Mr. Chow – Knightsbridge, London. 14th February 2013.
I love food. It probably excites me more than most other things in the world. Whenever I hear rumor, speculation or first hand accounts of brilliant restaurant experiences, I always want to be the next person to get my taste buds tingling over these culinary delights. While growing up I have been told numerous tales, by my father, about a wonderful Chinese restaurant, in the heart of central London, called Mr. Chow. A restaurant that he frequently took clients to and personally loved over the many years that he worked in London.
First opened on Valentines Day 1968, Mr. Chow prides itself on providing authentic Beijing cuisine. Over the years they have expanded overseas, with prominent locations in – Miami, Beverly Hills and New York City.
For me after years of being told tales of the magnificent food and the celebration that is the service, I quite naturally have always wanted to go and experience the wonders of Mr. Chow.
I have never been so disappointed with a dining experience in my life. Having amassed this fantastic image in my head and then being brought to sheer frustration and near anger made the evening very disappointing.
We decided to book a table on the 14th of February 2013 as part of my Fathers birthday celebrations. Being Valentines day and the anniversary of the restaurant opening we thought we would be in for a treat and with a £70 a head set menu it seemed like it would be a perfect birthday treat to remember. It certainly was memorable. It certainly was unforgettable but not for the spine tingling reasons I thought it would be and I will never be returning.
With the table being available for 2 hours we (my parents and I) arrived very promptly and were the first sitting down in the restaurant, bar a few lonely souls hoping not be stood up on Valentines night. The welcome was lovely with a few laughs and exchange of smiles between our party and the Maître d’. Once sitting we were given water and the wine list to browse before being handed a laminated A4 menu with our choices for dinner.
The service at this point was very formal but still presented itself as friendly and warming. We started by ordering wine: a very lovely, crisp and delicious bottle of Chablis and then our food order was also taken. Now the menu had a feast of different options to choose from; Dumplings, Scallops, Satay, Lobster, Chicken, Prawns, Sea bass, Beef and everything and more you would expect to see on a Chinese restaurants menu. There was nothing spectacular that stood out and nothing that seemed unique or worthy of the Mr. Chow reputation.
We decided to play it safe with the main course and all of the family decided to order Lobster for a main course, this was also the most appertising meal on the menu. We ordered this along with a selection of Satay, Scallop Dumplings and Pork Frites for our first course. The waiter that was taking our order, who was very charming, suggested that we not all order the Lobster, as there would be more than enough to share between the three of us. We agreed with his confident suggestion and finished our order and proceeded to get very excited about the meal that was about to come which now included some delicious sounding Prawns and Sea bass. This is unfortunately where it all started to go wrong.
When the starters arrived it was obvious that the purpose of the restaurant staff was to get the food out as fast as they could and to clear away the dishes as soon as that last bite hit the roof of our mouths. Our first dish of three, my mothers Satay, arrived at the table and was uninspiring to say the least. It was two pieces of very white chicken, on skewers, coated in a dull looking off white ‘Satay’ sauce. This was brought alone and we had to wait another 5 or so minutes before the other two starters were brought to our table. The satay, that tasted very bland although still of peanut, due to its puny size was finished when the Pork and the Dumplings arrived. These were both also very disappointing, not consisting of much and lacking in any depth of taste or flare. The rushed nature of delivery and the far than appealing dishes left us all a little disgruntled after the first course concluded.
With the wine now flowing a lot faster as the conversation moved towards our disappointment at the first course we decided that the second course was the ‘make or break’ and should show the true colours of any restaurant. As it stood the best was yet to come.
The main course, apart from a small helping of what was supposedly ‘luxurious fried rice’ cannot be described as anything other than not very Chinese at all.
The first thing that was too evident was the portion size. Small silver dishes that you would expect to see in your every day, run of the mill, Indian restaurant carried lackluster portions of Lobster, Prawns and Sea bass. There was no grandeur or celebration about any of it. It once again felt rushed and as food unappreciated. Food should be celebrated, as of course that is why every customer was there, to enjoy the food.
The Lobster was more shell than meat and we felt like birds of prey picking an already ravaged carcass, yet what we did manage to pick clean had a very smooth, silky and well cooked taste and texture. The, very small, Sea bass was bland and had no real character with a very basic Chinese flavour. The Prawns, on the other hand, were actually delicious and were cooked in a green curry paste with lots of spice and flavor. They had a lovely texture and flavors that grew the longer you were eating them – by far the best part of the meal, yet it did not make up for the overall experience we were having. Unfortunately it was time to say something.
In the normal world if you were not happy with the quality of something or the service you are receiving while separating with a large amount of money, it is natural to complain and demand quality. In Mr. Chow apparently they do not look upon this at all too well.
Nobody ever came back to ask if we were enjoying our meal so very discreetly, and to the delight of my parents, I walked to the concierge desk and approached the Maître d’. He was happy to hear about the problems and a slightly wine driven explanation about the importance of the restaurant and the expectations we had.
The response I received was not at all pleasing. Instead of taking the reigns and suggesting a solution to the problem, he did the number one fatal thing and asked, “What do you want me to do?” He did so in a very patronizing tone as if I had trapped him into a corner. He acted like a naughty schoolboy who had just been caught out. He suggested bringing a few more dishes out, but I had to remind him that even if he did this it still would not justify the large £280 plus bill we would be presented with at the end. It just did not feel worth it.
I suggested to him that Mr. Chow discount our bill appropriately and only charge us for 1 set meal and the wine. I felt even this was less than what they should do, however it was a starting point. In the response to this the Maitre d’ walked off, raised his arms and exhaled with a loud tone while shaking his head. He reminded me of a child.
After a long a fully circular conversation I returned to my seat. At no point did any members of the staff come to our table and apologise or ask if we were okay. We were not then offered any more drinks and had a pre ordered desert placed on our table. After managing a few bites we were offered coffee and tea for an extra £10 per person. This for me was the final straw. It showed me that the restaurant was only interested in making money and not looking after the customer, which is the most vitally important thing in the restaurant trade. They simply did not care.
After a final, frustrating, conversation with the Maître d’ we received our bill and ended up paying for one set meal and the wine. We left the restaurant unhappy and not satisfied with the resolution or how our entire meal was managed.
What I think.
When you eat out at a restaurant you go for an experience. You pay for the luxury, no matter how big or small, and always want to be treated with respect. At Mr. Chow there was none of that. There was no ceremony or spectacle to behold and everything just seemed mediocre. For its premium location and matching price, something went very wrong and it seems that years of tradition have gone to waste. If that wasn’t enough, the customer relations were appalling and after a very inadequate meal and service I am amazed they did not try desperately to salvage any hope of keeping a reputation alive.
It is sad to see that simple good food and pleasant, friendly, attentive customer service is being neglected and substituted for overpricing and bad quality, simply to buy a seat in a luxury address among people who are sometimes naïve enough to spend money on something that quite simply does not deserve it.