Restaurants are really starting to annoy me. On my last night in Toronto I wanted to go somewhere special to celebrate the end of a rainy summer. The two places I wanted to go to were booked up and no amount of creative lying could get us in. "I'm just finishing my book on the greatest restaurants in North America and I have one space left…." They just thought I was after money.
"My grandmother's dying wish is to get the family together at your restaurant…." They offered me a date in three days' time. "She'll have passed by then," I snuffled melodramatically. It was still a no-go. So, in desperation, I Googled "best restaurants in Toronto". Hint – NEVER do this! I chose one and, to my surprise, got a table.
I got there early and asked to look at the wine list. This should have been the alarm bell, the cheapest was around £70 and the prices rapidly skyrocketed into the multi-thousands. I considered bolting but it was too late – my Canadian in-laws were coming from several parts of the city. I obviously couldn't order the cheapest wine, so I scanned the list for the third cheapest then rang my bank manager to warn him.
The third cheapest wine was brought to the table and decanted through about six different filters that made annoying whistling noises. Meanwhile, my "server" arrived. He had a ridiculous faux-plummy English accent. He explained that this was because he was originally from Cornwall but had moved to Canada when he was six. I told him that he was lucky to have done so because if he had grown up in Cornwall talking like that he would have been beaten on a regular basis. To steer him away from his frankly fantastical West Country memories, I asked to see the menu.
There was a moment's awkwardness before he told me that the restaurant preferred for us not to see it. There was quite the pause while I ingested this. Was there any particular reason? I asked. The waiter replied this was just how they did things. Could I have a hint? I asked pleadingly. "I've got children coming and they don't like surprises." He hesitated then disappeared, returning with a leather scroll. When I managed to open it, there was just some fancy font informing me that the chef would be deciding what my seven-course dinner would be. Resistance was futile and I nodded assent – to what, I did not know.
The family arrived and the feast began. The wine was knocked back like water and I mentally checked my bank balance every time a new bottle was ordered. Troupes of waiters arrived in unison to whisk tops off dishes like over-eager magicians. It was good but… fundamentally unsatisfying and pointless.
When the bill came, the Cornishman whispered there was no need for a gratuity as he had taken the liberty of ear-marking himself $200. I groaned quietly and necked the last drops of liquid gold… back in Cornwall he'd have been luring ships on to rocks.