It’s 7:30pm on a Thursday night and I’m having an argument with a waiter.
I wonder how a supposed treat – eating out – became an experience akin to going to the dentist, or having a mole excised. Perhaps I’m reaping some bad karma after kicking too many puppies. Everyone else at the recently refurbished and very busy Hector’s seemed to be enjoying themselves, although not that many of them were actually eating.
We’d arrived for an early dinner, and sat for ages before realising that the menu instructed “Order at the bar”. Doh. Their food list is a mix of pub classics and more interesting bits, with an unexplained Anglophile slant when it comes to produce (Fettle cheese, Black Coombe ham, West Country steak, Taw Valley cheddar...).
Starters took an age to come, and staff looked piqued when we asked for cutlery.
The best of our three options from the Small Plates selection (three for £12, five for £18) was the roast spiced cauliflower, which came with a spicy sediment of pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and a punchy beer mustard dressing. Our potted smoked chicken and duck rillette was fine, though a bit watery and the clarified butter seal took up most of the height of the half-filled ramekin. When it came to the salt and pepper squid, they shouldn’t have bothered trying to reinvent the wheel by cutting the hoop so it was a long chip. We felt like blackbirds negotiating stubbornly rubbery worms into our beaks.
"The unwelcoming front of house service on this visit left a bad taste in my mouth."
Our mixed platter (£11.50) featured a pot of mixed olives with an unpleasant metallic tang and a Scotch egg with flobbery white. Still, the rich stout-cured salmon, Black Coombe ham and sourdough toast were good and there was plenty of each.
Delayed mains required a prompt, and there was a similar scuffle to get cutlery (and have our starter plates cleared). Next time I’ll bring my camping spork.
My anaemic-looking chicken, leek and ham hock pie (£10) wouldn’t be recognisable in a line-up alongside any creamily filled, low on solid content supermarket pastry. It came with a pile of stodgy un-buttered peppered mash, two twigs of carrot and some depressing chopped veg.
We preferred the slow cooked British short rib (£13.75) and its sweet blackened meat, which was painted with a “ginger ale ketchup”. Accompaniments: mayo heavy coleslaw and skinny fries. Served in a perfectly domed bun (£10.75), the sweet pork and chorizo burger (also served with chips) was fine, though it seemed archaic in its ordinariness now that the capital has a well developed burger scene. From a selection including Cornish brie and BBQ pulled pork, we’d chosen fixings of cheddar and bacon jam (£1 each) but they should have been more sparing with the latter, as it was overwhelming in its molasses-injected smokey-ness.
We ordered puddings when our mains came, to avoid another pregnant (with quadruplets) pause.
Peanut butter cookie dough cheesecake (£5.25) was sticky and filthy – Elvis’ last stand, while the chocolate praline profiteroles (£5.25), topped with three scoops of salted caramel ice-cream from Hampshire-based business Jude’s, and a squirt of “Devonshire caramel sauce”, were fine.
I’ve eaten brunch here before and had a reasonably happy time. It was the unwelcoming front of house service on this visit that really left a bad taste in my mouth. Even getting a bill (they hadn’t put our orders through the till) and, then a matching receipt, was chaos.
I eventually had an argument with a hipster waiter, who refused to believe that we hadn’t paid for starters when we’d ordered them earlier (PLEASE, just take my money) and kept foisting someone else’s receipt on me (one for £46, after I’d just paid over £70 at the bar).
We were piped off into the night with him shouting at our backs about being paid minimum wage. I get the impression that some of the staff here are overworked, harassed, and a bit resentful about having to juggle eaters as well as drinkers. “Order at the bar” ain’t working.
Dinner for three, excluding drinks - £70.50