When I started Tonight's Menu back in November last year, I did so to see if I would be able to write about something I love on a daily basis. I decided at the offset I would keep the blog to why we are eating what we are eating every night. There would be no recipes, no measurements and definitely no reviews. Also the blog would be updated daily.
Recipes have started sneaking in. It's more the method of what we've cooked rather than a full blown, stage by stage write up, but there are still no measurements. The posts are quite often added a day or two behind the actual event and there have been occasions that I have missed a day completely. However, I have become comfortable with this as time has passed. The final standing, unwritten rule, was no reviews.
Sure, there have been nights where we have eaten in restaurants, but true to the nature of Tonight's Menu, I have always written about why we aren't eating at home. The restaurant in question always gets a mention, and of course I write about the food*, but not to the extent that a reviewer would.
Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by the management of Johnny Fontane's, a new independent restaurant which shortly opens to the paying public of Leeds. I was asked if I would write a review of their new venture in exchange for a free meal. I was, in equal measure, flattered and shocked to be asked, exited at the thought of an independent burger bar and concerned that this might change the direction of Tonight's Menu.
I asked friends who write review blogs what they would do and sought solace from Z. I even contacted Johnny Fontaine's directly regarding my reservations and after a chat I accepted their invitation. That, in a nutshell, is how Z and I find ourselves sat at a table with three other food bloggers. I have never seen so many people taking photographs of food in one place.
The meal deal was simple, any single burger, any side dish and a drink, from the extensive drinks menu (excluding spirits and champagne). This would normally be great value at £9.99 but tonight the deal was sweeter as it was free. Z and I both chose bacon cheese burgers. I had onion rings and Z went for the seasoned fries for our side dishes. I ordered at the bar and was handed a lump of impersonal plastic that would "flash and jump around the place" when my food was ready.
Our wait wasn't long. My tricorder went off and I shuffled over to the counter to pick up my tray of food. The experience was somewhere between waiting for an aisle at bowl-arama and being served school dinner. Only I kept my own shoes and the burgers at my school were never this good!
The burgers where perfectly cooked, still juicy and pink in the middle and seemed to consist of nothing more than meat and some seasoning. Our sides were a little disappointing. The promise of home cut fries filled me with joy but ours were soggy and even though they were "seasoned" I still had to add salt and sauce. The onion rings split Z and I. We both love onion rings, especially when they aren't reformed from onion scraps. These were made from chunky slices of proper onion, but I felt that the coating had been applied ham-fistedly and then overcooked so that the slightly burnt bitterness of the coating masked the sweetness of the onions.
I'm sure that by the time Johnny Fontane's opens to the paying public, the food niggles will be ironed out, but I fear the impersonal service is there to stay. You don't spend good money on flashing lumps of plastic and then not use them, do you? There were plenty of staff milling around clearing tables, but even then, eye contact was minimal, never mind a complimentary "how is your meal?" Perhaps I'm being a fuddy-duddy but I like a bit of a smile with my service, I also quite like some service.
One final thing, just in case your thinking "doesn't sound that great" the beer list is great and Z informs me that her cherry milkshake was awesome and she really likes a good milkshake. Will I go back once they open? Probably, the burgers were good and the price is right. An independent American dinner is a welcome addition to the Leeds restaurant smorgasbord, I just wish it felt like an independent rather than trying to emulate a chain before it even opens.
*this is a food blog after all.