It was the diner’s guilty secret and the restaurateur’s private fury. Tables would be booked, but the more polite patrons would cancel at the last minute and the rude ones would just never bother to show – leaving the establishment with empty tables and lost income.
Now, however, it seems the restaurant industry is biting back, led by a Glaswegian chef who once told The Independent he liked the taste of chicken testicles.
The Clove Club, the east London domain of the Michelin-starred chef Isaac McHale, is to become what is believed to the first restaurant in the UK to introduce a ticketing system, making diners pay for their food in advance and ensuring the establishment gets its money, regardless of whether anyone turns up.
From June anyone hoping to enjoy Mr McHale’s Orkney scallop with hazelnut, clementine and Perigord truffle or his flamed Cornish mackerel with rhubarb will have to go online and pay upfront for the £65-a-head five-course menu or the £95, nine-course option. They will still choose and buy wine on the night, but if they don’t show, it’s tough luck and no money back.
The best foodie Easter events
The best foodie Easter events
1/12 Heston's Cravings, London SW7
Throughout Easter holidays
If you want to understand our appetites, a new exhibition at the Science Museum explains all. Heston Blumenthal has created a craving experiment with food scientist Charles Spence. You can touch 3D-printed mice, sniff a scientific smell kit, and "chew" "bread" in the interactive displays; there's even a section on the gut and pooing. Free, 10am-7pm, sciencemuseum.org.uk
2/12 Baking at Leiths, London W12
Teen foodies can learn the essentials of baking at the chef-filled Leiths School of Food and Wine in west London. They'll make orange cheesecake brownies, lemon-syrup loaf cakes and buttermilk soda bread. The afternoon will be spent in a cupcake-decorating challenge. £95, 10am-3.30pm, leiths.com
3/12 Brighton Food Festival
Wednesday to Easter Monday
The folks behind the Rockinghorse Children's Food Festival are staging an Easter egg hunt at the Brighton Food Festival (where there are also beer, cider and wine festivals). There are also food trails around the Lanes and Kemp Town, and themed dinners to enjoy, such as a pop-up at the aquarium. Free, brightonfoodfestival.com
4/12 'Odd Bits' pop-up, Manchester
Good Friday and Easter Saturday
For food-loving teens and parents seeking an idiosyncratic dining experience, the Buttery in Manchester's Levenshulme aims to show off the best British foods, as well as Manchester produce, through its one-off events. Its Easter Odd Bits pop-up restaurant boasts a first course of calf's brain with capers and black butter. Also delectable-sounding is the fish course of cod cheeks and chips. Afters rival the mains – cue blood-orange lardy cake with roast rhubarb and vanilla ice cream. £30 for five courses, 7pm, buttery.org.uk
5/12 Chocolate weekend, Bristol
Easter Saturday and Sunday
Bristol's debut Taste Chocolate weekend will offer children's activities and a cookery theatre with chefs such as Kelly Sealey of Bordeaux Quay making miso brownies, as well as exhibiting a bevy of chocolatiers, bakers and street-food vendors. Sure to be popular with little ones is Bertha's Sourdough Pizza, a buttercup-yellow Land Rover selling wood-fired pizza. Free, 10am-4.30pm, Brunel Square, tastechocolate.co.uk
6/12 Seaside festival, Broadstairs
Easter Saturday to Easter Monday
If you're pining for the seaside on the bank hols, make your way to Kent's Thanet. Not only does Broadstairs glitter with seven golden sandy beaches, but the festival itself will have stalls with Kent cider, local blue cheeses and cockle popcorn. Free, 10am-5pm, broadstairsfoodfestival.org.uk
7/12 Egg hunt, London W8
Public Easter egg hunts are on the up in the capital. Kensington Roof Gardens, a whopping 1½ acres of verdant greenery in the sky, is putting on a trail among its flamingos and foliage. The hunt is led by a giant Easter bunny. And the most coveted trophy is a humongous egg from Choccywoccydoodah. 11.45am, virginlimitededition.com/en/the-roof-gardens.
8/12 Edinburgh street food
The Cowgate in Edinburgh welcomes back the Old Town Street Food Festival for a spring extravaganza. There are eight street-food vendors, a real-ale bar, pop-ups and two music stages should you want to bust a move after indulging in some gluttony. Free, 12pm-11pm, facebook.com/events/786975684725438
9/12 Country show, Northamptonshire
Easter Sunday and Monday
From ferret racing to enticing regional produce, the provincial country show comes into its own at Easter. One of the first of the year is in the grandiose grounds of Kelmarsh Hall. Alongside the countryside events, there's a food festival. From £13 (free for 15s-and-under), kelmarshcountryshow.co.uk.
10/12 Baking with Bertinet, Bath
Thursday and 9 April
Bertinet Kitchen, the Bath cookery school run by the lauded French chef Richard Bertinet, is putting on Easter sessions for children. Youngsters can discover the art of baking "real" bread with a parent, granny or grandpa – £190 for 1 adult, 1 child, Thursday – or participate alone and refine their patisserie skills: £35, 9 April, thebertinetkitchen.com
11/12 Sconeathon, Suffolk
Heard of a Sconeathon? By popular demand, it's now in its third year. Nestled along the Suffolk coast on the National Trust's Dunwich Heath and Beach, the Coastguard Cottage's tea room attracts scone-adoring fans, who can muse over 30 sweet and savoury varieties. Free, three scones for £3, 10am-5pm, nationaltrust.org.uk/dunwich-heath-and-beach
12/12 Street-food festival, Birmingham
Village Square on Kings Heath's high street will play host to street-food collective BrumYumYum, offering a vibrant day out. Highlights include Umami dishing up katsu curry, Buddha Belly selling Thai fare, and Low n Slow – try the brisket chilli cheese in brioche. Free, 12pm-6pm, brumyumyum.com
Mr McHale told Bloomberg: “It’s going to ruffle a few feathers, but everyone has a problem with no-shows.”
The chef, who in June 2013 told The Independent he had recently eaten chicken testicles and found them “delicious, like a chicken mousse”, insisted that customers would also benefit from the new system. For example, those willing to dine early in the evening would get a reduced price.
“I want to continue to give people a great experience, and I hope this system will allow us to give them a better experience,” he said.
The Clove Club’s new Tock ticketing system was devised by Nick Kokonas, who found that it reduced no-shows at his Chicago restaurant Alinea to less than 2 per cent. US restaurants are adopting the innovation, and Jackie Grech, the policy director of the UK Restaurant Association, said she expected other British restaurants to switch to ticketing. “I think it will catch on, particularly with new restaurants,” she said.
Discerning diners: What the papers say
“Expertly cooked mussels… a heavenly, billowy cloud of ewe’s milk mousse… McHale could do with adding more salt.”
The Independent on Sunday
“This menu was devised to show off the chef’s innovation, rather than please the eater.”
The Evening Standard
“There will always be reactionary types who’ll hate the Clove Club. Their loss.”
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