Monday, March 23, 2009

The Fat Duck Experience!

(Photo credit carendt242)

As a present from my partner we had booked a table at the Fat Duck to celebrate my"significant" birthday - however as a result of their problems we were cancelled. I must say they didn't handle that very well, just sending a rather stark e-mail saying it was cancelled. We were then unable to get any reply from the restaurant as we wanted to know what they proposed in terms of re-booking. We were told it was cancelled only a few days before the booking so having made arrangements to stay in Bray we were then faced with loosing our money on the accommodation. After sending a rather terse e-mail we got a response in 24 hours offering us a table for last Saturday night. In the meantime we decided to use the accommodation and had dinner at Cliveden House, and lunch the next day at the Hind Head (Heston's pub in Bray). It was a lovely weekend. So once again we made our way to Bray last weekend. The staff were all very attentive, and we were given a personal letter from Heston apologising for having cancelled our original booking along with a signed book each. My partner had also arranged (long before the crisis) for Heston to sign a copy of his "Fat Duck Cookbook" for me and we were also given that. We opted for the tasting menu - I don't think there is anything else to do at such places. However I think our first mistake was to go for their selection of wines to go with the dishes. That was £90 each! If I had really thought about it I should have opted to have a good bottle from the list - I am sure we could have had something very nice for a lot less than the £180 we paid for the selection. I wasn't overly impressed by the wines - we could have paid more, there were three choices £90, £165 or £195 per head! As I said the staff were good, but most of them were young and french. Often after describing the wine and/or the food for each of the courses we turned to each other and said "What did he/she say?" . Communication was an issue, also with the wine I was lightly falling behind, and had a few glasses stacked-up as to be honest I wasn't all that keen on the selection. After asking if I wanted to keep the wines and replying in the affirmative they were then promptly whisked away! The junior very French Sommelier obviously realised that I was not enjoying the wines so half way through the more senior (easier to understand) Sommelier started serving us, he engaged me in conversation as to what I was unhappy about with the wines, but didn't make any constructive suggestions about alternatives. Only suggesting as I didn't want the Sake that he would replace it with champagne - not an obvious replacement to me - I declined! What about the food - yes it is theatrical and in my view a bit pretentious, a couple of things I really didn't like, froie gras and the snail porridge.  Also its a small restaurant and the tables are fairly close together which was a bit disappointing, we were also surprised at how casual our fellow dinners were dressed, jeans being the order of the day! I can't say I felt that I had had a meal at the end of the 3.5 hours experience (maybe that is good?). On the other hand the petit fours were delightful, and they very efficiently got us a taxi at the end of the evening. Would I go back again - no I was pleased to have gone - but at well over £500 for two for dinner I would rather go around the corner to the Waterside Inn, another 3 star restaurant with a lot less pretension and a more realistic price. I do wonder at the business model of the Fat Duck it must rely on "one-offs",  I don't think they would have much repeat business - but I maybe wrong. Also I understand that the tasting menu has not changed much in the past 3 years! For our next mega celebration I vote we go the the French Laundry - much more my style!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


(Photo credit - takomabibelot)

Sir Fred Goodwin the ex CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is not only as proclaimed by The Times the "World's Worst Banker" ( but he has brought shame and embarrassment to the proud Scottish Nation. It was a classic tale of local boy makes good - born in Paisley went to the Grammar School and then onto Glasgow University and from there he worked his way up the ladder to CEO of RBS. However in his time at the helm he managed through hubris to bring a once respected banking giant to its knees, although his own personal fortune did better, walking away with over £30 million in salary and a pension pot of upwards of £1.8 million. You can see that the recession won't affect Fred much despite being sacked from the top job. It is a phenomena that I have witnessed all to often in colleagues and in particular men, as they move up the career ladder, get to the top they suddenly start to believe their own publicity and start over-valuing their talents and benefits to the organisation. This usually leads to bad decisions as they surround themselves with "yes" colleagues, over-blown demands for remuneration and conditions, and the use of the organisation to promote them self and their importance. All to often Board of Directors and in particular non-exec members will not take arms up against this type of megalomaniacal behaviour. Often it is the individual that comes off worse, however as far as RBS is concerned it is once again the British Taxpayer that is paying not only for Sir Fred's lifestyle but also for his hubris. Where will all this end and when will these people be brought to book?

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Bigger Banking Scandal

(Photo Credit Matt from London)
As we all know the press for the past 12 months have been full of the so-called Banking Crisis, or perhaps more accurately entitled the greed over common sense crisis. Anyway lots of words, pages and books by people eminently more qualified than me (albeit that as a UK tax payer I am supporting a lot of these institutions now!) to comment have been written. However a headline in the Financial Times caught my eye on Saturday "Lloyds in $350 million US Settlement", here's the link to the story Whilst I can understand that greed took over the banking world and that led to the sub-prime debacle, what I find absolutely shocking about this story is that it was pre-mediated and very deliberate. I am sorry - I was under the impression that Banks were upholders of the law. Not only is the intial act shocking but it further compunded by being covered-up. Now once again the UK taxpayer is paying the price in the form of this massive fine. Lloyds says that it has increased its compliance but is silent on who or what was to blame for this and what action has been taken against individuals. It seems to me thatLloyds shareholders (I am not one) and the UK taxpayer are due an explanation and assurances that those complicit in this have been dealt with appropriately. Also it would be good to know just where the FSA and the Bank of England as regulators were when these crimes, and cover-up were being perpetrated. What seems to be clear is that the Banking sector, and by that I do mean all of the sector, is not only financially but also morally bankrupt. Its about time something was done! The regulators of banks need to wake up and get regulating not be asleep at their desks with cosy relationships with those they are supposed to be regulating. If necessary the Government needs to impose further regulation on the Banks and make them far more accountable.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Restaurant Service Charges

(Photo Credit - Cielokatie)

Always a bit of an issue with me when they just automatically stick it onto the bill and especially when it gets into three figures! At out staff Christmas Dinner I took issue with the level of service charge on the bill, not least because it was over £100 but also because the service was very poor. The waiters didn't know what they were doing, service was slow and I waited over 30 mins for the bill! I spoke to the Manager and he said he would take off the service charge, which he duly did. The irony is that had the service charge not been automatic I would probably have left something, but as it was automatic and over £100 I was sufficiently annoyed not to leave anything. To complete the evening when I asked for my coat I was pointed in the direction of a room downstairs and had to sift through a pile of coats just plonked on a table! This after paying out nearly £900 for a dinner! Call me old fashioned but that is not the kind of service I expect. At the time I didn't look closely at the bill, but now getting round to filling out my expenses for December I looked at the bill again to discover that although he took the service charge off he didn't credit me with the deposit that we had paid (£130). I am therefore going to have to go back to the restaurant and speak to them about the error. I am quite sure they are probably aware of the error, as in the past on the very rare occasions that I have been undercharged I have usually heard from the restaurant within 24 hours. Anyway I'll scan and e-mail over the details to the restaurant and see what response I get. Not a great experience and not a restaurant I think I will be back to anytime soon.

I'm back, absence can be put down to work, Christmas hassle, building works at home and generally not enough time! I intend to try to rectify these issues and try to post on a more regular basis (getting it into my GTD process). As someone who has see-sawed in weight all her life, I am back in the need to lose it mode. In the past I have done a lot of exercising, but with work pressures and domestic life changes over the past 4 years my routine went from 5-6 hours cardio per week to 1 hour. With no resulting drop in calorific consumption, that led to the inevitable slow but gradual weight gain. So in October I decide that action was required. No longer having the iron will that I once had, and having more domestic responsibilities I decided that what I needed was a Personal Trainer - someone to keep me on track and honest with myself. Well three months later and I've managed to lose 16lbs with another 12lbs to go by the beginning of March (my reward is dinner at the Fat Duck). My general fitness is now better and with that in mind I'm going to my first spinning class on Saturday! Actually I'm looking forward to it - well more accurately I'm probably looking forward to the end of the class!