Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A trip to Scarborough

Picture shows the Scarborough Diving Belle, which J's mum and step-dad were instrumental in commissioning as a beautiful piece of public art (c/o Scarborough Civic Society)

Back from visiting J's family, the last of the trans-UK festive present-swapping seasonal gatherings. Whilst in Scarborough, we caught Alan Ayckbourn's latest sell-out play ''A Trip to Scarborough'' at the Stephen Joseph theatre: possibly the most impossible-to-summarise play ever written. Ayckbourn takes a Sheridan drama, itself a bowdlerised mash-up of an older, more bawdy Restoration comedy, and reimagines it in a Scarborough hotel lobby. The time shifts back and forth from the present-day, to the Second World War, to the eighteenth century, necessitating lightning-fast costume changes and hallucinatory scenes as shady antiques dealers become guffawing dandy Lords, and modern-day con-artists morph into ringletted heiresses.

Talking about it later, we thought the play was about deception and double-crossing, and whether the duplicitous prosper - natural justice being a casualty of a world shattered by war. Whatever the playwright was thinking, and no critic seems to be sure, it was great fun and bounced along with charm and energy, propelled by a sprightly and talented cast.

Dinner at the Stephen Joseph theatre restaurant was less of a success. We arrived at 5.30pm and seeing an almost-empty restaurant, politely asked if we could have one of the empty tables by the wall instead of the one in the centre of the room next to the bar and cash till, so it was easier to talk. This impertinent suggestion was dismissed outright by a waiter who loftily informed us that 'there were no available tables as the restaurant had been booked for months'. Even though we could only see seven people in it.

Anxious not to antagonise him further, we ordered from the uninspiring menu: some bread and olives, cold smoked fish, and ciabatta with chicken liver pate to start, followed by two chestnut, leek and mushoom pies with mash and side seasonal veg, one beer-battered fish n' chips with mushy peas, and a turkey dinner. The starters arrived with indecent haste: the olives wore a sad rime of salt as if they had been decanted out of a tin that morning, and left to fester in brine. The ciabatta was still frozen with great smears of pate unappetisingly blobbed on it, and half a bag of salad dumped on top, splattered with chemical-tasting dressing and some red dribbles that appeared to be ketchup but were perhaps a bottled fruit-based sauce. The little slices of smoked fish was nicer, and gone in a few gulps.

I looked about but failed to catch the eye of the waiter, eventually excusing myself to talk to the staff at the bar ( 'Sorry to bother you - my bread is frozen - could you replace it?') The barman apologised, and seized some fresh warm rolls which were nearby. Thereafter, a new waiter appeared and service improved dramatically.

The fish and chips had a lot of local competition to live up to; served with about quarter of a pint of tartare sauce, perhaps the chef had little confidence in his batter to hold its own, but it was pronounced ''fine''. The turkey dinner was ''lovely''.

J's step-father and I drew the short straw with the chestnut, leek and mushroom pies: not a single chestnut was anywhere to be found, despite careful searching under the puff pastry lid that exploded into a thousand fragments when lifted. The mash was very good, but the parsnips and potatoes served with it ( why?) were flabby and tepid so we left them.

Wary of the pudding menu since J's step dad told us of a bread pudding he'd once had there which 'put me off for life'), we ordered coffee. It arrived promptly, but was so grim-tasting that I wondered whether the startling time-shifts of the play were happening in the kitchen too, and we were drinking wartime coffee made of acorns. After my last festive restaurant meal out, in Rules, London's oldest restaurant founded in 1798, which was a truly decadent experience lounging like Lords and gossiping like courtiers, drinking stout out of a silver tankard whilst scoffing roast partridge and steak and kidney pie, I silently sighed for the eighteenth century, a time when British food was altogether more glorious. The Stephen Joseph theatre is a beacon of excellence with its association with one of Britain's greatest playwrights. Theatre-goers rush to fill it night after night, many travelling miles to attend ; it is a shame that such a cultural hotspot is let down by such a mediocre dining experience.







Miff was looked after by a friend whilst we were away, she has put on weight again and clearly had a marvellous time, as her holiday snaps illustrate.

7 Comments:

Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

My son hopes to go to Hull uni, fairly near to Scarborough, I'll advise him to avoid this restaurant.

Hoping the New Year will bring you much happiness and success Rachel, that we will be able to meet up sometime.

January 09, 2008 7:06 pm  
Blogger Brennig said...

Happy New Year Rachel - and yay to you!

Keep bigging up the above average and shouting down the below average - in all walks of life.

January 09, 2008 7:43 pm  
Blogger Josephine said...

I love Miff's pics!!

"Trans-UK...gatherings" Hmmm...sounded like something I'd be interested in for a moment or two there... ;-)

January 10, 2008 12:34 am  
Blogger zoe said...

What a shame about the meal - I do so love going out and having a good chat over a tasty meal. When my parents came over in December my mother ordered 'tomate-crevettes' (I'm not even sure what that is in Anglais - stuffed tomato?) - and got something completely different. The waitress also threw a glass of red wine all over me, although I don't think it was intentional ....

I love the picture of the statue - very, very nice. As for Miff, well, she certainly has put on weight!

January 10, 2008 6:21 pm  
Blogger Expatmum said...

Okay - here's where you're going wrong - "Sorry to bother you!" You're not bothering anyone; it's their job to serve you with palatable food in a friendly and professional manner. Having lived in the States for over 17 years, (while there are many things I complain about) Americans handle this type of situation much differently, and not necessarily loudly.
First off, they would not sit down at the appointed table, they would point to the table they prefer and say "We would like a window table/quiet table". Etc. The simple act of not sitting down puts the management at a disadvantage. (Passive, aggressive).
With unacceptable food, simply TELL the waiter, in a nice tone, that the food is undercooked/overcooked etc. and you would like the food the way you ordered it. There is no need to be unpleasant but you should not be paying for bad food. Don't apologize for sending something back if it's really bad - that puts you at the disadvantage immediately. If the waiter is resistant, it's usually because s/he doesn't have to authority to do anything so quietly ask to see the manager. Keep everything pleasant.
I have used this method to advantage when I come back to England every year. Even though sometimes my family are cringing, they have to admit that I have learned not to accept crap food, services, and merhchandise, especially when it's accompanied by an even worse attitude' and that I can usually get what I want (within reason) in a pleasant manner.

January 11, 2008 3:44 am  
Blogger lady thinker said...

Wow what an althletic cat. Amazing board technique!

January 14, 2008 5:08 pm  
Blogger Clare said...

I love Miff's holiday pics. She should shed a few pounds with that boarding :).

January 15, 2008 11:30 pm  

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