Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Worst Ever Dining Experiences #4: South Kensington, London

Before I bought my flat in London, we often used to stay at a boutique hotel in South Kensington called Number 16. It was a converted row of houses, all terribly English. Eventually it priced itself out of what we thought was reasonable, considering the small if pretty rooms, and we swapped our allegiance for the Royal Garden. There are leafy squares to the south of Old Brompton Road, and plenty of restaurants and useful shops within walking distance. South Kensington station is close by, and the South Ken Museums are a 10 minute walk away. All in all, a nice area.

We'd just arrived from somewhere. We were tired, and didn't want to hike across London. Somewhere, we saw something favourable about an Italian place, in one of the side streets by the tube station.

It seemed fine, typical of London neighbourhood Italian restaurants. I can't remember what we ate, probably something involving veal or pasta or both. What I do remember is the wine we ordered, a bottle of Chianti Classico - a reliable standby with Italian food. When the bottle came, it was a Chianti but not a Classico. This is more than just a matter of a name - the "Classico" suffix represents a 50% or more increase in value and in quality. But it tatsed fine, and we weren't in a mood to make a fuss, so we drank it with our meal.

When the bill came, I noticed a line that said "Chianti Classico". I mentioned to the waiter that this wasn't what we'd had. The bottle was still there on the table for him to see. His reaction was a surprise, to say the least. He started screaming at us, accusing us of goodness knows what. I suppose he thought we were trying to get a cheap meal. We weren't of course, but we don't like paying for things we didn't get.

This went on for a while, and no doubt I yelled back at him, until eventually the owner came by. By this time I was certainly in no mood to pay for the "Classico" we hadn't had, and I told him so. He came straight out and accused me of trying not to pay. Eventually, getting fed up with whole scene, I suggested that he call the police.

Suddenly everything changed. He became as nice as anything. "I give you dinner for nothing," he said, "Next time you in London, you come here, I give you wonderful meal, best wine." Clearly, a visit from the police was not at all his idea of how the evening should end. He no doubt had a kitchen full of illegal immigrants, and probably quite a few health code violations. Restaurants are an ideal way to launder illegal money, too (as are nail parlours, but don't ask how I know that). Who knows what else he was afraid of.

So everything was amicable, and to profuse apologies we left. As you can imagine, we were quite bemused on our short walk back to the hotel.

The place was still there for quite a while afterwards, though it has gone now. Evidently the police took a while to catch up with it. Needless to say, we never did claim our free meal.


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