How often have you dared to refuse to pay the London “optional” 12.5% service charge? Unfortunately it is a fact of life in London and one that I have got quite used to. I have only refused to pay the charge twice, once in a pub where I ordered my meal at the counter and then went back to the counter to collect it (where is the service in that?) and secondly, at Noura in Covent Garden.
My friend Alice had organised a big group of people to see The Misanthrope starring Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis. We wanted a pre theatre restaurant and Noura seemed to fit the bill as it was within 500m walk of the theatre, came recommended by Time Out and featured a pre theatre menu keenly priced at £14 for two courses.
The restaurant is palatial in style, with columns, white stucco walls, high ceilings and seating for 150. At the early time that we ate the restaurant was fairly empty and lacking in atmosphere. There were lots of waiting staff who seemed to be hovering around with nothing to do, however it was almost impossible to get their attention. Eventually we flagged one down and explained that we were going to the theatre at 7.30 and so needed to leave the restaurant within an hour. Apparently this was no problem so we ordered some wine and mezze selection.
Rather than a shared platter of mezze we each got our own individual plate. There was some creamy hommus with a strong garlic flavour, a dip of smoky eggplants known (mouttabal), tabbouleh salad, a small puff pastry triangle filled with spinach called fattayer, and crispy felafel. It was quite a feast for an individual starter. The mezze was served with bread served puffed up fresh from the oven at the side of the restaurant where one of the chefs was on duty constantly baking new loaves.
We finished quickly but our plates sat on our tables uncleared for 20 minutes. We started to get anxious about timing and eventually flagged down another waiting explaining that we had to go. More time passed and we eventually said we would have to cancel our mains orders. Magically they appeared, juicy plump skewers of chicken (shish taouk) on a bed of lettuce. They were delicious but we only had time to eat half our meal before rushing to the theatre and making it to our seats just before the bell.
We had paid the bill as our meal arrived and decided to deduct the service charge. A waiter came back over and told us that we owed more money so we had to explain to him that the service charge was “optional” and that after such a bad service experience we were not paying it. I feel sorry for the chefs who may have been deprived some of their tip (assuming the waiters split the tip with the kitchen) as the food was really quite good but in this situation the service really ruined our meal and left us feeling flustered and sweaty at the play after our sprint to the theatre door.
Details: 122 Jermyn Street, Piccadilly Sw1Y 4UJ (Ph 020 7839 2020) Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Damage: such a bargain even my mother would approve
If you liked reading this you might be interested in some of my other reviews of restaurants for pre-theatre dining: J Sheekey which is perfectly located for Wyndhams theatre (along with several others) and Kazan for the theatres near Victoria including the Apollo theatre currently showing Wicked.