Royal Exchange Grand Café: Could do better (October 2016)

The Royal Exchange occupies a beautiful and iconic location in the heart of the City of London. Within it, the Grand Café is a long-standing favourite, regularly used for impromptu coffees and occasionally a working breakfast or a quick bite at lunch. However, I had the misfortune to come here for dinner on a recent weekday night and certainly will not be revisiting the venue for this form of occasion in the future. It wasn’t that the food was bad – quite the contrary – just that the service was appalling. What made the experience all the more shocking is that on a Monday night, most restaurants (and especially in the City) would be delighted for custom. When my comrade and I dined at The Gallery (the upstairs area of the Café, and a superb location for people-watching down below) the place was half-empty, yet they still couldn’t get things right. It began with the drinks. The wine (an Albarino from North-West Spain) was initially served far too warm. I asked for it to be chilled. This resulted in them placing the wine in an ice bucket tantalising out of reach. Like being a child forced to await a treat, it was impossible to attract anyone’s attention to bring said bottle over to us. Eventually we resorted to getting up and bringing it to our table. Only a mumbled and slightly gauche apology followed. It was no better going with tap water. Stingy portions were poured into our glasses and no-one appeared willing at any stage to catch our eye in order for us to signal a top-up. At least the starter and main arrived without controversy. I began with fresh oysters, which were presented beautifully and served – fortuitously – at exactly the right temperature. My risotto main also pleased, with the use of Sicilian lemon adding a welcome piquancy and lightness to the dish. I also sampled a bite of my comrade’s sautéed king prawn main, which hit all the right spots, the fish meat being juicy and complemented well with chilli. Things were looking up at this stage, but then went downhill again. We asked for a plate of cheese to share for dessert. Now, even in a busy restaurant, this shouldn’t take long to prepare, but after a wait of 15 minutes, the delay was no longer even comedic, just severely tedious. I complained, told them to forget the cheese and, while they were at it, deduct the service charge from the bill. This they admittedly did, but it was hardly accompanied by a fulsome apology. My advice – just stick to the coffee here.