Sunday, May 20, 2012

Longueville Manor or, out of the water closet

Today was a digestive day. In response to the ludicrous suggestion that there might be, on the island of Jersey, a restaurant which could equal or outdo Bohemia in excellence, Alex, Katy and I proceeded, at lunchtime, to Longueville Manor, which had been suggested as a postulant.
The Manor really is a Manor House, or was, dating apparently from the 14th century. However, it has been vastly remade, into a grandiose hotel-plus-restaurant. Outside it looks quite normal: inside it has been decorated by a designer who, I felt, had muddled up Louis the somethingth with New Orleans bordello. And a lot of money.

We arrived by cab, and were greeted on the drive (!), ushered to the bar and told where we were to sit (!) on a low comfy couch. I suppressed a giggle. In front of us was a glittering bar, run by a small, black barman. Had I slipped into a 1940s movie? Set in Louisiana? 2G&Ts and my pastis were half drunk when we were called to our table. But we were stopped at the bar door. We were not allowed to carry our glasses through. They had to go on a salver and be carried through by the barman. I almost snorted. Someone had peculiar ideas about what was ‘classy’ and they were being carried out ridiculously literally.
And this carried on! However, I determined to concentrate on my meal and not be distracted by the circus. Meal first, then I’ll talk about the circus.

We were seated at a delightful corner table by a very lovely garden in a room which ought to have been comfortably cosy, but for an enormous mirror, tromping l’oeil, which made it seem double the size. But, food!

Seeking something to escape from the eternal round of everybody’s-doing-it starters (do chefs read each others menus on the web, or what?), I settled on an alluring seafood ragoût. It arrived looking very cheerful. The scallops (they are described as ‘hand-dived’!) were perfect, soft and succulent, the coral butter sauce was OK, but I didn’t really know what it was ... and the little red-pink prawnish beasts on top were ... well, maybe they had been hand-dived too, and didn’t like it. I didn’t like them. An equivocal start.

On to our plats principales. Katy and I went for the Welsh lamb, and Alex for the pork belly. Pork belly seems to have become the new sine qua non. Like chicken wings (ugh!) once did. Upwardly striving food. But Alex had made the winning choice. He declared his pork top class, so I tried a bit and it certainly was very tasty.
My lamb? Well, the waiter had made a great point of asking how we wanted it done. Katy said pink. I said ‘red’. Well, as you can see, I got pink. Katy got pale pink. The accompanying beans etcetera would win me any day, and the massive helping of garlic left me pleasantly gasping. Oh, the meat was fine, but given the circus, I would have expected ‘excellent’. Maybe Welsh lamb isn’t as good as New Zealand's? Yes, it is. I’ve had it at .. whisper it .. Bohemia.

Longueville then stepped into top gear. A veritable Simpsons-in-the-Strand cheese trolley. And, yes, with époisses! (I find the place is actually related to Sumas). Katy and Alex had about ten weeny pieces of different delicious cheeses, while I sat wondering ‘what do they do with all that must be left over?’ and waited for dessert. Because I had spied a Bailey’s soufflé on the menu which promised much. And it delivered. Oh, did it. It was a lovely soufflé: better even than the Colombe d’or’s famous grand marnier one. Brilliant.

We finished our meal with a Jersey apple brandy, which I suppose came on a salver but I wasn’t noticing. I’d become immune to the circus.

Circus. I won’t go on about it, just give you one example. Our red wine, a plainish red, at 29 pounds, on a wine list which charges 57 pounds for an NZ wine that I find in supermarkets là-bas for less than NZ$20, was delivered with the most extraordinary pantomime. Decanted into a vast decanter which looked as if it should have a genie in it, sipped by the wine waiter, passed in the decanting over a lit candle… a candle, I kid you not! Folk who are impressed with that sort of nonsense, well, nuff said.

I sense a heavy directorial hand behind the scenes teaching these comically excessive and would-be-‘classy’ tricks to the nice young men. They do their best with them, but ‘class’, my dear sir or madam, is not pasted on, it is not ‘learned’, it just is. And apeing it is truly ridiculous.

So the good bits of our afternoon’s experience (that soufflé!) were somewhat under-shadowed by the funny stage-management. But at 188 pounds for three, I could wear it. Fair value.

There is, however, a postscript. Katy (who is actually a lawyer) made our booking, as I don’t use a phone. Alex has just messaged me to say someone from Longueville Manor had rung her to say we had ‘underpaid’. Oh, no, we didn’t. You presented me with a bill, at my table, which I paid with my credit card, even leaving the circus performers an additional 10% over the top of the ‘service included’. If you made a mistake, it’s your fault, not mine.
And, oh boy, don’t the pretences of ‘class’ go right out the window when it comes to cold cash! A class joint would just have covered their employee’s mistake (if there was one), and never admitted it. I’ve never encountered a like faux pas in my half-century restaurantish life. I’ll be dining out on this story for years!
But not at Longueville Manor.

I came home via a nice bottle of chilled rosé chez my young friends, and had just about reached my early door when … well, I had to duck into the Marina Metro. And since I was there … well, maybe a nightcap … and the chef’s seafood platter passed me by … glistening with pale prawns and swimming oysters ..

And then the boyos came in. The Welsh rugby team which is staying in the hotel came in victorious from their match and sat down at my table. I will not publish the photos I took upstairs later, as the laws of decency forbid, and I leave you with a discreet curtain drawn over the rest of the night, which I somehow ended with a pint of ale in my hand, destroying the goat’s-cheese balls from the menu…

And day after tomorrow, its … back to Bohemia!

PS Credit where it’s due. Longueville’s gents’ loo is a super loo (yes, this matters!) decorated with some really cute cartoons. I wondered why Alex spent so long away and came back smiling. Then I discovered … Maybe a bit of that relaxed spirit and friendliness should come out of the water closet…

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