I couldn’t believe my eyes when the waiter put the plate of cod and chips down in front of me. There were just six chips! I counted again…one…three…six. And I wasn’t at any old restaurant or gastro pub; I was at Rick Stein in Barnes.
I had been planning to go to Rick Stein’s London restaurant ever since it opened last summer. So when my daughter landed a new job, I figured this would be a great way to celebrate it. Like me, she loves fish and seafood, and the go to man for this is Rick Stein, one of my food heroes.
Trying to find quality fish and chips in London is a task that requires much investigation and dedication, as so many places get this essentially simple dish so wrong. When I walked into Rick Stein’s Barnes restaurant, I felt I was in for a real treat.
Six chips. You can’t get stingier than that. Potatoes are…well, as cheap as chips to buy. I thought rationing had disappeared in the 1950s.
Only the day before, I had watched an episode of Rick’s Seafood Odyssey where he tucked into a huge plate of cod and chips in Whitby, pronouncing this classic British dish as one of the best anywhere in the world.
So why do customers at his Barnes restaurant get only six chips? And why was the portion of cod only half a fillet, not a whole one? It was only fractionally bigger than the cod my eight-year-old son had from the children’s menu. What’s more the batter was not crispy and golden, like it should be. The chips were good, but not outstanding.
Six chips and half a cod fillet for nearly £17! My daughter, who had also ordered cod and chips, and is a Rick Stein fan, too, was equally aghast.
And it wasn’t just the portion sizes that were lacking at the restaurant. My son’s calamari came with bean sprouts and courgettes. The dish was bland and, what’s more, not suitable for a children’s menu. My son loves rings of calamari fried in a light batter, like he has when he goes to a branch of Ask. My wife’s brill was okay, but nothing special.
The service could best be described as hit and miss. Many of the waiters and waitresses seemed to wander around with tunnel vision, as if they had been instructed to avert their eyes from the customers.
My wife had to stand up and wave, like someone stranded on a desert island signalling to a passing ship, to ask for the children’s menu. The waiter had forgotten it, just as he had forgotten to bring the vinegar.
Rick Stein faces the same problem as any restaurant: how to find the right calibre staff. Many restaurants are so desperate to fill their rota that they will employ virtually anyone. In fact, when my daughter was looking for world, she had applied to do some casual shifts at Rick Stein, Barnes. She told me the pay was the National Minimum Wage, which means the same as McDonald’s. The words monkeys and peanuts comes to mind.
However, there were some positives at Rick Stein, Barnes.. The bread was delicious and the mushy peas very good. The Cornish lager was outstanding, and had a wonderful fruity-creamy flavour.
After we left the restaurant, with me shaking my head and chuntering, ‘Only six chips!’, we popped into The Red Lion in Barnes. I ordered the drinks, and while I waited, four different bar staff asked me if I had been served. The guy who served me said my daughter’s Rose was on the house, as it was the last of the bottle and not a full measure.
When we sat down, I looked across at a family at the next table and, with envy, saw a generous bowl of golden chips.
If someone blindfolded you and took you to Rick Stein in Barnes, you would assume you were in a typical gastro pub restaurant, not in a place that carries the name of a man who should be the real business when it comes to fish and chips.
Rick Stein is still one of my food heroes. I can watch his TV programmes time and time again. He has a wonderful way of making you feel you are there with him as he travels around the world trying different dishes and talking to chefs And what I also love is the way he brings in a country’s history and culture, and often reads aloud a quote about a particular place from a famous author.
But Six chips…I still can’t believe it.