Maybe it's because it's still fresh in my mind, perhaps it's because I've been rather spoilt in recent years and have lost touch with the reality of everyday eating out in Britain, but I'm pretty convinced that a couple of weeks ago, fetching my son back from university in Nottingham, I had an experience that set a new benchmark for appalling restaurant food.
In many ways this was a quite remarkable meal in that it had absolutely no redeeming features. In fact, it was so extraordinarily miserable that I feel inclined to share it with you, blow by blow.
Service (and I'm not sure you can credibly call it that): hopelessly slow, grudging, and lacking even the faintest whiff of hospitality. Not that the staff can really be blamed - they were clearly understaffed, harassed and no doubt embarrassed about the muck they were serving up.
Quality (it was fish and chips, by the way): abysmal, barely lukewarm, batter with the texture of a used sponge and a handful of chips whose every wrinkle spoke of advancing years and inhumane treatment.
Presentation: well, good food tends to look good, and bad food bad, so I don't need to paint you a picture. Suffice to say that this dish looked its most appealing when covered by an opaque plastic dome designed, rather hopefully, to keep the heat in.
Value for money: two of these, with a couple of coffees, set me back nearly £20. Even taking into account the fact that the coffee was hot, seats were provided, and we had free use of the toilet facilities, I felt like I'd been mugged.
Sympathy, of course, is not in order. I really should have known better than to go there in the first place. Where was it? Well, I think it would be judicious to let you work that one out for yourself. In fact, if you can come up with the exact venue (answers on a postcard, please) I'll take you to lunch - but not there.
Instead, we'll go to one of the highlights of 2004 for me, which means either the Anchor and Hope in Waterloo, or Heston Blumenthal's new pub venture, the Hinds Head in Bray. Eating at either of them may set me back a little more than 20 quid, but at least I know I wouldn't begrudge a penny of it.
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