I do not often visit London, but in 2001 we were invited by a friend, a wine sommelier and contestant in Young Waiter of the Year contest in London, as his guests to attend as moral support.
The contest was hosted by Carol Smillie, in Claridge's Hotel in Mayfair, with a champagne reception, prior to the results being announced. Unfortunately our friend did not win or even come in the top three, so wanting to drown his sorrows (what a place to choose, you need a deep wallet), suggested we went to Claridge's restaurant for dinner. When I visit a restaurant, I never just turn up and expect to be catered for and certainly not at nine o'clock at night and slightly tipsy to boot. However my friend knew Head Chef John Williams, so went off to have a word and the response was, of course we can cater for your vegan friend.
I have never experienced anything like it since, plates were covered with a huge silver cloch, which the waiters removed with exuberance and choreographed, so everyone's cloch was removed at the same time. I am afraid I am a little hazy on the actual menu I was offered (if only I had a mobile phone back then), although I do remember a beautiful ratatouille stuffed tomato, couscous with vegetable skewers and satay sauce. The food was fabulous and very tasty, particularly as chef was put on the spot at the last minute and I even had pudding of fruit and sorbet and petit fours with my coffee.
Claridge's was very formal, old fashioned and a little pretentious for me, so when our friend removed his jacket, he was told to put it back on, so you can imagine my embarrassment at what happened next.
My friend and his extremely drunk girlfriend fell out over something and the more upset she became the worse the floods of tears and the more she drank. I accompanied her to the ladies several times throughout the evening, propping her up as she was wobbly on her feet, to freshen her up as best I could. She rather resembled a female Alice Cooper, with black mascara running down her face, what the staff thought is anyone's guess.
Our friend decided to take her back to their hotel, prior to dessert, so we were left on our own, the last men standing, with no other diners to be seen, but company policy dictated all staff remained until all diners left. The most embarrassing part and what appeared to us to be a 'walk of shame' was leaving, whilst endeavouring to appear totally sober. The Maitre 'D and staff stood to attention in two lines, creating a walkway for us to walk between and although I am sure they had seen worse antics, due to their professionalism they did not bat an eye. To cap the evening off, we got into what appeared to be a taxi (not a black cab),who was obviously moonlighting, with no street knowledge, so kept stopping to look at a map, what a dodgy situation, thankfully we got back to our hotel. I vowed to only use black cabs in future, so why did I not take my own advice, wait till you hear about our taxi ride in New York!
To be continued.....