If I was good at one thing as a restaurant manager it was at dealing with complaints. Not that we had many. Although if ever we did the resolving of them was, if I may say, very often poetry. Most of all you’ve to listen. Don’t argue. Appear to understand even though you might not agree, and motion to report back or deal personally (and privately, of course) according to if the issue relates to food or service. Be fallible, yes, but not culpable. Apologise once and say it like you mean it, regardless of whether or not you do. Solve the problem then, and only then, take a moment to consider the necessary means of redress. If you deem any appropriate, that is. Measure the vehemence of your customer’s beef with the seriousness of indiscretion. Are they a twat or did you actually screw up? There’s often decent scope here to embarrass an over-egger with a concession so generous, and satisfying for you, it’ll have them scrambling to recall quite what they were getting their knickers in a twist over in the first place. With any luck they’ll not show their face again. Genuine, constructive criticism, I found, was best countered with a small, subtle gesture . Exponents will refute that they’re doing it for discount but you should scratch off their cappuccinos anyway. They’ll depart happy as sand boys, but not before depositing at least their value in tips.
The lady on the table next to us at The Devonshire Arms had a problem. I was trying not to be too distracted by it but I have a radar that’s sensitive to these situations and which tunes in pretty much automatically. Her tone was knowing and horribly condescending. She was way too comfortable with herself not to have done this before. Any sense of that and you can safely assume, I think, not only that the point’s being exaggerated but that you’re dealing with somebody whose approach to eating out is all wrong. With this in mind, the nice, sensitive duty manager gave way more ground than I would have, his polite submissiveness only serving to fan the old girl’s flames. Be wary of people who allude to your perceived profile; no one will be more keenly aware of what that is than you. Anyone that feels a need to state they’re ‘in the trade’, may be roundly, if not rudely, rebuffed. Idiots. The main reason I have to doubt there was too much in what this lady had to say, though, – and her issue seemed to revolve around over-salted potatoes – is that my food, indeed my evening there, was bloody great.
Instantly, outwardly recognisable as a sister operation to Islington’s Draper’s Arms, the Devonshire’s location is less refined than I’d imagined. It stands among humbler residences than its established sibling, and in close proximity to the A4 which, Lord knows, is not Upper Street. It cuts a dash in its own right mind you. It’s traditional and tastefully done out in dark olive and solid wood. The lighting is low, too low if anything – the range of bar product wasn’t easily discernible once the sun had gone down – but the place feels warm. And those two easy chairs in the front room will be highly coveted once the weather turns and the fires are lit.
The menu is varied and is set to change regularly. To start with we had Red Onion and Goat’s Cheese Tart (£5.50 – light, excellent) and Scallops with Shaved Fennel and Piccalilli (£8.50). Never had Scallops with piccalilli before. Won’t be the last time I do, either. For mains we opted boldly for Sunday’s sharing centrepiece – a whole Roast Chicken, roast potatoes and seasonal veg. At £34 this obviously represented better value for 3 than for 2, but even at £17 a head we, unlike some, had no complaints. There was a ton of meat on this thing, the stuffing came in for special praise from my companion, and it looked fantastic when it landed. See?
Despite not needing anything else, I’d promised myself at least three courses. We decided to split both a cheese – a balance of three with biscuits and homemade chutney, £8 – and a dessert. Chocolate Fondant, Griottine (?) Cherries and vanilla ice-cream was perfect.
Drinks-wise we mixed grape and grain, naturally, beginning with a beer from Sambrook’s, followed that with a bottle of good value French (Pinot Noir £25), and rounded things off with a carafe of a gutsy Cotes du Rhone (£14.70).
If I was to pick at anything it’d be the menu presentation. My friend Liz is way smarter than I am, and dines out more extensively, but had more questions than I, as hypothetical operator, would want to raise via my wording of certain dishes. She’s American so had no qualms about asking. And, sure, I know what ‘girolles’ and ‘rillettes’ are, but when the offer is as straight-forward, albeit as stylish, as this essentially is, I’m just not sure people here don’t prefer plainer English. Besides that, and the need for greater confidence on the part of the staff in what they’re doing, it was belting. That’ll come though, and quickly. Because what they’re doing is really good.
Liz. Pleasure. Thankyou.
Photos not hashed on one’s iPhone courtesy of The Devonshire.