Regular restaurant-goers and those in the industry will know that every venue has its own versions of the Siberia tables, which in the case of the worst examples only the unwitting and timid would fail to reject when directed to by the front-of-house team.
Those tables situated right next to the toilets, in draughty doorways, facing a wall, and on the busy pathway between front-of-house and kitchen would potentially rank as Siberia tables. But what I’ve found more problematic of late is the secondary dining room. This irks me just as much as being offered a low-end table because it’s like being invited to a house party but then not being allowed into the kitchen where you know all the interesting stuff is happening.
I have faced this very issue on a number of occasions over the past few months, which is now leading me to enquire at the time of booking that I want to be seated in the main dining room and not in some soulless basement or some overspill function room that hotels seem to have lots of – just waiting to suck in unsuspecting diners.
My run of bad luck in this area started at Gravetye Manor, near East Grinstead, where on snooping around I noticed one delightful wood-panelled candlelit dining room and another across the corridor much more brightly lit and plain with only a handful of tables. On enquiring which room we were to be seated in I was informed we were down to be in Siberia. Shortly afterwards I dispatched my wife to have the situation rapidly addressed.
It was clear within minutes of sitting down that we were in the main room where all the life was, in contrast to the overspill room nearby. I now offer my apologies to the couple that were no doubt unwittingly jettisoned into the other room.
Following this experience I was very aware that our family’s Christmas Day meal at the Mermaid Inn in Rye involved running the gauntlet of three dining rooms. The main one steeped in history, the second much smaller one was okay at a push while the third would be a disaster to have to dine in – for any meal longer than breakfast. Various requests to members of the hotel team ensured we avoided Siberia and had a very enjoyable four hours in a lovely dining room with the full buzz you’d expect on Christmas Day.
Back in London, a meal was recently booked at Indian restaurant Jamavar. Once my coat had been dispatched I was led out of the lively ground-floor dining room into the basement where only two people were sat. When asked if I’d like some water I accepted it – as long as it came with a table upstairs. It was such a relief when I was led back to civilisation that I needed a number of stiff drinks, which undoubtedly made my move upstairs a profitable one for the restaurant.
I’ve become increasingly fussy about where I’m seated in a restaurant in just the same way that I no longer accept being served quality craft beer in bog standard half-pint glasses. This is based on the fact I’m now more than willing to argue my case about where I’m sat – partly fuelled by the knowledge that dinner out in a half decent place is not a cheap exercise nowadays and I therefore must have all the right pieces in place.