Sunday, December 31, 2006
So this is the first hogmanay in twelve years that Im not working. I will probably be in bed before the bells. I also just found out that my Mum has been hospitalised in Nigeria, and may well be shipped home early. Not really turning out to be the great end to the year that I hoped for.
Happy new year, and may 2007 be better than 2006. (Shouldnt be too difficult, although if I do end up getting divorced, it might not be!!). d'Oh!!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
There is a school of thought that says complaints are bad news. It signals trouble - either a troublesome customer who is going to be hard work or a spongeing freeloader who makes up spurious complaints to get free stuff. Alas in some cases both these scenarios are woefully true. But Ive always taken the viewpoint that a complaint is a cry for help. The customer is trying to tell you that somewhere down the line something is wrong, something is preventing them from having the marvelous night out they wanted. They are giving you the opportunity to resolve the issue and allow them the happiness they are expecting. So complaints should be seen as such, and wherever possible you should be making every human effort to resolve their issue and allow them their happiness. As the old proverb states " a stitch in time, saves nine" meaning that the sooner you nip any problems in the bud, the more likely you are to prevent any escalation. Which brings me on to my first lesson.
There is a right and a wrong time to make a complaint. The right time is as soon as the problem becomes apparent. This allows us the opportunity to attempt to resolve it. All being well we will rectify any problem and life will continue happily along. If you've been inconvenienced we will usually make an appropriate reconcilliatory gesture - a complementary glass of wine or something for example. The incorrect time is three weeks later. What the hell do you honestly expect us to do after three weeks. It is this kind of complaint that gets us thinking you are a freeloader. People who do this usually always use the phrase - "I didnt want to make a fuss". What?!!! If you didnt want to make a fuss, what on earth do you think writing to the managing director is going to do. Do you think he invites us all up to his office for a nice cup of tea to discuss your letter in a civilised manner?! Get real, we get a phone call at some ungodly hour of the morning tersely summoning us into his office in record time for the bollocking of a lifetime. Think Gordon Ramsay's scarey? He's a pussycat compared to the MD flying off on one. Do us all a favour and state your issue at the time it happens. Then we can solve it for you and save us all some serious grief. Which brings me on to my second lesson.
What is it you are actually complaining about? Be specific -again the more specific you are, the more likely we are to be able to resolve your problem. Meal not cooked to your satisfaction - fine, exactly how do you want it. Your rooms terrible and you had a crap nites sleep - oh Im sorry, what was wrong with it exactly - too hot, too cold, bed to soft/hard, not enough pillows etc etc etc. And while we are talking about focus, Ive often found that when people start "stockpiling" complaints, there is always one fundamental problem that they want resolved. Everything else is just filler to make them feel more agrieved. Tell us what that fundamental problem is and we'll try to resolve it. Dont go exagerrating everything out of all proportion, magnifying every small issue into the worlds biggest crisis. It makes you look like the bad guy. Be clear about the problem and this leads onto lesson three
Have an aim in mind.
Ok so you've aired your grievance and made your complaint, what exactly do you want out of it. Let us know what your win scenario is. Do you want your steak medium well instead, do you want a different main course, what do you want to achieve from the complaint. By telling us this, you allow us the final piece of information to resolve your issue. Now we know what we are aiming to achieve. It makes it so much easier to resolve issues if we know our end-game. But for gods sake be realistic. There are many things that are within our realm to resolve, there are some things that need higher powers. If I cant solve a problem because I lack the authority to make a certain decision I will tell you, and then I will get someone who has the authority. Obviously this will take more time. So be patient. We will keep you informed of what is happening as we can. Any compensatory measures will be proportional to the issue. Dont expect your entire stay "comped" because your steak was a touch overdone. But it isnt unreasonable to expect a glass of wine while the kitchen re-prepares your meal, unless you ordered it that way, in which case take some responsability, know what you are ordering before you order it.
Other tips to remember - losing your temper solves nothing. It gets our backs up and the situation escalates beyond resolve. Shouting at us isnt going to make us want to resolve your issue. Explaining the problem in a clear calm voice is more likely to get it resolved quicker than calling us arseholes and screaming at us.
Manners go a long way.
Be gracious and accept our apologies. We dont want to cause problems, we want people to enjoy their meals and return.
Follow these guidelines and you might make your life a lot easier, sure as hell it might make mine too!!
My relationship with my wife and family is almost non-existent. Working an average of 56 hours a week, more at xmas and may races and stocktake week and busy weeks, and most weeks in fact. An average day is at least twelve hours at least ten of which will be spend on our feet. I speak to my wife almost everyday on the phone. I see her in the morning when she leaves, and at night, asleep, when I come home. Of our two days off she works one day, leaving me one whole day with her and the kids. We spend an average of 12 hours a week in each others company. Thats a really shit deal for her, as she has to deal with the kids on her own five nights out of seven. Perhaps its no wonder that Ive been given till April to get a new job, or find a divorce lawyer.
In fact after looking at this sorry state of affairs the only saving grace is that I dont smoke. And better than that, the hotel is a smoke free environment, so Im not even second-hand smoking. So if youre reading this and thinking about whether or not to get into the hospitality industry you might be thinking "well why do they do it?". Good question! It sure as shit aint for the money. My salary averaged out over the number of hours I work works out to less than minimum wage. The hospitality industry is notorious for slave labour like wages, until that is you hit the upper management levels at which point the rewards are pretty serious for the right places. So why do we do it? I often wonder that myself, and the answer that I always come back to is we do it for the love. You see at the quality level I work at, we all love our jobs. Sure we bitch and moan about the hours and the pay, conditions etc etc. But we all get an enormous amount of job satisfaction from a smooth service. When people walk out the door at the end of the night, having had a great meal, with good, friendly service and they come back several days/weeks/months later with friends/family/colleagues, then we know we've done a good job. It gives us a sense of pride, of acheivement to know that we can make a persons evening special.
So next time you're out in a restaurant, take a look at the staff, smile at them, be appreciative and you'll get a lot more in return. Its karma!
Thursday, December 21, 2006
They have transformed a rugged, moutainous terrain into a veritable garden of Eden. Their organic farm grows grapes, numerous fruits and vegetables, and their whole environment is run on eco-friendly terms, the winery and their home are powered by combination solar and hydro electricity. They utilise bio-sustainable farming practices and eschew the use of chemicals in their crops, even using natural predators to manage vineyard pests.
I first came across their wines in Scotland at a Villeneuve wines tasting at the Champany Inn near Linlithgow. The Saralee Vineyard Pinot was unlike any Pinot I had ever tasted. It was a deep red colour, thick, almost like a soup. Unfiltered and unfined the wine was cloudy and there were many fine particles suspended in the wine. But the flavours and intensity were phenominal! Super-turbo-charged pinot for those who want their pinots with more whoomph! Kenny and Alaistair were raving about the wines, having just spend a number of days there (I believe one day was spend just trying to find the winery, its a bit off the beaten track apparently.). Off the back of tasting that one wine, we agreed to list the three wines that Villeneuve had managed to negiotiate exclusive UK rights to. I never got the taste the Carignane because I never had the chance to sell one before leaving Amaryllis and moving on to Gleneagles.
Anyway long story short, I eventually managed to get it listed here, along with the fantastic pinot. Last night was the first chance that I've had to taste the wine (Six years after first listing it!! a new record perhaps?) I dont recall tasting a mono-cepage Carignane before so I wasnt too sure what to expect really. On the nose there was a full bodied nose of brooding purple and dark fruits - morello cherries, brambles, currants, blueberries, with a storng undernote of mint that didnt translate to the palate. I expected it to be really harsh and quite tannic like the rustic reds of the minervois, but was actually pleasantly surprised by the suppleness of it. It was quite smooth with a medium acidity still, big fruit flavours dominated with some subtle oak flavours - a touch of spice and toastyness. Absolutely fantastic wine, I reckon it would suit dishes such as venison, hearty beef dishes and rich stews or casseroles. Great winter wine.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Sometimes called the second wine of Chateau de Tracy, the Mademoiselle de Saint-Baville is in fact made by the Comtesse d'Estutt d'Assay, from fruit sourced on the estate in Tracy-Sur-Loire. It is slightly more approachable that the parent wine, which I feel needs a few years on the bottle to show its true flavours. There is no reference on the bottle to the Chateau de Tracy save for the Comtesse's name on the bottom of the label. When you open the bottle what strikes you first is the freshness of the wine. It has a very vibrant nose that seems to leap out of the bottle with the cork. The gunsmoke aroma is quite dominant, but then the fruityness of the wine becomes more apparent. This is no one-dimensional Kiwi fruit bomb of a sauvignon, rather the true experience of a multi-layered wine. Each moment absorbing the aromas brings new flavours to mind. There are typical sauvignon aromas of gooseberry, lime fruit, grapefruit - more ruby I think, and some bizarre aroma that reminds me of my grandads greenhouse with his tomatos and cucumbers growing in it. Intermingled among the fruit salad of flavours there are more mineral characters - flint being the dominant one, taking me back to childhood days of playing in the field at the bottom of our housing estate and making our own arrow heads out of the abundant flint that was around the place.
On the palate these flavours continue, blending well together to produce a clean, fresh wine that just glides down and leaves you wanting more. The smoky element of the flavour lingers slightly on the palate with the finish. There is also a subtle flavour of slightly unripe banana at the end of the finish. The acidity gets your lips smacking and your mouth watering, which makes this a perfect wine for serving either as an aperitif or with some crab, shellfish or light white fish. It won't strain the wallet too much either!!
Saturday, December 16, 2006
1983 marks Christophes first full vintage as a partner in the domaine with his late father. It is the vintage that he started to shape the future wines of the domaine, and make his mark in Burgundy and beyond. The wine showed good fruit character upon opening, with typical burgundy earthyness and stone fruit aromas upon opening. After a few minutes the slightly more feral character started to show, with a liquorice and fur-like smell. On the palate it was very graceful, soft supple tannins caressed my gums, while the stone fruit flavours mingled with exotic winter spices and again the sense of liquorice on the tongue with a very subtle hint of coffee on the finish. A slight touch of bitterness at the end too, which actually seemed more appealing than it sounds. There wasnt a huge amount of variation in the two magnums, which was quite a surprise, but pleasant none the less. Ive got one left, and knowing my luck it will be either totally crap, or exceptionally good. My money is on the former though!!
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Charles Melton Sparkling Red, Barossa Valley, Australia. No vintage statement, but bottled in 2005. Im a big fan of Charlies wines, his shiraz is some of the best Aussie red Ive ever tasted and despite its absence on the label this wine is 100% shiraz. Taken from some of his best plots, which feature gnarly old vines that are dry-farmed (no irrigation), with an average age over fifty years old. The grapes are picked at optimum ripeness, mostly by hand, before being made into red wine in the normal manner. Once the wine has been made and has spend nearly a year in oak (mostly French, 25% new), before being bottled. It then spends about another year in bottle before having the liqueur d'expidition added. This is a dose of unfermented grape must, often sweetened with sugar and sometimes dosed with yeast to kickstart the secondary fermentation. This is the same method used to produce champagne. The only difference is the geography, and of course the colour.
It is strangely surreal to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly and pour out a deep red wine, with a fizzy vimto mousse. Thats kind of what it reminds me of, Welchs fizzy grape juice. If youve ever seen the ferment on a vat of red wine, when the yeast is bubbling up over the vat, thats what the mousse is like on this.
On the nose its quite weird too, but good weird, its a bit of a mindf*^k having a deliberately sparkling red. Once you get over the bubbles, you can tell its a Barossa Shiraz. It has the distinctive menthol, black fruit aromas, and there are hints of peppercorns in there too. On the palate it is again a bit surprising. There is a touch of residual sugar there, hardly surprising after all, but again its a challenge getting your head round the idea of a sweetish sparkling red. There is more raspberry on the palate than on the nose, it really reminded me of a "beverage" from my childhood - Cremola Foam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creamola_Foam). Ive been serving this tonight as an accompanyment to a dark chocolate fondant with sauce suzette and sorbet. I think it went rather well, even if the dessert had all sorts of random flavours there.
Charlies wines dont come cheap, they are labours of love, hand crafted from old vines, and so I wouldnt consider this an everyday kind of purchase. Apparently the Aussies glug this stuff down as an aperitif, but to my palate it is a bit too sweet for that. I think this works really well paired with dark chocolate, served with a bit of a chill on it. Charlie recommends cellaring it for about 10 years or more. I might stash a bottle or two and give it a shot, but Im not too sure that I will still be here to give them a bash. Who knows what the future holds eh? Anyway, forget the crappy red sparklers that you get down in Tesco's, this is the real deal, as I said it aint cheap, but its worth it.
Thanks to Culinary Fool for hosting this edition and I cant wait for the New Year to see whats in store.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Try as hard as we might, it wont happen. We get bored, they get quiet and usually weve exhausted all conversation topics within five minutes, leaving long tense pauses, where the clock ticks slowly, and time seems to drag. When Einstein was postulating his general theory of relativity, he should have studied the time dilation effects of an empty restaurant. As the staff anxiously wait for the 9:30 last orders to pass by, time slows down so that seconds seem to last minutes. Its hell.
On the other hand, when the restaurant is full and you are all going full tilt, everyone usually gets great service because we are all focused. We have purpose, we have drive and we know that there is more to come. Before we know what has happened, the last table is asking for the bill and its quarter past midnight. Time flies by.
Update: we picked up three more covers, to complete one of the most mindnumbingly boring nights of the year.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
We've just moved onto the 2006 vintage and I got the chance to taste it the other day. My hat goes off to winemaker Nico van der Merwe because he has taking a fantastic wine and made it even better!!! There is a touch more viognier this time (about 22% compared to 14% last vintage) which gives the wine a more candied nose, exotic fruit and almost slightly floral. I strongly suggest you find this wine and give it a go, because it is going to be the most fantastic wine for summer drinking, and judging by how much we sold this year, I dont reckon it will be around for much longer.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Anyways back to the triple S. It is quite vibrant on the nose with typical shiraz aromas - black fruit, plums, cocao and a touch of licorice. There is also quite a dominant vanilla aroma, hardly surprising considering the wine had about 15 months in new american and french oak barriques, before being bottled without fining and with only a rough filtration. It actually put me in mind of the 97 Hill of Grace I had served the previous night, without the menthol tones. That ripe opulent fruit, medium to firm tannins that opened out with decanting, and the stunningly long, lingering finish with spicy peppercorn and cinnamon. Im told by friends that have visited South Africa, that this is really hard to get hold of there. I suppose it is kind of easy for me here, because of the relationship we have fostered with Saxenburg. It is one that I will continue to build on as long as winemaker Nico van der Merwe continues to produce such fantastic wines. Judging by the wines of his own that he has brought out - entry level Merlot Robert Alexander and top end Mas Nicholas, Saxenburg is an estate that continues to grow in stature and quality. Long may it continue.
Friday, December 08, 2006
The wine was a bright ruby colour, clear and starbright, with a dark purple core and a slightly redder tinge to the rim, suggesting some maturity. On the nose it was clean and pronounced with a rich fruity character of mulberries and stone fruit, with undernotes of white pepper and anise. On the palate the flavours were more pronounced with the mulberries and plums being more dominant at the start, the hotter spices coming in towards the finish. A great length and soft supple tannins with a pleasant tingle of acidity still left you wanting more. Great wine. I believe the Perrins have been running a blog themselves for a while. http://www.perrin-et-fils.com/beaucastel/index.rdf
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Such a label will no doubt make the wine that little bit more appealing to collectors of royal memorabilia, and could help to maintain a solid market value. Crafty marketing huh?
Now that enough about Mouton from me for a while, I promise!
Update/Correction. The label artwork hasnt been commisioned, rather the Baroness Phillipine has selected an artwork of the Princes - a watercolour of pine trees in the south of France- for the label art.
This afternoon at about 4pm I opened the reds and started the laborious process of double decanting them. This was especially important for the jeroboams as they were going to be way too heavy to pour full, so we had to decant them all out. Rinse the bottle and clean it up. Dry it out and then refill it with the decanted wines about 2/3rds of the way up. It was still a bugger to pour and needed two of us to get it right. Me holding the bottle and Danny picking up the glasses and holding them under the neck as I poured. We actually managed to get the room poured quite quickly doing that!! Anyways the wine was really expressive then, with rich fruity character and a touch of barnyard like aromas at first that seemed to dissipate after a short while. By tonight, when it was poured the aromas were leaping out of the glass ripe juicy red and black fruits with a touch of tobacco and a hint of xmas spices.
The 96 Mouton was really tight when I opened it this afternoon, not showing much fruit on the nose, but quite flavoursome on the palate. After double decanting (decanting out of the bottle, rinsing the bottle and then decanting back into the bottle.) it was showing some signs of opening up a bit. Nearly four hours later when it was eventually poured it was only just starting to show some character on the nose. Think of Vimto like mixed fruits - some berries, brambles, all a little under ripe and youre starting to get there a bit. I confess I was a bit disappointed by this wine. Maybe it is just still a bit too young.
The 1990 was outstanding. In magnums it has aged really well, it was massively expressive on the nose when opened, and after decanting it just seemed to fill the room with its flavour. Again there was plenty of fruit, but a little bit more developed now, more stone fruit flavours, some damsons, prunes, jammy berries, and well seasoned cigar like aromas. This had some depth to it. It had lived a little, maybe seen a bit of the world, this was a grown up wine! And four hours after it had been decanted it still ruled the roost. Those mags were the steal of the century, we picked them up from a broking list for about £20 more than the cost of a bottle of 1990 now (www.wine-searcher.com)
The boss seemed to be really happy. The feedback from the guests has been great and its been a really good end to the years events. Only problem now is how do we top this next year. Well Im working on something!!
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Are you aware.. that you need to book a table on a saturday, after all its our busiest day of the year. By the way, booking in advance doesnt mean phoning up at 7pm wanting a table at 8pm. Plan ahead.
Are you aware.. that I know how to do my job. I dont need constant hints from yourself to clear your glasses when you have just this second drained the wine from it and plonked it down on your table. We have standards here that require me to carry glasses on a tray, so I need to fetch a tray first before I clear your glasses.
Are you aware.. that the whole restaurant can hear your "hilarious" story about the time you cheated on your wife with a supermodel. Are you also aware that we arent really interested. Little voices please.
Are you aware.. that I have another fifteen tables to serve tonight, I like to chat with customers, but I also have to keep an eye out not to spend too much time with one table. I try not to be rude but sometimes you just have to cut someone short.
Are you aware..that we have bedrooms here in the hotel. Much as we all enjoy a bit of amateur porno, we dont want to see it in full public view. For gods sake get a room! A bit of kissing is ok, but when you're trying to ram your tongue so far down the poor girls throat you can taste her dinner, then its time for somewhere more private than the middle of the library.
Are you aware.. that "joke" you just spend the best part of ten minutes preparing is told to us at least ten times a night. HO HO HO HO. Yes how original, "have we got any hovis on the bread trolley". Yes dont give up your day job pal.