Still made by hand, but sold out like a business

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to have lunch at the Raffles City branch of The Handburger. The previous times we ate there, they hadn’t gotten their “brand new look” yet, and we liked their burgers enough to eat there several times.

So we had really high hopes for a tasty burger lunch, but they were soon dashed by a young waiter who appeared either really ill with a cough and cold or was putting on a show of being really ill with a cough and cold. He coughed and sniffled into the palm of his hand several times, then went and served food without first going to wipe up whatever he sneezed or coughed into his hand.

I complained to the manager on duty, who said he’d speak to the waiter. About fifteen minutes later, the waiter was still doing the same thing, prompting me to ask the manager what he’d said to the waiter.

The manager then asked me, “What did the waiter do or say to you?”, prompting me to explain the whole thing again, this time, loud enough for the other patrons to hear. He then apologized and came back with a receipt that said he’d wiped out the service charge on our bill. Really nice of him to do so.

Then came the food. We began to ask him why the burgers were so amazingly tough, and before we finished asking our question, he explained that that was a common query, and that management had told him to tell patrons that with the new setup (and brand new look), they now “separate the fat from the meat, so with less fat, it is no longer so tender”. We quickly abandoned our second question of why the milkshake was so watery.

You heard it here. The Handburger sells bullshit.

Mezza 4 1/2

The back of the dessert menu features Pierre Hermé scratching his head wondering: “Hmmm, foie gras with creme brulee? I dunno… think they might go for it?”

We had a good dinner in the company of good friends on Thursday at the Grand Hyatt’s Mezza9 despite some disappointments which I am compelled to talk about.

Because I care about the state of the service industry in Singapore.

We were looking forward to sampling the desserts of a celebrated chef, Pierre Hermé, who was in town for the World Gourmet Summit.

After ordering just enough entrees from the main menu so as to save space for dessert, we stopped a very busy looking waitress and asked to order a portion of each dessert in the dessert menu.

She didn’t explain what each of the desserts were, which I thought was ok, because the menu did describe them in some detail. But when the desserts were served, the serving staff did not explain which dessert was which.

Which I still thought was ok, because then we’d have a bit of fun figuring out which dessert was which. We had to do this also because the photos on the dessert menu didn’t match the text. (We figured this out because we knew what a macaroon looked like).

But then, and only then, did the waiting staff tell us that the dessert we were all most looking forward to – the creme brulee with foie gras – had been sold out.

This is not on, fellas. You could’ve told us earlier. We could’ve ordered something else to quell our rising disappointment. We could’ve rioted and chucked you in your wood-fired oven. Lucky thing some of the other desserts were quite good. Pierre Hermé saved your collective skins, some of which, by the way, are either due for a good scrub or there’s something wrong with your laundry contractor’s detergent. Some of the aroma of which we caught several whiffs are definitely not from the yakitori grill.

Get it together, restaurant manager. Mezza 4 1/2.

Desserts minus one
revelation: puff pastry with tomato, mascarpone, pieces of black olives, olive oil and strawberry compote
My favourite: tarte mogador: shortcrust pastry, passionfruit and milk chocolate ganache, roasted pineapple and flourless chocolate cake.

Grand Hyatt Singapore
10 Scotts Road,
Singapore 228211 (map)
Tel: +65 6738 1234

The weekend worrier

Spat out

I had an unpleasant experience on Saturday over coffee at the Hilton. We had ordered some of the hotel’s world-famous cheesecakes to go with our coffee, and were settling down nicely to gorge ourselves further after a heavy lunch.

Coffee was served with some complimentary choux pastry. Being the greedy person that I am, I stuffed an entire pastry into my mouth. There was something wrong with the taste of the pastry. So I said to Naomi “there’s something wrong with the pastry”, to warn her that there was something wrong with the pastry. But of course, I continued chewing into the pastry, and very cleverly swallowing some, hoping for the taste to go away.

It didn’t, so I said again, “there’s something wrong with the pastry”.

I must have said it three times more before my brain finally decided, “there’s something really wrong with the pastry”, and I spat what remained of the pastry onto my saucer, nursing a residual burning sensation in my mouth.

A waitress came over and I mumbled to her, “there’s something wrong with the pastry”, and added, “there’s a burning sensation”, “maybe there’s detergent or insecticide in it”, “I think you should get someone to taste it”.

The waitress said something to the effect of “I’ll get you some other pastry”, or more likely, as is the Singaporean way of saying it, “I change the pastry for you”, before taking the remaining pastries on the plate back to the bar counter, where she sniffed at it, opened the box from whence the pastry came, and took the box of pastries to some backroom.

An eternity must have passed before someone who looked like a manager (I forget his Ang Moh name on his nametag) came over to ask how things were, and I explained all over again about the something wrong with the pastry, and he went over to the bar counter, and from where we were sitting, looked like he was interrogating the waitress and bar staff about the errant pastries. The box that contained the pastries was produced out of the backroom, but which was now empty.

From where we were sitting, it looked like he was asking where the rest of it was, and how come they threw it away without finding out what was wrong with the pastry.

A second eternity passed before the manager came back with a bottle of liquid which he explained could’ve been the cause of the taste. It was some sort of flavouring he said the chef could’ve used in the pastry. We had a spoonful of it and decided it didn’t have the same burning sensation we had come to know.

Over my repeated muttering that “there’s something wrong with the pastry”, Naomi finally and very sensibly said to the manager, “well, there’s not much you can do about it now that you don’t have the pastry to taste it”, and we left it at that, even though I was quite upset that the waitress didn’t do anything about our complaint.

Or so we thought.

The waitress came over again with a plate of a different type of pastry, only for me to say something agitatedly to the effect of, “I don’t want any more pastry or cookie, I want to know what’s wrong with the pastry I ate!”

But unless they took the trouble to sift through the freshly strewn trash where they must have dumped the pastry, there really was nothing we could do but accept the apologies of the very industrious manager (he sniffed the box that contained the pastry and looked like he was going to lick it) and his waiving of the price of the cheesecakes which we understandably didn’t eat any more of.

And wait. To see if I had poisoned myself with the something wrong pastry.

It’s Tuesday, and I haven’t felt any worse yet. I might just rise from this chair and walk into a wall, but it doesn’t look likely to be caused by the pastry now.

If there’s anything to take out of this experience, it was the manager’s sense of urgency and immediate tackling of the matter. If there had been pastries left in the box, I have no doubt he would have taken a taste of it, putting himself at risk of becoming the mumbling idiot that I was.

Even after it was quite clear that there wasn’t much that could be done except wait to see if I had been poisoned, he came back to our table several times to apologise, and even mentioned that he understood that we would’ve lost our appetites for the two slices of world-famous cheesecake we ordered.

If only all the other staff were as diligent as he was, we might have been closer to resolving the mystery of the something wrong pastry.

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