By Patrick Skinner
Occasional correspondent and dear friend Charalambous writes: “Your report in this week's Cyprus Gourmet on a diner's quarter of a million pound bill draws attention to the significance of a decimal point and also the importance of checking the bill before paying. I had a similar experience a few days ago. After lunch with my granddaughter at a fairly fast food eatery in Limassol, I was presented with a bill at the checkout which seemed a bit steep. With only the briefest scrutiny and not a word from the cashier, our bill was promptly reduced to less than half, which saved us from paying for a few rather pricey pizzas which we hadn't had. More than the error itself (perhaps fat finger on the computer), I was taken by the insouciance of the cashier, who gave the impression this was an everyday occurrence”.
“Mistakes” are one thing. Deliberately loading a bill is another. Sadly, it goes on everywhere. Overcharging was a house custom at a London dining club I belonged to some years ago. It was called The Wig and Pen Club and was founded by one Dick Brennan, known then for sailing the Atlantic in the 1950s in a replica of the Pilgrim Fathers’ 1620 “Mayflower”. He never held his staff to account for “extras” added to bills.
One night I was entertaining two Japanese visitors to dinner and we observed some Americans at a nearby table were complaining loudly about being over-charged. When my bill arrived, I notice that it, too, had been loaded. Anxious to avoid a scene and loss of face, I paid up. This was sad, really, because the Wig & Pen was fascinatingly housed in one of the few buildings in Fleet Street to escape the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was always full of interesting people. Great names of Fleet Street adorned the bar into mid-afternoon. The food was good, too.
Effusive or excessive service can mask inflations of the bill…
A Cypriot restaurateur, whom I knew well, said to me one day: “Sure I overcharge tourists – they got plenty haven’t they?” and another told me: “We got two prices, one for locals, one for foreigners”. Yes, back then I was green and I got ripped off, until I learned a bit of Greek and if things looked problematic I would make it plain (a) I was resident and (b) a journalist.
Nowadays, getting back at the unscrupulous is easier than it was. You can use social media to go public with your experience, or go on to a website such as “Trip Advisor”. Or you can join a small, exclusive club, you can write to the Cyprus Gourmet.
Yes, a few people do write to me. The interesting thing is that over the years I have been writing in the press here, only one, just one, correspondent was a Cypriot. All the rest were foreign.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day
I wonder how many of my readers will be taking St. Valentine’s Day seriously and either going out with their loved for a meal, or cooking one, in the cause of romance? This begs the question… are there any aphrodisiac foods?
The answer most writers give is “No”. But, the right meal can be a wonderful item of leverage, so to speak. In her delightful book “An Alphabet for Gourmets”, the celebrated American writer M.F.K. Fisher tackled various aspects of food and amour. She considers, under “W – for Wanton”, that a lady would stand a good chance if she served a prospect with this meal…
“Good Scotch and water for him, and a very dry Martini for me.
A hot soup made of equal parts of clam juice, chicken broth, and dry white wine, heated just to the simmer.
A light curry of shrimps or crayfish tails. The fish must be peeled raw, soaked in rich milk, and drained, and the sauce must be made of this milk, and the fish poached for at best six minutes in the delicately flavoured liquid. This is a reliable trick.
Rice for the curry, and a bland green salad — that is, with a plain French dressing containing more than its fair share of oil.
A dessert based on chilled cooked fruits, with a seemingly inno¬cent sauce made of honey, whole cinnamon, and brandy, poured over and around them at boiling point and allowed to chill”.
Personally, amour or not, this dinner would suit me fine, any night of the year. The rest of the book by this lady of several passions (food and alcohol were just two) is a treasure of observation, opinion and fine written English. This quote from a well-intentioned Email doesn’t reach that standard:
“Domus will be offering a romantic way to celebrate with your sweetheart over a candle diner in fine dining style!!!”
However you choose to enjoy yourself this Saturday, have a lovely time.
Who was St. Valentine?
One suggestion is that he was a Roman martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith. Other historians hold that St. Valentine was a temple priest jailed for defiance during the reign of Claudius. Whoever he was, Valentine really existed because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.
The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in The Nuremberg Chronicle, a great illustrated book printed in 1493. Alongside a woodcut portrait of him, the text states that Valentinus was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth [Claudius II]. Since he was caught marrying Christian couples and aiding any Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius in Rome, when helping them was considered a crime, Valentinus was arrested and imprisoned. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner — until Valentinus made a strategic error: he tried to convert the Emperor — whereupon he was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned and finally beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate in around 269 AD.
How do YOU feel today?
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get an Email or phone call from a “research” company asking what I think about a recent purchase and the service encountered in buying it. It seems rude to cursorily dismiss the caller, but, inveigled into responding you can be tied up for as long as 20 minutes. Thus, I shuddered when I read this item in “Caterer” magazine…
Expedia is to introduce a new feedback element to its platform, allowing guests to express their satisfaction or dismay as soon as they’ve checked in to a hotel.
Currently being rolled out in the US, the new system sends a notification to a guest who has booked through Expedia portals as soon as they have checked in asking how they are feeling. The guest is presented with a simple choice between happy and sad, with the results fed back in real time to the hotel.
If this happens to me I shall (a) check if there is another hotel nearby and (b) go to it. My fault for making a booking through Expedia.
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