The Taste of Barbados week got off to an inauspicious start for me. I had more than a tinge of disappointment as I left Apsara restaurant last night, near midnight, after a dinner event, with "celebrity" chef, Madhur Jaffrey. Ms. Jaffrey is often touted as the “Julia Child of Indian Cookery”, and has been honoured internationally for her services to drama and the promotion of Indian food and culture.
The meal and its food were nice enough, but once again I wonder what this tourist venue called Barbados is really putting together to attract patrons. Money can't buy everything and in Barbados I'm one of those who believes that it buys you very little.
My wife and I are lovers of Indian food and wanted to sample meals prepared by one of the most renowned cooks on this cuisine. That's why we shelled out B$160 each, and encouraged a bunch of friends to join us. Maybe I went with the wrong expectations. At any ordinary restaurant evening you are often bombarded by an array of descriptions of "tonight's specials" to tempt you. So, why at this special event should I have to imagine what the menu listings meant? Sure, it was not a cooking seminar, but why could the event not have had a time for the chef to visit each table and just spend a few moments talking about the meal or particular dishes?Why would that only happen for those tables who "requested" it? And if that was to be the case, why was that simple point not made clear at some stage between buying the ticket and ending the meal? Another case of the customer not really counting for much? Why should each course be some 30 minutes apart?
Sure, we get miffed when the drinks we ask for as cocktails cannot be had. I get more miffed when the wine I request is the one wine that is not available. Take it off the list! I don't have a visceral anger about these goings on, in part because I've learned to lessen my expectations. But it need not be so.
Madhur Jaffrey has a deservedly great reputation, and is multi-talented, with experience in film and television. So, I was surprised that she did not make an appearance near our table, though we saw her roving around other tables. Should we have paid extra for that "privilege".
I would have loved to hear at least a word from the food guru on how she had prepared one or some of dishes, or where in Barbados I could hope to get some of the ingredients. We have been trying our hand and cooking Indian dishes for years and here was a chance to learn from one of the best. Sigh.
The way the feeding was organized seemed to be some sort of disjointed affair. It's final bizarre element came with the serving of the main course (Sri Lankan red curry), for which the accompaniment arrived 30 minutes before the meal itself! So, we ate what we had in front of us, hot, and waited....and waited...for the main meal to arrive. Had we been forgotten? When we asked for more of the accompanying naan bread to go with the meal, we were told...40 minutes later...after we had got dessert...that there was none left. You have to put on a NISE smile.
The restaurant staff was clearly stretched and for this event, where every table was occupied, additional serving staff had been brought in. But blame should not be on their shoulders, as they were not the organizers merely the providers. Although "unprofessional" in saying so, we had to agree with one of their comments that the food took too long and that the staffing seemed inadequate.
Lessons learned? Sorry to say it, don't expect too much from this kind of event. Service excellence? Still a long way off.
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