Everyone is familiar with the numerous voucher programs these days. Groupon and LivingSocial are the most well-known and offer tremendous discounts at businesses enticing us to make purchases we wouldn't normally consider. These vouchers are most common for restaurants and beauty/spa treatments, but are available for a broad spectrum of activities including horseback riding, holidays, rental cars and gym visits just to name a few. I have taken advantage of these discounts on a few occasions and as a result have been introduced to businesses that I now use that I wouldn't have found otherwise. In my opinion, for it to benefit the business, they should aim to provide an experience that you enjoy so much that you return and pay full price and rave to friends who might also pay full price. I usually avoid restaurant vouchers as I am worried about the quality of food if they are offering extreme discounts. However, recently, my close friend Katrina, found us a voucher for Roux at Parliament Square on TravelZoo. I am not familiar with TravelZoo but it is a website for finding discounts. She had heard great things about this restaurant and I read a positive review from the Critical Couple on their visit last summer so we were looking forward to it. Unfortunately, our experience was far from enjoyable.
We were seated in a room toward the back of the restaurant. I wasn't too keen on the décor and it soon became clear this back room was reserved for voucher holders. The main room of the restaurant was for full paying guests. We were asked what we wanted to drink twice and in reply requested the wine menu twice. While waiting for the wine menu, we were served canapés...mini shepherds pie and beetroot cured salmon. The salmon was lovely, but the shepherds pie was cold and grisly. Like when you fry mince and leave a bit of leftover in the pan for a few hours and the fat congeals...that's what it tasted like...with some mash on top.
We finally received the wine menu and considered the tasting flight for £45, but opted to purchase a bottle instead and went for a New Zealand white that was not on the menu but was recommended by the waiter.
Not too long after we were served a cauliflower velouté topped with woodland mushrooms and a Gruyère gougère on the side (a pastry puff filled with cheese). The velouté was nice, light and creamy offset by the woody taste of the mushrooms. The cheese puff...very cold. I imagine it could have been delicious. The cheese filling was creamy with a nice strong nutty flavour, but I think it would have been better warm or at least room temperature.
Next up- Terrine of cornfed chicken & smoked ham hock, dandelion salad, mustard cream. The terrine was tasty, but topped with a sprinkling of very salty and not so crunchy pork scratching bits.
Next- Risotto Nero with salt and pepper squid. This was served in parley oil and topped with a garlic emulsion. The risotto was delightful. Well cooked and the flavours of the parsley oil and garlic emulsion married perfectly in my mouth with each bite of risotto. Unfortunately, the squid was horribly overcooked and chewy with soggy breading. It could have been a perfect dish, but was far from it.
This is about when the meal began to go horribly wrong. I think we had nearly an hour wait before our next course. I began to observe other diners and found many of them were having a difficult experience as well. The table near us was brought dessert THREE times and they hadn't yet received their main. When it was finally time for their dessert they had to wait nearly an hour. In addition, a woman a couple tables away had clearly mentioned a nut allergy when arriving and received her dessert loaded with almonds. Both of these tables received a complementary glass of dessert wine and an apology.
When we finally received our next course I mentioned the long wait and was told it was very busy in the other room and the chef was struggling. I felt like the implication was that the "other" room was more important.
The first main was a grilled fillet of trout, Jersey Royals and vinaigrette of sea vegetables with dill and cucumber. The fish was lovely but I found the sea vegetables made it overly salty. This is when we ran out of wine and were never offered any more. We tried several times to get the attention of a staff member to order another bottle, but that failed. Our wait for the next main was another 30 minutes or so and we were so happy to receive it we forgot to ask for the wine...and of course they didn't come back.
This course was a roast quail with honey and truffle glaze, creamed potatoes and hispi cabbage. We enjoyed this course. Everything was done well, the mash was creamy and delicious and the sweet glaze complemented the tender quail perfectly.
We then received a pre-dessert. Apple panacotta, apple jelly and cucumber granita. I really enjoyed this. The flavours were light and fresh - very cleansing.
The dessert was Poached Yorkshire Rhubarb 'pavlova', stem ginger chantilly topped with almonds. Despite the rhubarb pieces being undercooked to the point of being inedible this was a beautiful and tasty dish. It was a shame the rhubarb ruined it.
On a trip to the restroom, I had noticed the cheese board...it was amazing. Full of about 15 different types of cheese. When the waitress came for our coffee order we asked about the cheese. She said it was for the a' la carte menu, but if we really wanted some she could send someone over. I said I was interested. No one arrived until just after we received our coffee. He first went to the poor table next to us that had been offered their dessert three time before the main. They were still waiting for the dessert...so were probably not impressed when they were asked about cheese. He didn't wheel over the large cheese board, but instead announced to us that they had a "blue one, a goats one, a soft one and a hard one" and that we could have a plate of really small slices of each for £14. Seriously? Obviously I wasn't enticed by that sales pitch so I declined.
We had long finished our coffee while still waiting for our petit fours. Not sure the reason for the massive wait...plenty of staff members were wandering about not knowing what to do. When it arrived it was a plate with a passion fruit marshmallow and a lemon madeline that had obviously been previously prepared. We mentioned we would have liked to have them with coffee...instead of offering us a second one the waitress shrugged. The madeline was stale, the marshmallow nothing special but by this stage we were quite angry.
We had paid £45 each for this meal. Normal menu price is £70. I will say we weren't charged for our wine. However, I think this was a mistake rather than a comp as we did not receive any apology for the service. It seemed the normal freebie for all the other complaints around us was a glass of dessert wine. To be honest I would have much rather paid for this bottle of wine and another than to have sat wine-less and annoyed for so long. Our meal was a gruelling 3.5 hours long. We listed our complaints on our way out and the friendly receptionist was very apologetic. I delayed this post as Katrina wrote a letter and I wanted to see if she got a reply, but there was none. I was appalled by the service we and every other table in the "voucher" room received on this evening. I would forgive slow service, but combined with all the other mistakes and the weird cheese situation I just don't understand what was going on. It really seemed as if the possession of a voucher had put us in the equivalent of economy class on an airline. I think that full paying guests probably receive a very different experience, but I won't be returning to find out.