Afternoon Tea in the Lobby Lounge
Ritz Carlton Hotel, Dubai
Many of Dubai’s hotels will serve one form or another of a ‘British afternoon tea’: various versions, many slightly odd, of this ‘traditional British delight’ are offered in lobby lounges across the city.
We chose to go to the Ritz Carlton for an Eid treat: a party of ten, booked two weeks in advance. Sarah and I had been there during Ramadan, seen the tea buffet they’d put out and thought it would be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with friends. The Ritz Carlton lobby lounge is a great location, incidentally, a pleasant change from Dubai’s marble-bedecked faux interiors, with its comfortable chairs, calming colours and impressive, vaulted wooden ceiling. It’s a pleasant place to sit and while away a cup and chat. We got together a group of pals to join us and booked it.
They muffed the booking. Finally re-booked, we turned up at 3pm as promised. A waitress delivered sparkling water on request, and menus. We all then waited for 20 minutes as some five staff tended to seven occupied tables, missing ours consistently. The buffet wasn’t out – apparently that only happens on Saturdays. Oh well...
Fed up with waiting for someone, anyone to take our orders, I eventually got up, walked over to the serving station and complained. A waitress came and took our orders for tea. We all opted for the ‘Ritz Carlton tea’, a selection of sandwiches, cakes and petits fours together with a pot of the finest delicacies of the tea world. Two of our party were vegetarians and one requested no butter on the sandwiches.
We then waited for a very long time indeed: in fact just over 45 minutes and a second complaint, for the tea to appear. Four pots did. Then another wait. An hour into the ‘experience’, the two herbal teas arrived and completed the order of nine teas. One guest had coffee, the single cup arrived promptly and was drunk in ten minutes, leaving her watching everyone else drinking pots of tea for the afternoon. We ordered more coffee for her eventually. This wasn’t charged, so was apparently a ‘bottomless’ cup, but was never at any stage offered by staff.
The clock had moved on by now, but there was no food. Over an hour after ordering, not a speck of edible stuff. Not even a biscuit. In the meantime, waiting, we drank four bottles of sparkling water, charged to us at an interesting Dhs 32 each. The lobby lounge, I would like to be clear on this, was not exceptionally busy.
We finally complained to a suit and pointed out that we’d been waiting over an hour for some food to arrive. Some dishes of jam and whipped cream turned up. The cream was advertised as ‘Devonshire clotted cream’. It most certainly was not clotted and highly likely not from Devonshire. If you’ve ever been to Devonshire, the famous cream is yellow and rich, not polyfilla white. Clotted cream is thick, rich and gloopy. This had been whipped and wasn’t.
I defy anyone from the Ritz Carlton to prove to me that it has been serving Devonshire clotted cream with its teas. If not, then it needs to change its menu descriptions and stop misleading people.
Ninety minutes in, the tea trays started to be brought out by a single waitress, two at a time. She came out with two trays, put them down then walked back out to the kitchen. A couple of minutes later, she re-appeared with another two.
One member of our party went mad waiting for her and had to be restrained. We gave her a heavy shot of Prozac mixed with diazepam, luckily we had the right drugs in the first aid kit and none of the other guests noticed as she slumped down in her chair.
The vegetarians got an interesting choice of three cheesy cucumber thingies and an egg sandwich. The cheesy cucumber thingies were identical and, in fact, formed one quarter of everyone else’s sandwich selection. So the kitchen had obviously decided that a vegetarian guest would really like to eat a selection of three of the same things rather than, perhaps, something as revolutionary as four vegetarian sandwiches.
The ‘no butter’ order got four egg sandwiches. She rightly pointed out that this wasn’t really what she’d subscribed to and sent it back.
The rest of us got an egg and cress mini-roll sandwich, a salmon paste open affair on a dark bread base, a beef ham and cream cheese mini-roll and a cucumber wrapped cheese thingy. This was completed by two scones, two slices of sponge cake and four petits-fours, a strawberry, chocolate and lemon meringue and a mini éclair. To be fair, the sponge cake was not dissimilar to that plastic wrapped stuff you can get from desert truck stops and rural cold stores. What they often (laughingly) call ‘English cake’.
Three of us only got three sandwiches of the four on their trays. They complained and their fourth sandwich eventually turned up.
Mrs No Butter then watched in mild horror as her tea tray reappeared. On it were four squares of semi-toasted cheese and tomato white bread sandwich. The crust had been cut off. It was the sort of thing you might find in a four year-old’s school lunchbox before calling in social services because you think the kid might be neglected.
We then called for the floor suit in charge. By now, the whole party has had pretty much enough. It’s been well over an hour and a half and we’ve still not managed to eat anything. The tea’s going cold despite the heaters put under the pots. Besides, by this point, we’re all sick of tea and fizzy water.
The waitress takes away the daft sandwich. We had suggested that the vegetarians might consider this light relief from their platters of cheese wrapped in cucumber, but that suggestion met deaf ears.
And then the suit comes back to say that the kitchen will prepare a no butter selection, but it will take fifteen minutes. The teas are all pre-prepared and chef will have to do ‘something special for us’, you see.
‘Something special’. Over an hour and a half after taking the order, the request that the guest had made becomes a favour – something special. We are meant to be pathetically grateful, the two fawning old ladies from Fawlty Towers. ‘Oh, thank you Mr. Fawlty!’
The red mist descended.
I pointed out, quite politely but with a perhaps understandable degree of asperity, that it really shouldn’t take a five star kitchen fifteen minutes to make four sandwiches. I reckon about 30 seconds should do it if they set their minds to it. I also suggested that perhaps the maitre d’ might like to make them, in which case we’re perhaps looking at four or five minutes. They are, after all, not complicated sandwiches.
Or, if they’d prefer, I’d make the bloody sandwiches myself.
We also pointed out that we’d been sitting around for over 100 minutes waiting for the food to arrive, put up with error after error, been generally misunderstood and had really had just about enough of the woeful, second-rate and generally cack-handed service.
This is, let us remember, a top five star hotel – charging top, five star prices.
The new sandwiches arrived just as we finished complaining. They were the same as everyone else’s sandwiches, because the Ritz Carlton doesn’t use butter on its sandwiches. Nobody of the floor staff had known that up until this point, apparently. It was news to them.
I have to tell you that if the food had arrived in a timely manner, say at around the same time as the tea, it would have been perfectly fine. The scones were nice, the sandwiches edible. The petits-fours were perhaps a little soggy on the pastry front (pre-made, you see, not fresh) but fine as they go. The cake was, as previously mentioned, pound cake quality sponge.
But by this point, the thrill had gone. We’d moaned and bitched, dealt with a suit who didn’t really seem to quite get how to handle the situation and had all been hanging around way too long to get some sandwiches and tea. It wasn’t really fun anymore, just frustrating and mildly embarrassing.
A plate of sliced vegetarian wrap things turned up as most people had moved on to the sweet stuff, featuring processed cheese, tomato and cucumber in tortilla. We never quite worked out why.
We paid the bill, presented and met in full, and left. We found out that the Maitre d’ was actually the sommelier, standing in. He had not dealt with the whole situation terribly well and we did take the opportunity to tell him that. His pat ‘we are so sorry to have had challenges serving you’ response was infuriating.
We didn’t ask for any discount. But if I had been on that floor, I’d have comped the whole damn table to make up for the whole awful, rubbish experience and the subsequent word of mouth.
English tea my butt. We will never, ever go back.