Thankfully Fawlty Towers is no longer an accurate portrayal of the British hospitality industry and is now just a (very) funny TV series. Nowadays, fancy restaurants aren’t hives of snobbery, they are simple, unpretentious and concentrate their efforts on creating superb, mouth-watering food accompanied by impeccable service. That, in my mind, is the ‘modern’ fancy restaurant.
I appreciate we’re spoilt in Dorset with plenty of places serving up dreamy dining experiences with seemingly little effort or fuss but still I was surprised to discover some unwarranted snobbery hiding out in The Derby Manor Hotel round the corner from us.
We’d been given a Groupon voucher. And although not somewhere we’d usually frequent, we were happy to try it out, and booked our reservation online. Being a balmy summer’s evening we arrived on our bicycles, me sans shoes and my other half shirtless, in his vest – don’t be alarmed, shirts and shoes were in my bicycle basket and applied upon arrival.
What we hadn’t counted on was being judged from the moment we freewheeled around their driveway looking for somewhere to park our bikes. We parked up and walked in to be greeted by a frosty, austere matron-like lady who seemed shocked when I told her we had a reservation there. After explaining that we’d booked it online, she did manage to find it. Not being able to see over the not very welcoming desk, she quizzed my man on the state of his jeans – did they have any rips in them? Was he going to manage to keep his shirt on? Did he know they had a dress code?
This was the moment that I thought; this is going to be fun. I asked if I passed the dress-code test to which a cursory nod was given in return. We were led inside and told to wait in the lounge and that’s what we did, we waited, and waited. Eventually invited to sit inside the stuffy, over decorated, Hyacinth Bucket-style dining room complete with lectern for the maître d’, we politely declined, preferring instead to enjoy ourselves al fresco in the garden area.
Having waited an age for our first drink, we then waited another age (wine diminishing at a similar rate as the sun) to be brought menus. I gave up and went hunting. I found our waitress in the Hyacinth room and managed to wrangle some menus from her. We decided on a locally sourced seafood platter for two and after some more waiting we went hunting again and ventured back inside to order. The flustered maître d’ we encountered was unsure if we were permitted to eat outside – some fool had tried to do this the other day and Chef hadn’t allowed it. Seriously.
The waitress came outside, actually outside. We didn’t have to go find her. She came to tell us that we could dine outside after all. Very kind of them to let us choose where we eat.
The platter for two arrived with a healthy pile of seafood on it but an unusual number for two people to share, heaps of mussels (I didn’t count these) garnished with three scallops, three prawns, one crab claw and two deep fried oysters and two pieces of white fish. Okay; oysters, white fish, mussels, fine. But how were we expected to divvy up the rest or were they hoping for a domestic on the terrace.
Aside from the odd allocations, the seafood was all very pleasant; none of it gave my taste buds anything to write home about, they hadn’t done anything special with any of it. The mussels could have done with more flavour and the white fish can only be described as bland. The Dover crab (not exactly that local to Bournemouth) was the tastiest thing on the platter – shame we only had one claw of it really.