Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fallon & Byrne, cellar wine bar

On our first visit we drank a 2003 Waterford Shiraz, from Stellenbosch on the waitresses recommendation, to accompany a baked Mont D'or cheese. The wine was unfortunately perfect. A frustrating depth of finish, complexity, with enough body to complement the dish. The ideal accompaniment to a dish that took 25 minutes to never arrive.

Two thirds of the way through the bottle, the waitress told us that they were out of stock. 25 minutes after ordering. Precisely the time it takes to bake Mont D'or. According to the now suddenly shifty waitress, the kitchen had spent the intervening 25 minutes feverishly ransacking the store cupboards looking for a small round menu-mentioned Mont D'or cheese. And the foodhall. Everywhere. Feverishly. Ransacked they did. She was a tad nervous.
It seemed much more likely that the order was placed, and, 25 minutes later when she went to pick up, suddenly clocked that it was off the menu. And panicked.

The waitresses considerable and well expressed expertise, delivered with genuine love for her subject was utterly undermined by the oversight. And the fact that she thought we were idiots.

Much better to admit the screwup straight off, and treat us as plausibly intelligent entities - We're out of stock. We should have told you thirty minutes ago. Here's what we're going to do to make it up.

This has been symptomatic of my experience of the cellar in Fallon and Byrne. Occasionally peerless service and expertise utterly undermined by blinding instances of inexcusable incompetence.

Another example. Asking for the name of a particular cheese on the plate we had ordered - that tasted and looked like a hard, brine washed, mature sheep's cheese, the waiter quite happily informed us, with the sublime confidence of the unassumingly moronic, that it was brie. I felt like his look of studied insouciance was intended to insult me. We both knew he was lying. We both knew he didn't know the answer. And we both knew he desperately hoped that I didn't know any better than he did. He then shiftily sidled off, hoping to escape before the dairy rubes at the table somehow rumbled his cunning soft cheese ploy.

Different evening, similar experience. A good recommendation on the first wine, involving two wine waiters conferring, and giving an educational precis of the two wines we had chosen. One of them came off break. Amazing. Perfect. Astounding.

On the second wine, moving from Amarone Serego Alighieri to an Australian Syrah, our request for new glasses went unheard. We had given up on the water we had requested. Which then arrived instead of glasses. And our food, all cold dishes, arrived over the course of 15 minutes. I've worked in kitchens. You have to try to fuck up the timing on antipasti. It's like syncopated jazz and cubism. It looks like any idiot could actuallydo it, but you have to be a special kind of idiot, a natural and pugnacious savant of ineptitude, or a true and malicious genius to pull it off. And some malicious genius in the kitchhen was hunched malevolently over the salad counter cranking out plates full of hate.

Either that, or the starter chef upstairs is a peculiarly talented natural moron.

When the new glasses did arrive the waiter left everything else on the table - the finished food platters and plates, the old glasses, the empty bottle, and the cutlery. Leaving us fumbling through a crowded tablescape of dinnerware, a jungle of the damn stuff. I think we lost the new girl in there somewhere.

The bill was wrong.

On finally re-encountering our original waiter, the level of service we had initially encountered resurfaced - the cracks in the evening were effortlessly glossed over in the subtlest of fashions. A discount. And he had the professional good grace to not draw attention to it. Perfect. He even seemed embarrassed. We tipped him personally. He was that good.

And this is my main problem with Fallon and Byrne at present. The inconsistency. The early evening staff, circa 5 o'clock, seem to be excellent. And its this level of service that the wine prices, quality and range require. But the staff coming on later to deal with the extra clientele are absolutely terrible. I can handle inexperience, and I can accept lack of expertise. A conscientious waiter can find ways around these as part of the learning experience. But a really bad waiter has to exert effort to achieve the type of experience recently foisted upon me in the name of making a profit.

And its the cannon fodder they use to shore up the late evening rush with that ruin the experience.

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