Here's a theory for you: every restaurant has its optimum number of customers
and that number will be less than its seating capacity. An inbuilt corollary
to this theorem is that a full restaurant doesn't function at its best.
There is a number that is harmonious; a number of customers that fits
the capacity of the staff to perfection; not so smal l as to induce boredom,
but not so large as to overwhelm.
Twice in a month I've had the theory confirmed for me - that as a restaurant
fills to capacity service slows down to a level below the acceptable.
My friend Roberto Pons, the chef, has always maintained that you can only
really test a restaurant when it's very busy. Only then will the flaws
and cracks in the organisation become apparent. He may be right: the majority
of reviews I've done have been mid-week nights when restaurants have been
less than full. That suits me fine - on balance I'd rather be well looked
after in a quiet restaurant than ignored in a busy one.
So there we were, my guests John and Isabella Boorman, my wife and I,
setting off from the Wicklow highlands for a meal in the county capital
on a Friday night. We've all eaten in The Bakery before and it's always
been good. It's a very attractive building that was once, not surprisingly,
a bakery. From the street you walk down a short flight of s teps into
a welcoming lounge with an open fire and a comfortable sofa and chairs.
It's warm and friendly and the effect, on me at least, was to make me
feel instantly at ease. Inside it's all stone and wood with a high, gabled
ceiling. It operates on two floors: a cafe downstairs and a restaurant
upstairs. The menu is essentially the same in both, but downstairs there
are fewer trimmings and it costs less.
The wine list is fairly comprehensive, but what it doesn't have is long
listings of really expensive wines that are more for window dressing than
sale. What it has are five house wines at 10 and three at 12,
with the majority of the list under 25. The mark-up is modest: two
wines that you see frequently on restaurant lists, Salice Salentino Riserva
and Louis Latour's Macon Lugny are priced at 12.50 and 14.50
respectively, quite the lowest I've seen them listed at. As a comparison
Macon Lugny sells at 22 in La Stampa. So for the white I chose the
affordable Macon Lugny, and for the red Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon
which at 24 isn't even a 100pc mark-up. I've said it bef ore, but
I'll say again: nothing makes me crosser than greedy wine lists, so a
generously priced one like The Bakery's puts an almost instant smile on
my face since I can afford a better wine for my money.
We went straight to our table which was attractively laid with a linen
cloth, good cutlery, delicately stemmed wine glasses and was surrounded
by really comfortable chairs. While we studied the menus and made up our
minds what to have, a basket of three different breads arrived all of
which were delicious - but then what else would you expect in a bakery?
Starters come in the 4-7 range, main courses 15-17 and desserts
4-5, so 26 a head would be an average. I'd consider that fairly
expensive and I'd want really good food for that kind of money. Happily,
The Bakery doesn't disappoint. In the spirit of investigation we all had
different starters and main courses: to begin John had the three types
of melon with ham, Isabella the Greek salad, Susie the salmon paillard
and me the chicken liver salad. To follow John had the monkfish brochettes,
Isabella the lamb, Susie the beef and I chose the poussin, which were
we told, took forty minutes to cook. Undeterred I chose it anyway.
All the starters were excellent: the paillard was thin slices of salmon
cooked on the serving plate with a lemon aioli; the Greek salad had real
feta and good olive oil; the melon was presented as a pile of melon balls
with the ham underneath and my chicken liver salad was one of the best
I've ever eaten. The livers were cooked to perfection and t heir texture
was a delight. The main courses were just as impressive; the monkfish
tails were well-cooked and flavoured and generous in the serving; both
the lamb and the beef were tender, presented well and nicely flavoured.
My poussin, so long in the waiting, was perhaps the least exciting but
good none the less. A tray of imaginatively prepared vegetables arrived,
from which we helped ourselves. We were settling in nicely, the food was
making us very happy and the wine was going down well. But it was at this
point in our meal that the restaurant began to fill rapidly.
Getting more water became a problem. Some fairly large groups arrived
who needed aperitifs, seating, menus and wine lists, all of which kept
the waitresses away for quite a while. It was unfortunate for us that
this influx coincided with our main courses. Not having a waitress come
to your table means that if you want something you can't just eat and
relax, you have to keep looking up trying to catch their eye. Even trying
to continue a conversation makes you feel that you might have lost an
opportunity to catch a waitress' attention. In short it's distracting
and equilibrium is disturbed. It wasn't the waitress' fault; there just
weren't enough of them on the night. I was reminded of Doro thy Parker's
epitaph for a waiter in the Algonquin Club, 'God finally caught his eye.'
Thank God and the Boormans for good conversation to pass the time, as
we had a long wait until our main courses were cleared away and dessert
menus arrived. For desserts John chose the three kinds of parfait, I had
the steamed orange pudding and our wives both had the chocolate torte.
These were three really good dishes that quite restored our humour. It
was helped too, by a half bottle of Beaumes-de-Venise from Jaboulet -
a reliable dessert wine that doesn't break the bank.
We finished with a jug of coffee, good but not exceptional, and noticed
that it had taken four hours to complete the meal. In fairness I have
to say that this glitch in the service is something that I haven't experienced
in The Bakery before and it won't stop me going back again to enjoy its