SHOCKING SERVICE!! We booked a table on an offer which included a discount on food and a complimentary glass of wine per person. We clarified with the waitress that we would only be ordering mezze who confirmed the discount and wine would be included as per the offer. At the end of the meal we were surprised that the bill had a charge for the wine.
On questioning the charge for wine, we were aggressively informed that we need to order mains also to redeem the wine offer (although this is contrary to the offer on the web and condradicts what the waitress stated). Out of principal, I felt it was unfair for the wine to be included as a charge item. Both the manager & owner, became increasingly aggressive and abusive (verbally and once physically!!) stating that the bill needed to be paid in full or they would call the police. I invited them to make the call, although I stated that they are wasting policere sources. We were further told to stand outside the restaurant in the rain, told never to enter the restaurant ever again, and moreover insulted by the owner stating that we 'shouldn't go to such a restaurant if we couldn't f*&%ing afford to pay for it'!!
In sum, food good.....but the whole experience was awful. I would suggest customer service training but it seems fultile due to abysmal ability of both the owner and manager themselves to manage such simple customer affairs.
Fakhreldine is a posh Lebanese restaurant in London situated on Piccadilly at the Green Park end. I first noticed it probably ten years ago whilst passing by on the top deck of a double decker bus and for years afterwards each time I passed by I have made a mental note to try it out sometime. I once mentioned it to a friend with a Middle Eastern father and she confirmed that for this type of cuisine it was The Place to go in London.
For no particular reason, it never quite made it to the top of my list of restaurants to try out until this Wednesday when it was deemed the venue of choice for my 36th birthday.
Booking and first impressions
We made our booking via www.toptable.co.uk, a website I find very handy for restaurant bookings and checking availabilities, you can even see what times are available so there is no need to make lots of more time consuming phone calls. We booked about one month in advance, there were plenty of reservation times available and we chose 8pm.
We arrived at the restaurant about one hour early as I knew there was a lounge area and I wanted to try that out as well. Upon entering the building there is not much downstairs and no staff around so we went straight upstairs. As we had decided to stay in my flat in Wimbledon overnight rather than try to get the last train home to Essex, we felt rather clumsy with our overnight rucksacks but these were swiftly taken off us to the cloakroom.
The restaurant is divided into two areas, a lounge area and the formal dining area. I believe it has been recently refurbished, the décor was quite understated and minimalist and they have resisted going for a typical Middle Eastern look (which I quite like), and have gone for something plainer but more elegant. The bar is large, stylish and takes prominence in the lounge, along three sides of it there are high bar stools most of which were taken by the time we left but not when we arrived. Additionally in the lounge there were some comfortable chairs and tables for up to four people along the side and in the middle of the room there were two very large, velvet corner sofas which would I think would have been a very nice space for a couple of groups of about 6 to 8 friends to relax with drinks.
We indicated that we would like to start with a drink in the lounge and I was pleased to be offered one of these large comfortable sofas particularly as there were only two of us but we were still offered the best seat available. On the table we had a backgammon board however we did not play as we do not know the rules. Our drinks, two champagne cocktails were served to us with a bowl of spicy nuts.
At the moment we decided to move to the restaurant all the staff seemed to disappear at once and it took us a few minutes to find somebody to show us to our table. The dining room is separated from the lounge by a screen but essentially it is all one big room. There are windows overlooking Green Park and Piccadilly all the way along one wall of the restaurant and there are about eight tables for two squashed along here. I thought these tables were too close together, no problems when sitting and tucked in but only the most lithe would not disturb the person at the next table when getting up or down.
Parallel to this row of tables for two, and through the middle of the restaurant was a line of tables all set out for four people. None of these were occupied when I was there but they did look to be nicely spaced out from the next table.
Finally, there was a long row of comfortable cushioned seating along the dividing wall which had three individual tables in front of it. The gap between these tables was absolutely no more than 3 inches, so if you were sat in the middle one and needed to get up, it would cause considerable upheaval for everybody around you as you would literally need to pull out the entire middle section of table into the middle of the room virtually to pass. In my opinion this was just not feasible and I would have been very annoyed had I needed to do that or if I had been at the next table.
We were offered one of the window tables, which would have been very agreeable if it were not for the two people at the next, very closely positioned table, sitting in a cloud of smoke and the only other window table free was on the other side of them. I thought it was bad enough that the restaurant allowed smoking when there was a perfectly good lounge area, however at the very least some segregation of smoking and non-smoking tables is desperately required in my opinion.
Not wanting to eat our food in smoke, we instead opted for one of the tables on the other side of the restaurant along the dividing wall. I normally always like to try and get a window table but I was perfectly happy with the table we ended up on. We could still see out of the windows and anyway the view was only a road I have seen a million times and a park that was mainly in darkness.
The menu was not very extensive but sometimes long menus make decisions too difficult so this one was just about the right length. The starters were mezze style, there were about a dozen to choose from and included several vegetarian options. We decided to choose three between the two of us and went for the falafels, grilled hallumi cheese and spicy lamb sausages. For our main courses I chose baby aubergines stuffed with minced lamb and he chose five spiced lamb with rice, we also decided to get some grilled vegetables to share. The wine list had a good selection of reds and whites from all over the world including Lebanon and prices started at about £20, which I thought was reasonable for a London restaurant. We chose a New Zealand white for £28.
The wine arrived after a couple of minutes along with a complementary pre-appetizer. We found this odd, comprising of a small iceberg lettuce cut in half, an unchopped baby cucumber, four cherry tomatoes and two spring onions! With no dressing, plates or cutlery offered, we fleetingly wondered if it was a plastic table decoration but I gamely bit into a spring onion and it was not. We didnt eat much of it and thankfully the proper starters arrived about five minutes later. The falafels were slightly larger than golf balls and there were five of them in the serving with a small pot of yoghurt dressing, I can categorically state that these were the finest falafels I have ever tasted and they simply melted in the mouth, no other way to describe it. The serving of spicy sausages was very generous and these were served with cherry tomatoes in a delicately spiced sauce. Also a truly delicious dish, I had expected we would leave the tomatoes but they were as good as the sausages. Finally the cheese, well it was grilled cheese, no elaboration required. Ten out of ten for the starters.
After a break, which was not quite long enough as these dishes are filling, our main courses arrived. I did not like the look of Lees dish at all because the meat looked completely dried out and also it was rather inartistically plopped onto the plate with a serving of rice that also looked like it had just been spooned on, I typically pay more attention to presentation when I am feeding my cats. With some trepidation, Lee tried the meat. We should not have worried, somehow below the dried out surface the meat was succulent and fell off the bone, I had to have a taste and can confirm that it was very good.
My own dish on the other hand did very well on presentation as well as taste. My baby aubergines were arranged in an edible pastry bowl (which was on my non-edible plate so it was not awkward!) along with a nice creamy sauce and vegetables. I would say though, that my dish was described as baby aubergines stuffed with minced lamb, well my aubergines were un-stuffed and the traces of lamb were microscopic. This meal did also come as a vegetarian option, however I definitely had some lamb so presumably this was not a mix up, which I would have found more acceptable. It was nevertheless very tasty, not too spicy and I got over my missing lamb disappointment.
We were both extremely full after our starters and mains, uncomfortably so and did not have room for dessert or even coffee.
It was not a busy night in the restaurant and there seemed to be about the right number of waiters and waitresses on duty. Occasionally I found them to be inattentive, such as when we wanted to go to our table it was hard to attract anybodys attention but I would not say this was a huge problem. Once attention was gained, they were all very charming and likeable although they were over zealous in clearing the table. I had barely put my knife and fork down after the main course before my plate vanished for instance.
One really annoying aspect of the service was the topping up of wine glasses. They seemed to have a policy of not topping up until both our glasses were totally empty and then, to my outrage, each time, sir was poured at least half an inch more wine than madam! It was difficult for me to address this injustice because the bottle was placed in a cooler by the wall rather than by our table and I would have had to get up and walk across the room to get it. I managed to refrain from doing so but was quite aggrieved as it was my birthday and I can drink him under the table any day of the week.
The bill for the three starter dishes, two main courses, one side dish, a bottle of wine and a bottle of sparkling water was £93.50 before 12.5% added service. I thought this was a good price for this delicious food and a restaurant of this standard in central London. The champagne cocktails we had in the lounge were £10 each so one would not want to have too many of them, but again this is not totally unreasonable or unusual for this part of London.
After a ten year wait, Fakhreldine was always going to have to be good to meet my expectations. Sadly, the experience was not as special as I thought it would be, I thought there was something lacking in the ambience and I think some middle eastern touches to the décor might have helped set the scene for me. The service could be improved just a little bit and they definitely need to sort out an acceptable smoking policy and show consideration towards non-smokers who I believe are still in a majority.
The four stars I have rated have been earned primarily on the food, which was absolutely superb. But for the other reasons, although I enjoyed my evening and am glad I finally have been here, I wont be rushing back any time soon.