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Apr 1, 2010 06:46 AM

Gordon Ramsey's Plane Food at Heathrow: "You could have killed someone!"

Just got back from a glorious 2 week trip to Vienna that was amply aided by Chowhounders Sturmi and Shermy and that I'll recap in excruciating detail in the general Europe board, but I wanted to post a quick post about Gordon Ramsey's Plane Food at Heathrow. Since the Vienna trip ended up being so much more reasonable than we expected we decided to splurge a little during our stopover at Heathrow and try our first Gordon Ramsey restaurant. Giving people a relaxing place to eat quality food while traveling seems like a brilliant idea and since we love the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares we wanted to check it out.

First impression was that it was styled in a 60s sort of airport style, which was cool. However, our first sign of a problem was that our server was running around like a chicken with her head cut off. The other servers mostly seemed fairly together but ours was all over the place. We ordered and then waited about 20 minutes for a glass of water. Normally this would be a little annoying but having to ask three different people for water when you've been in dehydrating airplanes all day is terrible. We got martinis that had a weird cloudy citrus-y thing going on. We figured it might be a particular style of martini that we weren't aware of but I think it was just crap dirty martini "mix."

Our starter was a shared plate of risotto which was pretty good. Well cooked and flavorful, it was the highlight. Granted it took over a half hour to get it, but at least it was nice. The second we finished the risotto our server asked if we were "ready for our main courses." We were like, alright, they want to move us through because obviously we have a plane to catch.

After saying "yes" we then waited over a half hour before our server came back, apologized, and said there was some problem and that it would be right out. A while later the manager came by and said it would be ready in "one minute." About five minutes later, starting to worry that we would be late to the gate, we started to count down from 60, with a plan to leave if it didn't arrive by the end of the countdown. It was literally within the last few seconds that the food finally arrived. Well over an hour after ordering. In an AIRPORT where you have a tight timeframe.

I left out lots of moments when my wife or I asked the server or the manager to please hurry it up. At the next table over was a C-list Hollywood actor and the members of his vanity rock band. They arrived about 20 minutes after us and were served about 20 minutes before us. When we asked why they were served so quickly, the answer was that they were in a hurry. When we eventually left they were still sitting there talking about nonsense.

Anyway, the food was a cod dish and a salmon dish, as well as a side salad that we let the server upsell us back when things were more promising. The salad was absolutely nothing. The salmon was fine but the cod was raw in the middle and smelled and tasted like the fish itself was rancid. When the server asked how our food was we said that we couldn't eat the cod and that there was no time to order something else. She took it back and said she'd remove it from the bill. Here's where things get REALLY annoying.

The manager came over and asked us what was wrong with the cod. We said it was raw in the middle and smelled and tasted off. He told us that the kitchen had taken it apart and decided that it was perfectly cooked and beautifully flaky. Now, we're not Gordon Ramsey or anything, bu we're not rubes. We've eaten and cooked a lot of food and my wife has taken a professional food safety course as part of a major culinary program. We know when a piece of fish is rotten. This fish was wiggly and translucent in the middle and it stank of ammonia. The fact that this manager was trying to make us feel wrong (and waste our precious few remaining minutes before getting back on another plane) was offensive to me. I've seen Ramsey dress down a patron on his shows before for sending something back that was cooked properly but I'll take a more skeptical eye towards that in the future because this was no matter of opinion: The food was rotten and poorly prepared.

IF Ramsey himself had come out and called me a stupid donkey for sending that back I still would have stood my ground. But to have this random guy talk down to me like I've just eaten at my first non-McDonald's was too much.

To add insult to injury the bill for 2 martinis, one app and ONE entree came to over 50 pounds, about $77. This included a 3 pound "TWO TOP TABLE FEE" which we had no warning about, and a "DISCRETIONARY" 12.5% tip that I will promptly be disputing with my credit card. I'm sorry, you don't get to give me bad service and attitude and then add a discretionary tip to a two person table without any warning that that might happen. At that point we literally had to run to our gate (stopping only to get a prepackaged egg salad triangle sandwich at a lunch counter for $4 or so) so I couldn't dispute anything. Obviously Plane Food knows full well that their location means we won't be regular customers, so they don't care, but we could have had a great experience and gone to other Ramsey restaurants. Not a chance now.

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  1. what a miserable experience.

    but two or three things to note: the first is that gordon ramsay is undoubtedly passionate, perfectionist etc. all the evidence is that he is a kind man, far from the bullying monster that shows up in the us kitchen nightmares/hells kitchen etc (attested by the fact that 85% of his staff are still with him after 12 years). the more thoughtful ramsay of the uk kitchen nightmares is probably closer to the truth than the impossible, grotesque fox version in the us.

    secondly, the brits have never, ever been good with customer service. my wife practically weeps with delight during the first few days of any trip stateside: "sure, of course we'll do that for you. anything you want" .... why, they even bag your groceries. complaining just isn't done in britain - its seen as bad manners. and so people feel free to act rudely with complainers with the sorry result of your experience.

    finally, the whole airport experience is there to gouge dollars from you. do you really think you need to show up three hours before an international flight? its that they hope you'll shop. and shop. and shop.

    3 Replies
    1. re: howler

      If he is the kind man you're saying he (and I'm not doubting) then it's a shame that he allows himself to be branded the way he has because that's who he is to the public. I was under the impression that he's brash, boisterous and a little wild but that he serves up great food. Now my impression is that he's not as concerned with quality control and he pretends he is.

      As for customer service, I don't need fawning. Heck, in Vienna they don't fawn. They do what they need to do to get the job done and I'm more than fine with that. But being hapless is another story. In fact, I suspect that part of the problem was that the server didn't put the order in at all until waaaay late in the meal and then the kitchen rushed it out. That's not "European" service, it's just incompetent. And we're not complainers either. We generally go into every dining situation with a very good attitude. I only remember sending one dish back before and that was a plate of mussels in Baltimore that literally smelled like vomit. Never going back there either.

      1. re: kukubura

        Oh dear, this doesn't bode well for me - I'm flying from T5 tonight and some friends have booked us a table at Plane Food. I wouldn't usually bother eating there I have heard that it's awful...
        Don't let it put you off his proper restaurants though - Royal Hospital Road is superb as is Maze!

        1. re: kukubura

          they ARE trying to re-brand ramsay post credit crunch into something less bullying, so we'll have to wait and see how that works out.

          i think you misunderstood my use of 'complain' as something negative. of course the service you had was horrendous - i was just trying to tell you that you can expect a somewhat aggrieved response from brits whenever you point out that you haven't received as promised; its a cultural thing.

      2. As someone who writes about airports for a job, I'd suggest writing both Ramsay's organization and also the new owners of Heathrow and voice your solid complaints. BAA (not to be confused with the airline BA) is no longer the owner. It is a Spanish company named Ferrovial.

        I don't think saying that Britain has lousy service in restaurants in either totally accurate or makes the situation any better.

        The discretionary tip is more and more standard it seems in the UK, and from what I've read, does not have to be paid at all... as it's 'discretionary.'

        Being an American, I find the Ramsay programmes both here and the ones shot in the U.S., both appalling and an insult to the viewers. They are so badly scripted and predictable week after week. Maybe the managers of this restaurant (which I've avoided when at T5) think they can treat people in the same way the programmes do.

        1. "then add a discretionary tip to a two person table without any warning that that might happen".

          My only surprise is that the OP says there was no warning of the service charge. In my experience, restaurant menus invariably mention the charge if it is going to be levied. It is.of course, discretionary and I'm surprised the OP didnt ask for it to be removed (although I understand that (a) the OP was in a rush to catch a plane and (b) is, presumably, a foreigner who mght not have known our tipping customs and, therefore, not been aware it could be removed.

          Personally, I'm a fan of the service charge (as opposed to the traditional tip) - and am even more of a fan of those countries where service is included in the menu price

          6 Replies
          1. re: Harters

            I am definitely not familiar with UK tipping customs but I will say that if you are a restaurant in an airport you have to assume two things: People are literally from all over the world and they are very, very tired. I didn't see anything anywhere about the table fee or the tip. I won't say that I scoured every printed service for every conceivable warning. But I had been up since the crack of dawn, had been traveling, and had been given the explicit impression that Plane Food was supposed to be an oasis in the hectic world of travel. So they may not have violated the letter of the social law regarding those fees, but they did violate its spirit.

            1. re: kukubura

              I have never heard of a "TWO TOP TABLE FEE" are you certain you got the right? Could it be the cover charge for bread etc? (not that I think they charge one). What does it actually say on your bill?

              I am very puzzled about why you paid a "DISCRETIONARY" service charge if you didn't like the service. Why not simply decline to pay it? (good luck with disputing it). As far as I can see all the GR menus clearly state (in bold text): "A discretionary 12.5% gratuity will be added to your bill." Thus I fail to see why you maintain you had no warning of it.

              Tricky to comment on the Cod, but restaurants will often cook it to the point of just being cooked, which to many people may seem to be undercooked. It is perfectly safe to eat (i.e. as is sashimi), maybe it is different to the way you eat it in restaurants were you come from.

              Howler is spot on about GR personality and the loyalty of his staff. OK he has had a few high profile arguments with ex-chefs and colleagues but I tend to take these with a pinch of PR salt. All in all GR has a strong reputation for developing and nurturing top talent as can been seen from where his alumni end up. His public persona and the act he puts on for TV are simply part of a constructed image. OK he is passionate about what he does and drives his team hard to get high standards, but the TV image is a characterture of this to designed to make money. Which it does very well.

              1. re: PhilD

                I know about fish being undercooked but when it smells like ammonia and tastes rancid no subtlety in the cooking is going to save it. And the last thing I need before getting on an intercontinental flight is to eat rotten fish.

                As for why I paid the "tip," I didn't know that I could refuse and frankly if I had played around there any longer we might have missed our plane.

                We regularly tip well over 20% and have had terrific experiences with quality restaurant staff in places like New Orleans and New York where they know how to treat a customer. This server was out of her league and the manager was completely wrong in his handling of things. I don't care what country we were in.

              2. re: kukubura

                "So they may not have violated the letter of the social law regarding those fees, but they did violate its spirit."

                I'm unsure what might be meant by "violating" the spirit of the discretionary service charge here. It is an extremely common practice in our restaurants and which, as Phil points out, is very clear on the online version of the Plane Food menu so I presume it has similar prominence in the printed version. As I said earlier, I appreciate you may not have spotted it but that's hardly a matter for which the restaurant can be criticised, is it?

                If by "violating" the spirit you mean by levying the charge when you had received such bad service, then I understand what you mean - although I think it fanciful that a restaurant would simply not levy the charge until and unless you asked them to.

                I don't know what a "two top table fee" is. Certainly not something I've ever come across before and it sounds like some weird industry speak that I imagine almost everyone would query if they saw this on their bill. By the by, I was not charged a plusage for being a single diner on the one occasion I've eaten at a Ramsay restaurant and would regard it as completely outrageous if a place was to try to levy such a charge.

                1. re: Harters

                  The violating the spirit thing was meant more as their mission statement being to provide an oasis of relaxing, quality experience in a hectic travel day and not only betraying that but opting to charge me extra for the privilege. Maybe it's customary to give you bad service and then add on an extra 12.5% once you're convinced you've pissed the customer off enough that they won't do it voluntarily, but it's not nice.

                  I found the receipt. It reads as follows:
                  2 COVER CHARGE: 3
                  2 MARTINI: 16
                  + hendricks: 4
                  2 GLASS TAP WATER: 0
                  1 ONION RISOTTO STARTER: 7.50
                  1 ROASTED SALMON: 12.50
                  1 ROCKET PARMESAN SALAD: 2.95
                  12.5% DISCRETIONARY SERVICE CHARGE: 5.37
                  TOTAL 51.32

                  1. re: kukubura

                    "then add on an extra 12.5% once you're convinced you've pissed the customer off enough that they won't do it voluntarily"

                    Although that isnt how it works here. If a place levies a discretionary service charge it will levy it on all bills (as mentioned on the menu), not just if they have pissed you off.. There is no expectation of any other tipping. It is the tip - to be paid or ignored as you wish. We do not have the same tipping culture here as in North America (I'm pleased to say).

                    I'm sorry you had a poor experience - I had similar dilatory service (although much better food) at Ramsay's Devonshire.

            2. It be interesting to see how the prices at Plane Food compare to other Heathrow offerings.. I see the OP's martinis will have cost £8 each; starters seem to be around £8 and mains, with a couple of accompaniments, around the twenty quid mark. This is cheaper than the prices at the Ramsay pubs which will easily rack up to mid-twenties for similar looking mains. Pubs also add the 12.5% service charge of course.

              1. I'm mostly grossed out by the idea of a martini "mix." How hard is it to make a martini, even a dirty one?? Pour vodka or gin over ice, shake or stir, possibly add a smidgen of vermouth, then garnish of choice (including the olive juice if called for). What on earth could be in a mix??

                7 Replies
                1. re: LulusMom

                  "What on earth could be in a mix??"

                  And one that can rack up the drink price to eight quid. EIGHT QUID! For that I want a pint of it and it to be delivered by scantily dressed dancing girls who will feed me salty snacks bit by bit as I sip long and lustily. That's worth eight quid. Just!

                  1. re: Harters

                    Laughing! I think we could find you that experience (and price) over here, if interested, Harters. But could you choke it down?

                    I remember wanting to stop at a place in Paris for a martini. I'd heard it was really special. It was special alrighty - almost 30 euros for a martini. Usually on vacation I say "what the heck" but I couldn't justify that one.

                    1. re: LulusMom

                      I was only speculating that this was a mix because it had such a weird mix of flavors instead of mostly tasting like gin. Maybe it was a proprietary blend of sugar, lemon juice, hard candy and gatorade, I don't know.

                      1. re: LulusMom


                        €30 for a drink? Sometimes I just dont regret being on the wagon nowadays.

                        1. re: Harters

                          Yes, 30 euros. I *wished* I was on the wagon, but instead I walked by and ended up at a place that was just slightly seedy near my hotel. And I had a great time. But you know what? I think next time, if I'm solo again, I'll go for the martini. Because I am very, very stupid.

                          Kukubura, the drink you just described turned my stomach. Now if THAT is what they served me for the 30euros, I'd be spitting nails.

                          1. re: Harters

                            I was in a bar in Manchester and asked for two Jamesons. The barman said "we don't serve rubbish like that", so I embarrassingly said "give me something you recommend then". He gave me two aged Taliskers...for...£20 each. It was too late to pull out. I wish I'd kicked up a fuss, but the Englishman in me could only grin and bear it.

                            It was very good whiskey though. I MADE myself enjoy it.

                            1. re: chief1284

                              JUST DON'T GET SOME PEOPLE...IF anyone was ever rude to me i would either walk away ,or if I was on duty as a cop they would get a much different response...JUST tell them to stick their bar where the sun don't shine and leave ! Lots of other bars around..