Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Still Waiting For That Magic Touch

or ‘How Michel Roux-ined The Dining Experience’

The meal, at a local Italian restaurant, was splendid. Admittedly, the food seemed a little over-priced, but it tasted good and was certainly above the standard of regular pub fare. Not much of a pudding selection though, which, as a fan of that particular part of the menu, was something of a disappointment. Nobody was left unsatisfied, however, and that’s as much of a food review as you’re going to get here – I’m no Jay Rayner (more’s the pity, perhaps).

Getting up to leave, we asked our waitress for the coats taken from us at the start of the evening, and were a touch surprised when she replied, “They’re just behind the door at the bottom of the stairs there.” A few minutes of struggle ensued while we retrieved our outer layers, not only from behind a door that wouldn’t budge but also from underneath the garments of all the customers who’d come in to dine after us.

Now, you may choose to suggest that we only had ourselves to blame; that by saying, “Can we get our coats, please?” we were inviting the waitress to take us literally and make us do all the work ourselves. You might even ask why we adopted the attitude that collecting our coats was a job for the waitress, and to do so would be to hit the nail, as they say, on the head.

Thanks to watching three weeks of Michel Roux’s Service on BBC2 (the final episodes are tonight and tomorrow), our expectations for the sort of attention we might receive were through the roof. Indeed, it was possibly a blessing in disguise that the dessert menu didn’t capture our imaginations – it was obvious from the presents that we were celebrating a few birthdays, and we would have been most disappointed if nothing had come to the table with a surprise sparkler stuck in the top. My, how we’d have moaned! (Once we left the restaurant, of course…)

More seriously, if Service has achieved one thing, it is to show that barriers don’t need to exist between front of house staff and customers. At risk of sounding like I’ve been brainwashed by Fred Sirieix (surely the star of the show), suddenly you realise how the dining experience could be enriched with a simple and genuine, “So whose birthday are you celebrating a birthday tonight?” (using our night out as an example).

Instead, the customer/staff relationship more often than not feels awkward, particularly in busy high-street establishments. Not only does it not have to be that way, but surely we would actually enjoy a meal more if it was a little different. “Surly” and “slapdash” service might be at times, but “reserved” is probably a more appropriate term on a lot of occasions. If the programme has one fault, however, it is a lack of acknowledgement that many people working in restaurants aren’t doing so because it is a dream career. And however much it might try to encourage those sorts of aspirations, that sort of career seems rather unlikely if you don’t happen to have a few Michelin-star restaurants dotted about your neighbourhood.

At this juncture, it would be wrong not to give some mention to the trainees around whom the show is centred. As they have blossomed during the course of the programmes so far, so too has Service itself. From an incredibly unpromising start (asking people to leave their table in the middle of dessert; shouting “F**k off!” at each other in the middle of the restaurant), the upward trend has been remarkable. In fact, it is easier to ask questions of the diners and hotel guests who seem so eager to feature on camera (especially when it involves being woken up for delivery of their breakfast in bed) than it is to question the suitability of the trainees.

Mercifully, Michel Roux’s mood has improved at a corresponding rate. It was particularly easy to fear for his sanity in the first episode, as his mood gradually darkened throughout frequent taxi rides around London. But once the disruptive influence of Jarel was removed in the second episode, his demeanour lightened and he once again became the most watchable chef on television.

The only subsequent blip was the result of inviting his wife, mother and assorted other family members to a restaurant he remembered fondly from his childhood, but once that passed relatively smoothly everything got back on track. How he copes handing over ‘Le Gavroche’ (his very own restaurant) to the trainees will be answered this week, and doubtless it will be fascinating to watch. Whatever the outcome, and whoever wins the scholarships – because you can pretty much make a case for all seven of them at this point – Service has been a truly remarkable series.


  1. What can I say? Firstly, there may be a few spoilers in here if you haven't watched the final episode of Service, so if you're planning on watching it, come back later!

    The concept of Service seemed shaky at best, however having seen a few snippets and having read your blog I thought I'd make the effort to see the Grande Finale (as Michel would probably spell...).

    The most pleasant surprise was the production values of the show. Gone are the tedious timely knife chops and rhythmic pepper grinds, instead we get an excellent instrumental version of Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man", fading to the background during comments and rising to crescendos to heighten the - for want of a better word - drama.

    Because it wasn't a Drama. Seeing the conclusion of Service I understood the journey of the team and the relationship they had built with their Mentors. The reaction of Ashley (yes, we get it, he got an ASBO at 14) at the end of the show was enough to bring tears to the most emotionless of eyes. It was simply the observation of development. It was... well... almost classy.

    It almost made me - now, what's the word... ah, yes - rue (say sorry) the day I decided not to watch the whole thing. And all thanks to your blog. MB

  2. The concept of the show certainly did seem shaky at first, but it has proved me wrong over the four weeks. The 'Grande Finale' was superb and especially fitting given everything that came before it.

    There have been suggestions that a second series should me made, but I wonder whether that would be wise. Surely the pressure to live up to the achievements of this maiden series would be too great? And part of the charm of this series has been the surprise in watching the individuals grow the way they have. If you go into a series expecting that growth from day 1, will it be as rewarding to watch?

    On a more fundamental level, much as I enjoy watching Michel and Fred, am I interested in seeing people being taught how to seat guests, carry food etc again? Probably not.