I don’t know if you have come across @overheardinwaitrose, but it is one of my favourite social media sites, recounting quotes heard in the upmarket supermarket for us all to enjoy. “Which Rangerover is mine?”, “Sebastian stop hitting your sister or you won’t get any brioche.” “Careful you don’t bruise the fennel, India darling,” “It’s so parochial in here they don’t even have any gnocchi. I’ve had to get a venison cottage pie instead,” or one of my favourites. “Why on earth are you buying essential carrots darling? “They are for the horse.”
Yes, it made a big noise when Waitrose opened in Botley Road after years in the planning, MFI being pulled down to make way for the state-of-the art supermarket.
Local shops immediately felt an impact, Eggs Etcetera over the road closing soon afterwards after 30 years of selling us sandwiches and groceries.
But for eateries and restaurants to suffer the Waitrose effect sounded unlikely. Who eats in a supermarket? And why? Lots of you as it turns out, as I discovered when I turned up for lunch on Friday. Who you are I have no idea.
Perhaps you bumped into a friend in the fois gras aisle and fancied a catch up over a bit of tea and cake, or maybe pushing your trolley exhausts you and as it’s the butler’s day off you might need a reviving cup of coffee, but otherwise why?
Because with The Perch and The Fishes within luncheable distance why wouldn’t you do it properly?
I am certainly none-the-wiser for trying it myself because what becomes immediately clear, and what I had expected I had no idea, is that all you're doing is eating Waitrose food on plates instead of packing it into the back of your car, taking it home and eating it there.
And yet changing the equation makes an enormous difference. You feel somehow short changed that the ham and cheese toastie or Aberdeen Angus beefburger you might enjoy in front of a film is now staring at you on a formica table at twice the price.
My halloumi salad for example I immediately realised was identical to the one I often eat behind my desk and yet I hadn’t for a second assumed it would be the same.
Of course the breakfasts and fry ups are made with Waitrose produce so slightly more novel, more of a compilation than an unpeeling of the ready meal packet, but the sandwich section is literally a pick-and-mix of the shelves already within spitting distance.
That aside, if that’s what you want then fine, but smarten it up Waitrose. The whole experience, apart from being slightly surreal and odd, like being in a middle-class version of The Truman Show, was a bad dining experience.
For a start most of the tables were dirty and uncleared. Who knows whether people were supposed to take their own trays up afterwards or leave them, but most were left.
We sat down next to a table full of dirty plates which remained so until we left over an hour later. No one came to clear either our, or any other table, a pet hate of mine. Neither was there any cutlery available, despite asking for some several times.
The self service style café had a queue and we waited a while to order, and then for our drinks which were made up on the spot.
My son had the lasagne (£6.25) and chunky chips (£2), breakfast having finished half an hour before, which he was looking forward to.
I ordered the halloumi salad (£6.45), the only difference being the grilled cheese on top, and a cherry and almond tart, presumably also available in the bakery section.
The tart was good actually, the perfect mix of sweet and tartness. The wait for our food however was far too long, the cooks having to keep popping out into the aisles for more ingredients, and again this lack of efficiency was all the remarkable because it was Waitrose
When the lasagne arrived the very leaves which should have been discarded, the discoloured, motley ones around the outside, were served with it, entirely undressed.
My son plodded through it, adding that it tasted a bit like school dinners but wasn’t a patch on mine, at which I brightened up a bit. But he was right, it hasn't been crisped on top, there was no bubbly cheese or sauce oozing out.
My salad was rather dry, even if it is what I eat most days at work. It came with a yoghurt dressing which didn’t go far enough
What was I expecting? Something more convenient, something nicer and more seamless, something cleaner. As it was, it was all a bit of a palaver. A no from me then. Not then and not ever. In fact if I had an empty premises over the road I’d say there was a gap in the market.
But perhaps as I left I should have taken a leaf out of Edgar’s mummy’s book – “Come on Edgar don’t dawdle, I told your father we’d be home before the staff leave today.” I’m sure she doesn’t stop for lunch either.
Standard opening times
Sunday: 10:00 - 16:00
Monday: 08:00 - 21:00
Tuesday: 08:00 - 21:00
Wednesday: 08:00 - 21:00
Thursday: 08:00 - 21:00
Friday: 08:00 - 21:00
Saturday: 08:00 - 21:00