A few weeks ago, an email dropped into my inbox.
Thank you for making your reservation at Dabbous, it said. Your reservation is confirmed.
Which, as any London-based food-fans will understand, was extremely exciting.
Dabbous is possibly the most over-subscribed London restaurant in the history of over-subscribed London restaurants: it opened at the beginning of this year, and within a couple of weeks was subject to a rave review from the Standard’s Fay Maschler, which was precisely the point at which it became completely impossible to get a table.
So impossible, in fact, that when the email above landed, it took me a few seconds to process: it had been so long since I sent a speculative note wondering whether I could book a table that I had clean forgotten I’d done it. And it’ll give you a little more sense of just how sought-after dinner bookings are if I tell you that, although the dinner date is now pencilled into the diary, it’s pencilled into the lovely little “Future engagements” section that Smythson does at the back, because the reservation is for July 2013. Yup, that’s another NINE MONTHS. The Writer and I had met and moved in together inside the time it took for me to ask for a table and the date on which I’ll finally get to eat there.
(And before anyone gets snippy, and says “it’s just not worth it”, you’re entitled to that opinion, and are probably less fussed about eating there than I am. However, I have a hankering to, thus will put up with the absurdly long wait: it’s not as if I’m planning an entire social calendar around this particular occasion, and have no other engagements beforehand to keep me occupied. When the date in question does roll round, it will merely be a nice thing already planned.)
So you’d think that restaurants at entirely the other end of the scale – those that don’t take bookings – would be my cup of Earl Grey. And you’d be right – up to a point.
When you’ve made an impromptu decision with a friend to catch up after work or are nipping out for a lazy lunch on a Saturday afternoon, it’s highly useful to have a few great places where you know there’s a chance of being able to eat (that, and I won’t hear a bad thing said about Russell Norman, owner and staunch advocate of no-bookings establishments, and owner of Polpetto, where brilliant things happen).
Of course, this approach also has its frustrations: turn up at any time that’s considered meal time, and you’re likely to have to queue for a not-inconsiderable length of time; once word of mouth has spread that it’s actually pretty good, you’ll need an enormous amount of planning – or luck – ever to be able to eat there again (I’m looking at you, Honest Burgers Brixton); and it’s entirely impractical for those who want to eat at a particular place on a particular night for a particular occasion.
Which is why, much as I was wholly underwhelmed by Brasserie Zedel (the food is fine, but no better than that, and if you order cleverly, yes it’s cheap, but – meh), I am in staunch agreement with how they go about things: make tables available to book, and have a policy of holding some back every night for walk-ins: perfect. It’s more democratic, it’s more convenient, and – crucially – it doesn’t rely on my having to buy a new diary to write down my dinner plans.