Breakfast in the West End
By Alan Russell
Once we had checked in the previous evening we had, as a described in my piece ‘Checking In’, become ‘anonymous’ in this West End hotel built to hold up a green bubble gum style logo famous around the world and fronting on to Welbeck Street.
On the morning of check out we went to the restaurant below street level for breakfast. The wall opposite the podium where we had to ‘wait to be seated’ was covered in Japanese style screens reaching down from the ceiling to the top of the back of the upholstered bench that ran the full length of it. By ‘Japanese style’ I mean rectangles of translucent material framed in black and back lit to create the image of light in a room beyond the screen. In fact, the wall this was on was part of the foundations holding up the exterior of the building. Beyond it would be earth and conduits for water, gas, telephones, electricity and for anything else that has to move underground to keep a city like London running.
At the podium we were asked by ‘Frank’ for our name and room number. I did not know ‘Frank’ from the previous evening when we checked in or from meeting him earlier in the morning. I only knew he was ‘Frank’ because that was the name on his badge.
Once Frank had checked us off his list he showed us to a table backing on to the wall where the Japanese screen was. We ordered our coffee from him and went to the servery counter to collect our juices and cereals. When we returned to the table a lady named ‘Restaurant Manager’ asked us to confirm our name and room number which we did.
We enjoyed the first part of our breakfast which in hindsight turned out to be the best part of our breakfast as it was cold and completely unsullied by any attempts at alchemy in the kitchens. No sooner had we finished this part of the meal when a forearm and hand that didn’t appear to be attached to a human body came in from left of field and whipped our crockery away.
My wife settled for some toast while I went to the servery counter to construct a full English breakfast. One fried egg, two rashers of back bacon, some mushrooms and a couple of hash browns. My own breakfast creation was presented neatly on the plate and I was looking forward to enjoying it.
As soon as my cutlery made contact with the fried egg, bacon, sausage and hash browns things went down hill from happy anticipation to total disappointment quicker than a skier doing a slalom. Every single ingredient had spent so long under the heat lamps strong enough to illuminate the stage of The London Palladium that they were dehydrated. The egg yolk was a pale yellow chalk like powder. The bacon was a tough as the soles on my shoes and the sausage skin was like elephant hide to get through. The mushrooms still retained some moisture and the only moisture left in the hash browns was oil. I struggled manfully and did clean my plate with a few dollops of tomato sauce to help things along.
While we were eating we heard the lady named ‘Restaurant Manager’ tell a guest off. Not for bad behaviour or anything like that but for a much more serious misdemeanour. They had put their toast through the magic machine once but it was not how they liked it. So they lined up to put it through and again and that was the misdemeanour.
‘You can’t do that’ Restaurant Manager told them from across the room so everyone could hear ‘It will set the fire alarms off and the hotel will have to be evacuated.’
‘But…..’ the guest tried to defend himself.
‘No, toast can only go through once because of the fire alarms’ Restaurant Manager replied.
My wife had finished her toast and I had just finished my rehydrated breakfast after which I placed my knife and fork at rest next to one another on the plate. Again, the forearm and hand working independently of any other human form came in from left field and whipped our plates away.
On another table two guests had finished their own cooked breakfasts and again, the roving forearm and hand whipped in from right field this time and whipped their crockery away even before they had folded their serviettes up.
We finished our coffee but deliberately kept our mugs in our hands to frustrate the forearm and hand that we knew was hovering somewhere within our very personal space. As soon as we put them down a person named as ‘Assistant Manager’ came and gathered them up with the ferocity of a bailiff recovering goods to cover a debt. As she gathered them she asked for our name and room number so the bill could be made up.
That was three times at least we had been asked to confirm our name and room number.
My own theory on this repeated need to ask for name and room number is that it is not done for the good of the hotel and its internal financial controls. They are doing it for the good of the guests on the morning of their checking out as part of an exercise to reverse the anonymity imposed the previous evening so that when they return to life outside they have had their identity restored.