Editor-at-large Alexi Duggins is at your mercy. So you dared him to freeload for his supper.
Let’s cut to the chase. No way is this column ending with me paying for my meal. You see, Proud Cabaret’s burlesque dining experience lets you choose how much you fork out for a meal enjoyed in the company of stripp… sorry, burlesque artistes. And, well, I have this problem. I’m a journalist. Asking one of us to pay our way? May as well ask a Tory to look after your fire station.
So when a scantily dressed waitress hands us a feedback form that recommends £39 per person, I’m preparing to disappoint. As I read the blurb asking us to justify our price with an ‘expert review’ –which they may publish online – I’m looking at the bizarre tropicalia-cum-goth décor and readying my snarky comments. Then they serve the food, and it does nothing for my generosity.
A ricotta, pomegranate and honey salad tastes like they have confused ‘dressing’ with ‘ice-cream topping’. A ‘warm pigeon salad’ has all the warmth of a hospital waiting room. Admittedly, my pork belly’s crackling is all wafer-thin, crunchy and delicate. But the steak tartare on crostini? It’s an eye-opener. Because, previously, I had not realised that ‘crostini’ meant ‘cold, chewy bread’.
Then it’s time for the cabaret. A teddy-clad compere yells ‘The more you whoop, the more clothes we take off!’ (Talk about basqueing in the attention.) There’s a very impressive, rave-themed belly dancer and some (literally) flashy fire-eating, but as I’m supping cold, red gazpacho, a half-naked woman drives a staple through her leg, leaving it slicked in liquid looking very much like cold, red gazpacho. Later, a woman in a thong and Pocahontas headdress accentuates the taste of my dessert by honking cigar smoke into my mouth. Not the ideal thing to eat dinner to. So I prepare to unleash the criticism. I’m all set to squirm out of paying. And my resolve lasts all of the 30 seconds it takes to chat to our waitress.
‘Ready to fill in your form?’ she chirrups in that weird posh voice usually reserved for other peoples’ parents. ‘You are? How aaabsolutely splendid.’ I realise that this is a woman trying very, very hard. Which probably means this is a woman who will get into trouble if her customers don’t pay. And she clearly can’t afford to lose this job. She’s dressed in her undercrackers, fer chrissakes. She can’t even afford clothes.
So when it comes to filling in the form, what do I, the congenital tightwad, do? What’s my response to a below-average meal? I pay £20. Ignore what I said at the start. Paying what you want ain’t as easy as you think.