We’ve just returned from a late Sunday brunch at Ffiona’s in Kensington Church Street, and we can truly say, this was the worst experience we’ve ever had at any restaurant anywhere in the world, bar one. (In January 1999 I had dinner at a relatively high-end restaurant in Bangkok’s business district with a colleague of mine after work, when we saw commotion among the waiters, who seemed very agitated and approached our table with raised broomsticks.
They asked us to leave our table, which we did immediately; then we saw what looked like a Thai black tarantula with several dozen baby tarantulas clinging to her back making her way across the ceiling just above my green curry and my colleague’s Thai beef salad. The waiters pushed the spiders to the ground, hit them hard several times, then wiped up the mess and asked us to return to our table and finish our meal, an offer we readily declined. No apology, no refund.)
We entered the premises and were ignored for a little while, even though it was by no means extraordinarily busy, with several empty seats and a large empty table, and the waitress at the counter seemingly taking a bit of down time.
Without looking us in the eye or turning her head, the lady of the manor walked past us towards one of the tables and said “we’re full”. We asked right back, if she knew how long we’d have to wait, only to be told in a very patronising, unpleasant way “I’m currently serving a customer”, again without eye contact.
We had heard very good things about the food, always with the same caveat “the service is revoltingly painful” and thought to ourselves (quite ironic in hindsight), well, how bad can it get, let’s try the food now that we’re here, there were lovely smells coming from the kitchen downstairs.
After another few minutes she finally walked over towards us and from a few metres away informed us that she’d find out how long the wait was going to be. We thought, fair enough, and waited for another bit, when we suddenly realised she was waving towards us from the cashier area in the manner a parent would wave to attract the attention of a child (bit like broken windscreen wipers making uncoordinated moves) – rather than do what one would expect at a restaurant, which is walk over to your guests and inform them.
When she caught our attention (we had been distracted looking at passers-by on the busy street), she shouted “about two minutes”, then came back after a while to lead us to our table in the back of the restaurant. While we were walking over there, a waitress squeezed between my wife and me blocking the way, then standing right in front of me for no apparent reason, taking a customer’s order while I had to wait (she could have just walked another metre further and let me through, rather than dealing with her customer from this awkward angle, forcing her customer to speak slightly backwards over his left shoulder).
We then hadn’t sat down for long when we were given a bit of information about the menu, and Ffiona asked my wife ‘where are you from, darling’ in an overly friendly and loud way that makes you feel vaguely violated. Coming from her, it seemed inappropriate to ask a customer as soon as they were seated “where are you from?”, as if to ask “why are you here?” If she had been keen on making friendly conversation, why not ask us as a couple where we’re from, like any engaging restaurant owner would. We were then rushed to complete our order. Even though the brunch selection looked good with a variety of choices, we weren’t given a chance to think twice – and we were “told” to order the drinks right away, because she’d need to let the kitchen know.
We ordered a coffee each and one Bloody Mary with freshly grated horseradish (delicious, I have to admit, and with a nice crookedly bent straw). It all arrived within a couple of minutes (the latte and the single espresso were average) and we were asked again to order our food. My wife conceded to the pressure and we both ordered our meals: Queen Scramble (three large eggs, scrambled with pickled jalapeños, mature cheddar cheese, spring onions, chives, mushrooms, and two slices of toast), and Eggs Royale. The toast that was served with it was burnt on the lower side, and it was clear that they had reheated left-over toast for too long.
It took several tries to draw their attention, despite both of the waitresses walking past our table several times, and one of the waitresses somehow managing to bump into my shoulder with her elbow while serving the table next to us (not apologising for it, of course). When Ffiona finally came to our table and we asked for two pieces of toast because my wife’s were burnt, she made a point out of shouting to the waitress “two more pieces of toast for this table” instead of apologising for serving us burnt toast and letting us wait.
The waitress, instead of rushing to get the toast ready, filled two small glasses with whatever it was and then ‘toasted’ with Ffiona on whatever it was right in front of our table. At some stage the toast arrived and my wife started tucking into her by now lukewarm scrambled eggs, which, admittedly, were very tasty. The texture and looks were far below average, but the mix of fresh ingredients worked really well. I was pleased with my Eggs Royale, nothing too special, but overall we’d probably have been willing to give the food 3.5 out of 5 stars, were it not for the service.
At some stage, Ffiona stopped our conversation abruptly without any time wasted on formalities like ‘sorry to interrupt’ or ‘may I’, to ask ‘can I have the chair’, referring to the unused third chair from our table. We took no more than a second to respond, just finishing the sentence, but that was enough for her to do the same thing to the guests sitting to our right, who let her have their third chair.
We had to wait again for quite some time, while the waitresses and Ffiona were walking back and forth past our table, until our request to get our bill was noted. When Ffiona finally came, she asked in that same stomach-churning overly friendly, loud way, “I hope you did enjoy your meal?” and we said that we thought the food was lovely but that we’d prefer not pay the “voluntary service charge” (it did say ‘voluntary’ on the menu) that was added on top of our bill.
Ffiona then became really aggravated and immediately made a wild guess: “Is it because you were unhappy with the service?”, which we confirmed. She pushed us for an explanation, clearly not willing to do the decent thing and just let us pay and go, forcing us to explain that we felt the service had been rude and unprofessional.
This prompted her to bark at us (in front of all the other customers), that she felt that we had been rude, not just to her, but also to her staff. She said when she had told us that the restaurant was full, we should have just left, that it was our fault. When we tried to explain that we’d propose to agree to disagree, she cut us off immediately and shouted, don’t pay, but leave immediately and don’t come back. Needless to say that we won’t.