Slippery customer

Slippery customer


My wife, Rohan, suggested that we eat out at Vince et Versa, a restaurant nearby. I agreed but on one condition, that I be allowed to bring my own cutlery. My proposal was rejected – it would be an affront.  A day later, I hatched a less obtrusive plan and a table was booked.

I had a problem with their cutlery when we first ate there a year ago. The restaurant had been refurbished and in the process an unexpected snag had arisen – the new, wider, deeper plates were incompatible with the old cutlery. So, on that evening, while the food was delicious, eating was dogged by knife slippage; each time I placed my knife on the side of the plate it would slip slowly down into the plate and mingle with the food.

When it comes to using cutlery, I am ‘American’ rather than ‘European’. So, for the main course, while Europeans classically keep hold of their knives and forks throughout a dish, I only retain the fork. After I have cut up my food into manageable portions, I put the knife down, switch the fork to the my right hand and eat using the fork alone. The question now arises as what to do with the redundant knife. Some lay it along the lip of the plate, others place it across the edge of the plate with the blade either in the air or sitting in the bottom of the plate. I do the latter and once in place I expect the knife to stay put. That evening it didn’t, and I was forever fishing its whole length out of the sauce. Despite much wiping, my fingers were soon coated with an egg yolk, cream, lemon and wine sauce, and while such a mixture was fine for the veal, as a hand cream it was less than savoury.

I complained to the waitress about the slipping knife and although she apologised I felt that my concern was not taken seriously. I said no more, at least initially. Readers should know that, by nature, I vocalise. If the service is good, I give praise; if things are wrong, I complain. As we left that evening I spoke to the chef, who happened also to be the owner – Vincent, hence the Vince in the restaurant name. I told him how I found coping with slippery, and subsequently sticky, silverware unacceptable. He explained that in the refurbishment he had been forced to make economies and even now, changing the cutlery was beyond his budget. I left grumbling.

For our revisit, I went to the restaurant prepared. The waitress, who was the same as last year but this time rather less smiley, showed us to our table. The cutlery was as before and, after the food arrived and I had cut it up, I soon found myself catching my knife as it slipped downwards. With Rohan looking on puzzled, I took an elastic band from my bag and wound it round the knife handle. It functioned as a brake and the handle stayed dry.

When the waitress came to collect the plates, I pointed out how Rohan’s cutlery had slipped down while mine had been restrained. Before even looking at the knives she said how my comments did not surprise her: she had recognised me the minute I walked though the door and expected the worst. Then she noticed the band and first smiled with knowing sympathy at Rohan and then at me with an air of resignation but relief – the tension had been diffused.

Moments later, Vincent arrived from the kitchen holding aloft my band now washed clean. Again, he apologised for the oversight and asked if he could keep the band for when we came back. I concurred, adding he might also wish to offer it to other customers similarly compromised. This, he said, would not be necessary, my complaint was unique – a claim soon to be challenged.

Next day, I told the story of my slippery adventure to a local couple. Both had eaten at Vince et Versa and while the wife did not recognise my dilemma, the husband certainly did. Moreover he asked if I could supply him with some elastic bands for his next visit. I gave him a handful; I assume that others might need some too!

Plate by Nicola Suckling Fine Bone China


3 comments on “Slippery customer
  1. Andy Ince says:

    We had a most excellent lunch yesterday at Côté Mer in Cancale (is that near you?) and for me at least (if not my wife, who is not that fond of oysters – or foie gras for that matter) the pleasure of the meal was enhanced by the innovative cutlery design, which I commend to you and the proprietors of Vince et Versa.

    I was permitted to take a photograph, and you will notice that the handle of the knife is rotated at 90° with respect to the blade, and thus the knife can be parked on the tablecloth with minimal contact. The tablecloth is disposable, in keeping with the mode of French restaurants these days, though the benefit would apply to the wipeable oilcloths still used in the remoter places.


  2. Andy Ince says:

    Joe, you are a legend in your own lunchtime! At least you hadn’t previously sent you steak back and asked for it done a l’anglais (grey throughout) otherwise expulsion would surely have been their only recourse.

    Anyway, here’s another practical suggestion to add to Annie’s idea. On the table at Japanese restaurants you’ll often find a chopstick rest, where you can park your chopsticks in between dishes. These are often very beautiful objects – you could make your own slightly larger version and carry it around with you as a knife rest. Voila!

    There’s even a simple DIY project which I can thoroughly recommend:

    Perhaps you could make me one too?

  3. Annie Trébern says:

    For your next visit to Vince and versa, you could make an elastic band-holder, which would be placed on the table in the same way as pepper, salt and toothpicks. That way all customers would benefit from your invention, which you could patent and sell, and you would become very rich!

    Amitié. Annie

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