There are plenty of good dining deals on at the moment and one which caught my eye was the Malmaison's 'two thousand and wine' deal. For the princely sum of £29 two people can enjoy two courses from the Homegrown menu and a bottle of wine: bargain!
Back in summer 2007 we enjoyed an excellent meal at the Mal so we were keen for a repeat treat and headed off last Thursday night, stopping for a swift pre-dinner drink at the Adelphi.
Things were out of kilter at the Mal from the start. There was a bit of confusion about our table (the restaurant was nearly empty as we had a 6:30pm booking) but we were eventually seated and began with beer and Champagne. The drinks took a little while to arrive and when the two remaining settings at our table were cleared one of Andy's forks made a break for the floor. We were promised a replacement.
The Malmaison's wine list is impressive but our food choices were such that wine was difficult. Ordinarily, in this situation, we might have opted for glasses rather than a bottle - but because of the 'deal' we decided to 'upgrade'. The Domaine du Moulin Favre 2007 Brouilly was, to our minds, a bit unbalanced: both alcohol and acidity were a bit aggressive, washing away any fruit there might have been in the wine. Still, dissecting wines certainly gives us something to talk about and prevents me (briefly) from staring (usually open mouthed) at fellow diners.
Anyway, I'm prepared to shoulder the blame for my poor choice of wine. For me - the meal began well, with black pudding hash served with a poached egg and a mustard sauce. It was a good size portion and ticked all the boxes. I was looking forward to my beef bourgignon.
Andy began with what were billed as Thai fishcakes. Neither of us could decide where the 'Thai' came in as they appeared to be salmon rissoles. There was no ginger, no lemongrass, no lime, no hint of chilli. And they were served with mayonnaise. There was a bit of discussion about the provenance of the mayo: was it from a jar or really from the kitchen?
The tables were turned for main course. After our dishes were unceremoniously plonked in front of us ('Fish?', 'Beef?'). From the first piece of meat I speared in my beef bourgignon I knew this was no lovingly prepared, slow cooked beast. The meat was so resistant to the fork I knew my jaw was in for a work out. Close inspection of some of the pieces of meat showed some very dark patches, suggesting to me that someone had tried to prepare this dish far too quickly. The sauce was pretty tasty but the accompanying horseradish mash was a real disappointment.
As I pushed my food around the plate Andy tucked in to his sea bass with prawn biryani. Although the portion looked quite small he said it was enough and that it was pretty good. The biryani part confused us. Andy labelled it a risotto and it was so mildly spiced you'd certainly not recognise it as a curry.
Oh - and Andy's fork? Despite reminding various waiting staff, a fork never appeared so he took one from another table.
With our main courses cleared we still had some wine to finish before contemplating coffee. This gave me a good opportunity to look around and check out what everyone else was doing. While the restaurant was busy it certainly didn't look as though it were full of contented diners. From my seat I could see people trying to order drinks, trying to get orders sorted out and generally looking as though the whole experience was a bit of a hassle.
So it should come as no surprise that, when we ordered our coffees, the order was somehow lost. The sommelier, who was a very friendly young woman from Adelaide, spotted they hadn't turned up and chased up the order for us. Apparently, there was a problem with the till.
After careful checking of our bill, we made our escape, our wallets approximately £70 lighter.
This experience highlights many of the perils of dining on a 'deal'. Firstly, the restaurant seemed to forget that customers dining on the deal probably eat out a fair bit anyway and probably also have friends. Will I rush back to the Malmaison? Er, no. Will I take visitors? Definitely not. Did I tell everyone at work all about my experience the next day? Absolutely.
Secondly, as a diner, it's very easy to think that, as you're on a cheap deal, you'll treat yourself to a glass of bubbly or an upgrade on the wine, or dessert, or coffees, or liqueurs and so on. If the meal is lovely, you don't resent spending the extra money. If it's like Thursday night - well, to be honest, you're a bit annoyed.
So - Malmaison - must do better!
1. Malmaison Brasserie, 1 Swinegate, Leeds, LS1 4AG, phone: 0113 398 1000, map. Stumble It!