Dishing it Out

Dishing it Out


Most diners did not arrive clutching notebooks, so the Evening Herald restaurant critic was easily discernible.  Expensively dressed and eating for free at table 14 on a typically animated Saturday at Gervase’s.  Scribbling shorthand between courses; shorthand that would ultimately evolve into next Thursday’s Eating Out supplement.

The guacamole (now there was a nice tortuous word to transcribe into Teeline!) was a delectable hors d’oeuvre: delicately buttery avocado fused with explosive garlic, arranged upon a bed of fragrant coriander.

To follow, a veal steak in white wine sauce, which though rich never bordered on overpowering.  It left one desiring more; in fact, it left a convenient void for a chocolate and praline terrine.  Brittle, yet silkily toothsome, this dessert was a work of art: nuzzling between rosy strawberries sliced thinly as gauze, on a vast dish ethereally dusted with icing sugar.

Fine adjectives indeed – what a shame not one of them would make it into print!


Stephanie blanched when she finally risked squinting at her reflection in the ill-fitting uniform.  The black skirt was tasteful enough, but the blouse which Michelle, the head waitress at Gervase’s, slung at her to accompany it, was a masterpiece of hideousness.

“The new recruit always has to wear this one,” Michelle had smirked with marked malevolence, clearly enjoying Steph’s goggling reaction, “so we can spot you easily.  Now get yourself off to the bogs to change – we open in fifteen minutes.  Tie your hair back and scrape that make-up off and all!  This isn’t a modelling agency!”

Steph could scarcely bear to touch the grubby white garment, much less don it.  It was a good two sizes too large and flecked with grease – but still might have looked moderately respectable had its collar not been festooned with an enormous crimson bow.

“I look like Krusty the Clown’s sister!” she moaned at the mirror.  All she needed was a red nose and a frizzy green wig.  She was waiting for that damn bow to light up and twirl around, maybe even squirt water over the customers; that would keep them really entertained.

When Stephanie dared unbolt the door, Michelle nodded with smug approval at the ludicrous shirt, scrubbed skin and austerely ponytailed hair before tramping her down to the kitchen.

“These are your new colleagues.  Girls – this is Sophie.”


“Yeah – whatever!”

The six young harpies, with their spiteful little eyes, sullen lips and bow-free polyester blouses, exchanged barbed glances and digs in the ribs.

That first three-hour shift was utter chaos.  Back and forth, to and from the sauna-like kitchen, doling out prawn cocktails to ungracious couples while being prodded and tripped up by their sticky, demoniac children.  Ordered to attend them with the most nauseating servility.  Yes, sir.  Can I take your order, madam?  Here’s your fillet steak, sir.  (“And your knuckle sandwich, madam,” she wanted to add.)

Back and forth, back and forth.  Stephanie’s blisters were the size of baubles.  The once glorious odours of frying chips and onions permeated her skin in a noxious way that made her long for lettuce leaves.

And thus it was for six laborious months, whilst Stephanie funded her progression through college: bawled at by Michelle, alternately patronised and commanded by the clientele, scowled at and gossiped about by her fellow waitresses, blasphemed at by the chefs – creatures alongside whom Basil Fawlty would have seemed mild-mannered – and ogled by the washer-upper, a very odd, silent individual with a bulging forehead.

Until the beautiful day dawned when she collected her P45 and embarked upon her long striven-for ‘proper’ job.  She never looked back.


Which is what, three years later, led Stephanie Gordon, the Evening Herald’s newest restaurant critic, to her plates of complimentary avocados and veal at Gervase’s.  Revenge had been a long while coming, but had not some wit once remarked that it was a dish best served cold?

On a coriander bed, in this case.

Steph’s biting critique was already formulated in her mind’s eye.  The guacamole would become ‘an insipid pulp,’ the veal ‘greasy and measly,’ the praline pudding ‘the wrong side of cloying,’ the drinks ‘monstrously overpriced,’ and as for the service….

From a legal standpoint, she was quite safe.  Should a complaint ensue, she would exercise the defence of ‘fair comment,’ which permits reviewers to be less than flattering so long as they are expressing ‘honestly held opinions.’  Granted, she was expressing nothing of the kind – but who was to know?

“Can I fetch you anything else, madam?” the waitress simpered.

“Just the bill please, MICHELLE,” Stephanie pronounced the name on the girl’s lapel badge with an emphasis that was entirely lost on her.  After all, Michelle was hardly liable to recognise elegant Steph as the dogsbody whom she once garbed in a lurid uniform – not, as was claimed, to distinguish her as the new girl but to ‘punish’ her for being too pretty.  ‘Smelly Shelley’ would probably struggle to recall the name of the ‘red bow girl’ now. 

But not for much longer.  Come Thursday, she would know it all right!