A vegan out of water – Rivington Grill, Shoreditch

The Rivington Grill, 28-30 Rivington St, Shoreditch. http://www.rivingtongrill.co.uk/index.asp?area=67

I’m an accommodating vegan: I’ll join friends and family on special occasions at restaurants which specialise in animal, in which case it’s only fair that I take advance measures to help those types of restaurants prepare for me.

I was obliged to eat Sunday Lunch at the Rivington Grill for Matt’s brother’s 30th. Called them the day before to declare myself as a vegan, chose to get put through to the kitchen where I spoke to somebody called Jay who assured me that a note would be made in the book and there would be an option for me.

When I arrived, I let the man on the door know again. Within a few minutes a member of the waiting staff approached our table to let me know there was nothing I could have. Nothing? I queried. Nothing at all. I told her I’d called in advance (reserving Jay’s name until challenged), and she asked me whether in fact I’d asked for vegetarian food, because nobody in the kitchen would have offered me a vegan option. I told her I had been assured a vegan option, and she interrogated me a little about that, eventually changing her line from”You misunderstood” to “We misunderstood”. Then she went to check the soup, and later the hotpot – neither were, nor could be adapted to become, vegan. Then her imagination failed and I settled for a variation on one of the salads (while wintry hailstones fell intermittently outside the window).

She went about her business and was replaced by a waiter who took our drinks order. He refused Bob bitter and failed to offer the closest alternative of St Peter’s ale, which luckily Bob found for himself. Then he took our food order. Although he knew that I’d already run into problems, when I asked him during placing my order if he knew what a vegan was he seemed surprised at the question. At the same time he didn’t offer me a first course or anything more filling to have with my salad. We waited for the starters and after checking that the chips were alright, I added them to my order wondering why I hadn’t been offered them already.

The salad was fine, but there’s only so much of those four ingredients (chicory, beet, pear and walnut) one can manage, and they’d drowned it in mustard dressing without checking first. The chips were outstanding. Everybody liked their plates of beef, except there was little distinction between medium, rare and well done, and they mixed up a couple of them, if anything. The vegetable accompaniment went down well.

At about 27 minutes past 2, just after they’d cleared our main course, the earlier waiter announced that the table was booked at 2.30 and would we mind moving to the sofa area for dessert. We had been on time, and they should have told us that when we sat down.

I wasn’t offered an alternative dessert. Not sure how much it all cost – Bob paid.

Of course I can’t guarantee that the chefs ever got my original phone message, but you don’t want to make a nuisance of yourself so you have to take people’s word for it. This wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened. I’m often disappointed by more cultivated eateries such as the Rivington Grill. They take considerable pains to convey the impression that they cater for connoisseurs, but when challenged by an off-menu request – in this case, an advance one which they accepted at the time – they almost always demonstrate their ignorance and neglect of an entire section of cuisine, exposing the kitchen staff as similarly unimaginative and conventional to anywhere else. Nuts, seeds, grains and pulses, guys – that should be your mantra. They’re non-perishable, and in the right hands they can be magic.

They’ll tell me it was Mothering Sunday, and they were busy. The best restaurants rise to these occasions, particularly when they’re forewarned. I left hungry and cheesed-off.

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