Special Dispatch: Waterloo Cross Inn, Uffculme, Devon

The greatest test of any place that serves food is how they deal with complaints.  Our visit to The Waterloo Cross near Uffculme was a perfect example of the balance between great service versus terrible food. Throughout the whole experience the front of house staff were polite and attentive, so much so that despite the food we felt compelled to tip them.

When I write a review I tend to try and introduce the place that I visited and I like to give some context to why we were there.  Well, the reason was that we were going to celebrate our 2nd anniversary as a married couple and it was a) cheap and b) nearby to Tiverton without being in Tiverton.  Not that I don’t like Tiverton, but the general expectation with ‘destination’ pubs is that the standard of the food is going to be much higher.  But I am quite eager to get in early and say that the food was a disaster but our complaint was expertly handled. There I have said it.

Marston Inns (who run such pubs as Chaucers, Pitcher and Piano in Exeter and the Fisherman’s Cot in Bickleigh) run the joint.  The whole place is nicely laid out with vintage signs dotted about, cosy little chairs and lots of friendly staff on the floor.  I had rang and asked for a window seat for four, and we got exactly that. First impressions when we came in was ‘where do we wait to be seated or do we just go to the bar?’ which was a little strange as there was no sign by the entrance as there often is.  So we decided to go to the bar and announce our presence, as we had booked a table.  There are a number of factors to consider firstly.  It is middle of high season, its a Tuesday night and the place is packed with tourists and travellers who have nipped off the M5 for some nice food and a pint.  I had a sneaking suspicion that our food wouldn’t be exactly speedy, but it was OK as we had free drink coupons from the website so we had enough to keep us lubricated.

One friendly waitress came and seated us and gave us a couple of minutes to decide on drinks.  We hadn’t decided what we wanted so we had to ask her to come back.  Then another waitress came back and took our drink orders, they came relatively quickly and we were asked about ordering food.  We hadn’t decided still, so we asked her to come back.  Eventually after a bit of eye contact and polite beckoning, we managed to get yet another member of staff to come and take our order.  Wait on food? 30 minutes which was a while, but they were busy so this was to be expected as mentioned.

So 35 minutes passed and we were presented with our food.  My wife had an 8oz steak which was tough, inedible and tasteless, I had a ‘Gourmet Burger’ which was dry and disappointing, my mother-in-law had a 5oz Gammon steak which was mostly made up of fat and my father-in-law had something which contained chicken, which was dry.  One thing that struck us, was that there seemed to be nothing exceptional about the food, even if it had been a fantastically well cooked steak it would have still tasted of meaty misery.

The Gourmet Burger, a Boar and Chorizo Burger to be precise, came with two anaemic, undercooked, onion rings that had been thrown at the plate (I wondered if there had been more but they had just missed), a small pot of Heinz Cajun dipping sauce and a small pot of standard supermarket coleslaw all for a bargain £9.25  Oh, and a bucket of chips which was not really, well, a bucket moreso a metal container that you plant things in…  Compared to a Wetherspoon’s Gourmet burger (which is at least two quid cheaper and includes a drink!) it was no competition.  The bun was nice,  the taste of the burger itself wasn’t too bad, but the most tastiest thing on my plate was made by Heinz.

When you receive food like this the first thing you ask yourself is ‘shall I say something?’.  Brits are rubbish at complaining generally, but I have had years of experience grumbling and writing this blog, so the only right thing to do is complain.  So when the waitress came over and asked ‘is everything alright?’, she handled our complaint exceptionally.  Bravo.
Our resolution was simple.  Half price on all meals and the cost of the steak refunded and a replacement meal provided.  The meal ended up, along with the free drinks offer which is available on their website, coming to just over £12.

We sat and waited another 15 minutes for my wife’s replacement meal to arrive.  At this point, I had drank two pints of Hobgoblin relatively quickly and loudly dictated exactly how things should be done to my mother-in-law and told everyone terrible jokes about computer keyboards and puppet sex. We nursed our damaged expectations as we decided that despite the lovely waiting staff, we would not be going back to a Marston Inn in the near future, well definitely not for food.  But for pints of Hobgoblin maybe.

So now this leads on to the debate about chain pubs and the pros and cons thereof.  There are a lot of readers who will read this and say ‘you knew what you were getting’.  The fact that we had to wait half an hour for substandard, overpriced food (had we paid full price!) wasn’t excusable in anyway but then how well do chain pubs cope when at their busiest?

In my experience, chain pubs don’t tend to cope that well when they have a large demand for food.  Everything (really everything?) is supposedly cooked to order, but the food suffers when they start trying to cut corners.  I wasn’t in the kitchen when the food was cooked, I can’t hardly comment about the way that things were cooked and where they source their ingredients from as the transparency that exists in such places like Ruby Modern Diner, doesn’t exist when it comes to chain pubs.  But going by the standard that came out tonight, what I can say is that something went wrong somewhere.

Although the food was a disappointment, the service came out on top form.  Polite, attentive and professional, the people skills were also on top form.  And although the experience was pretty dire, the resolution and the way that our complaint was handled could not have been better.  At no time were we made to feel we were ‘making a fuss’ or ‘being a nuisance’ or unreasonable which in a few places I have been made to feel.  So to conclude, bad food, great staff. Hobgoblin on draught.

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