Busaba Eatai seemed like an excellent choice for my meet up with my university friends for an overdue catch up recently. I remember going to the branch near Selfridges some years ago, and enjoying the red curry dish with whatever meat it came with. I recalled that the food comes out relatively quickly, and the place tends to have a buzzing atmosphere… Surely one can’t go wrong. Wrong.
Despite it being a Friday evening, there was no queue to get inside the Store Street Branch. That perhaps should have been clue. At The branch near Selfridges, I remembered having to wait about half an hour for a table. A number of factors could bear responsibility for that to be fair. But the experience that followed makes me think blaming the restaurant, is being entirely fair.
Once seated, the four of us (who had miraculously arrived all within half an hour of each other) were approached by the manager.
“Can we order please?”
“No!” He barked. Awkward pause. Then he burst out laughing. Oh it was supposed to be a JOKE. Funny.
Then turning to my friend who was the first to arrive he said “You can order as you were here first, but not the rest if you”.
Another awkward silence. Then more crazy laughter from him, and wearied expressions from us. Once the jokes were over we got to ordering some drinks. Within a minute a confused looking waiter brought a tray of glasses of water. That was quick, I thought. Before realising that we hadn’t actually ordered any tap water. Well still not bad, perhaps he was anticipating our needs; it was very hot inside and we were already parched. We then waited a while for the drinks we did actually order, during which time every other minute, the same confused waiter approached our table with a different drink that we had not ordered.
“You order this?”
The poor guy clearly could not speak very good English at all. He looked so terrified it was hard to not to feel for him. But then it did start to become a little comical when he would appear with another tray, the same question mark written all over of his face, and we would stop mid conversation to tell him the drinks do not belong to us.
When it came to ordering the food, one of my friends and I opted to share a plate of chicken stir fry. When a small plate of what looked like fried chicken wings with a tablespoon sized heap of plain vermicilli noodles was set in front of us, we were a little confused. This wasn’t the chicken stir fry we had ordered. Wrong again, yes it was, we were told by the manager. I was just hungry by this point and generously offered to eat the whole thing. Perhaps I should I tasted it first. It tasted like it had been drenched in vinegar, it was so sour. Nevertheless, hunger will make you do strange things (such as eat it all anyway).
From what I could see from the other orders, the portions were fairly small, and did not look very appetising. It is highly unusual for me to not be enticed by what is on someone else’s plate when eating out, but I must say, this was a first.
Halfway through our evening we were asked to move. Okay fair enough, a bigger group needed the table, and we were being moved to a quieter more private section. No complaints made there. We were then served by a different waitress who also had very poor English. We asked for a jug of tap water. She brought a glass. We repeated our request for a jug, but were met with a confusing message along the lines of her needing to ask the manager. We never saw her again. How I wished we had cherished more the water we didn’t actually order, brought to us earlier by the confused waiter.
Despite the challenges of the evening, we had an enjoyable catch up, but when it came time to pay the bill, it did not feel right, after all that has described above, to pay service charge. We explained this to yet another waitress who did not speak English well, and after the 5th attempt of trying to explain, the manager was summoned by the waitress.
Although we had not wished to pay service charge, by each paying a little more than was on the bill, it turned out we had effectively paid most of the service charge already. That meant that there was actually only £2 outstanding. It seemed trivial now, but we had to stick to our guns out of principle. Still I had my wallet ready in a very English, wanting to avoid further confrontation manner. Then the manager arrived.
“You don’t want to pay service charge?” he asked indignant.
“No” (a bit sheepishly)
“Fine! It’s only £2 anyway!” he snapped, snatching up the bill and trouncing off.
*That moment when you’re glad that you stuck to your guns*
And that was that. Busaba Eatai Store Street congratulations for making me utter the words that I rarely utter: “I am never coming here again”.