Vegans should probably look away now, as armed with his government eating out subsidy, KEN TOWL goes in search of a T-bone steak for little more than a tenner
“To get customers back into restaurants, cafés and pubs, and protect the 1.8million people who work in them… for the month of August we will give everyone in the country an ‘Eat out to help out’ discount. Meals eaten at any participating business Monday to Wednesday will be 50 per cent off, up to a maximum of £10 per head.”
So said Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in Parliament last month as he announced his latest socialistic tranche of government intervention in the economy. For while Boris Johnson and his Bullingdon Club chums at Oxford smashed up restaurants, Rishi Sunek worked in one during his student summer holidays.
Under the “Dosh for Nosh” scheme starting last night and for the rest of August, the restaurant-going public will be subsidised by the state, and the gourmets’ G-spot turns out to be a meal to the value of £20. If it costs any more, and you won’t get your meal at half-price; pay any less, and you don’t get the full £10 discount.
The easiest way to find the best deal near you is to visit HM Tax Service’s helpful website, where you are prompted to enter your postcode (or, if you know it, a given establishment’s postcode) to find the nearest participating restaurants to you in order of proximity – entering my postcode gives me the Saucy Sausage Café a mere 0.04 miles from my door.
I am, it turns out, on the mailing list of a restaurant a little further afield, and so I have been made aware that they are a participating restaurant too, and I would happily venture to South Croydon to visit the Little Bay (even in these dark times when every bus journey feels like a ride in a virus incubator).
Their website offers a couple of ideas that sit very close to the £20 sweet spot.
For example, the “summer set menu”, normally £21.95, will set you back a mere £11.95 under the scheme. It features such Little Bay perennials as choux de crab (“profiteroles with crab meat and citrus hollandaise” the best starter, IMHO, that you will find in any restaurant in Croydon), confit leg of duck, and white chocolate and pistachio parfait.
My eyes are drawn, however, to the à la carte section, and the words “T-bone steak £20.95”.
Those tears that are running down my face on seeing these words are, dear reader, tears of anticipation, tears of joy. A T-bone steak is a monster of a steak, the “T” being a section of vertebra that sit between a sirloin and a fillet. Two steaks for the price of one, two steaks for less than £11!
For those who don’t already know, Little Bay is tucked away, almost hidden, on a corner of Selsdon Road, away from the so-called “Restaurant Quarter” along South End. Inside it is, it is fair to say, unusual in its lay-out and decor, all satins and velvets, deep reds and gold, galleries and booths. In normal times, they would have an opera singer entertain the midweek diners. But as we know only too well, these are not “normal” times.
We arrive to a palpable air of, if not panic, a certain frisson. “We are very busy,” says a harassed-sounding waitress down the phone while holding up an arm to both acknowledge us and stop us in the restaurant doorway. A queue starts to build behind us. We are eventually shown to our table and she stands in the doorway as we are led to our booth, thus forcing us to pass by within inches of her despite the signs asking us variously to stay both one and two metres apart at all times.
The booth is a good idea, our own socially-distanced bubble. The long table in the middle of the floor is left empty so that customers and staff can make their ways around it without having to get too close to each other. While there are multiple micro-infractions of distancing rules, the staff are clearly trying to cater on the hoof with a sudden influx of customers.
This is the first time that the usually packed Little Bay has been busy since March. Our very busy but supremely capable waitress takes our order and brings our half-price sparkling water and our full-priced (but moderately so at £5.35/250ml glass) red wine.
The food, which has always been very good value at Little Bay, is phenomenally so today.
My T-bone steak, finely sliced but premium quality, the bearnaise sauce wonderfully buttery, duck confit, its fat rendered out to leave a melt-in-the-mouth softness, and a perfect parfait.
I ask for another glass of wine and it arrives promptly. Food, wine, service, all beyond criticism.
And then came the bill.
We were a little concerned when three busy members of staff spent a few minutes crowded around the till debating various points on the bill, amending and re-amending it. Our waitress brought it to us and tentatively handed it over. Inevitably, I had a look at it: £28.30.
Twenty-eight pounds thirty??!!
I had estimated about £40; we had surely been undercharged. We had been undercharged.
They had applied a £20 discount but also charged us £10 less for the T-bone steak (so it had ended up costing 95p) and then added £1.60 because, with their double discount, our food had not come to the £20 and so did not merit the full discount.
We explained that we had been undercharged and they corrected it immediately so the final bill was £36.70 instead of the £56.70 it would have been without the Sunak wealth distribution intervention.
Conclusion? Leave a decent tip. Share your good luck with the waiting staff. Think about it: £20 off a meal for two is going to translate into around £2 less in tips per table. That is quite a knockback for anyone relying on minimum wage and tips in a restaurant job, as both Rishi and I know from personal experience. Especially so if they have been out of work for the past four months.
So, if we are lucky enough to be able to eat out on a weekday and happy enough to accept the largesse of the taxpayer, let’s pay it forwards, let’s stick another couple of quid back on, so that employees in the hospitality industry benefit as well as their employers.
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