In the past 15 years London has seen a surfeit of new waiters. They are mostly Eastern European and although many of them see waitering as only a means to improving their English, they are usually delightful. There are some hilarious exceptions.
I walk into the Chelsea Quarter Cafe for a quick sandwich. When the waiter approaches I ask for salt beef on rye with English mustard. The waiter looks at me like I’ve just asked him for the moon. I repeat my order more slowly and louder – apparently non English speakers understand you better that way….
I point to the salt beef on the menu and repeat my order once more. “Raaai?” he says in a strangled voice. I begin to wonder if he is okay. “What kind of bread do you have?” I ask, taking a different approach. “Just normal bread,” he responds. I enquire about which varieties of “normal” bread they carry. “Just normal” he says, before giving up and fetching a colleague.
A bright young thing (Scandinavian looking with an Eastern European accent. Latvian?) bounces cheerily up to my table. I ask if they have rye bread. “Yes,” she replies brightly, adding that “it’s a sourdough rye and it’s very good. It’s home made.” I order a salt beef sandwich on sourdough rye. With English mustard.
20 minutes have passed since I first entered the restaurant. The Germans had scored 5 goals against Brazil in the World Cup in the time that it’s taking these chaps to get my sandwich order right.
Another five minutes pass by and the bright young thing returns. “We cannot make you a sandwich on sourdough rye,” she says remorsefully. “It’s Wednesday you see,” she says by way of explanation, turning to leave.
I am now beginning to think that I am in a parallel universe where a Great Oz has decreed that no rye be consumed on Wednesdays. “Wait!,” I exclaim. “What’s special about Wednesday?” “We don’t bake on Wednesdays,” she said.
She shrugged her shoulders and left.
As did I.