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How are you being served?

Blog | By James Pembroke | Feb 20, 2019

New York, New York. A waiter in John's Restaurant on East Twelfth Street (1943)

The Daily Telegraph has found that, since 2008, 2.4 million over-50s have joined the workforce. James Pembroke explains the superiority of the older waiter

Jeremy King, the man behind the Wolseley, has recently taken the strategic decision to recruit waiting staff over 50 because ‘you can’t train attitude’.

On the face of it, this would seem to make enormous sense. We over-50s have better manners than millennials and have been the victims of appalling service for over 30 years; so we should know how not to go wrong.

Yet Mr King had his epiphany, not at Monsoon, the curry house by Wareham Station (more later), but in New Orleans, the most polite city in the world. All my worst fears were confirmed about the British attitude to waiting at table, when the bill came in Wareham. When asked whether service was included, the blonde waitress looked startled and replied, ‘What’s “service”?’

The British malaise is not restricted to the young; it is an ineradicable condition hewn from centuries of imagined servitude and oppression. If we, like the Italians, had been invaded every hundred years, forcing us to adapt rapidly to every new overlord, we too would have realised that self-determination is a mirage and to serve is to reign.

I put my age-shall-not-bother-them theory to the test in Bettys of Harrogate, which was founded by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss gentleman, in 1919, and is still owned by his heirs. Back then, the Swiss were regarded as the masters of the café; so much so that every large town in Spain boasted a Café Suizo.

How old M. Belmont would have blanched at the row of elderly waitresses in their pinnies who stood staring at their screens rather than at the customers. We quickly became a herd of Michael Winner napkin-wavers, in our desperation for service. And brown sauce, in my case. Praise be that my mother-in-law, Elspeth, had advised us to get there by 10am to avoid the queues. Although Bettys is renowned for its afternoon teas, it’s best to go for the Swiss delights like the rostis and Chicken schnitzel but do grab a box of Fat Rascal Scones on the way out.

It may be too late to get a table before Christmas but, in the words of the late AA Gill, ‘If I had to recommend just one gob-stopping heart-racing dinner in all of London, it would be Hedone.’

Halfway down Chiswick High Road, its missable façade is better suited to an acupuncture clinic than the western bastion of London gastronomy. Once inside, the fun begins: the food is dispatched to the ten tables from an entirely open kitchen. The chefs and waiters made us feel as if they were cooking only for us that night; seven dishes synchronised with seven wines – every one a winner.

The menu changes daily, but here are some of the dishes we devoured: poached oyster, cucumber sorbet, nasturtium jelly and apple foam, followed by breast and leg of squab with beetroot, komatsuna and cherry and black cardamom. They only do tasting menus – unlike Mark Palmer (see his rant on page 62), I love them.

Some of you may well think this is just plain showing off but, let’s be honest with each other, London restaurants spent decades making virtually no effort, and have been loudly mocked for it by our European neighbours. It’s because of this new-found confidence that our time has come: London has the best restaurant scene in Europe, made possible by foreign waiters. Long may they stay.

Hedone, 301-303 Chiswick High Road, London W4 4HH; 0208 747 0377;www.hedonerestaurant.com; seven courses for £105 a head but worth every penny.

Bettys of Harrogate and all points north;www.bettys.co.uk; breakfast and lunch dishes from £9.95 to £14.95; full tea for £19.95