery like a dagger: