Fawlty Towers is alive and well and working its magic in at least one place in Britain at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. All you fans of the silliness shown by Basil Fawlty and his inept staff can start to plan your pilgrimage to south of Manchester where the Green Room vegetarian restaurant is carrying on the traditions in amazing style.
But let me take you back a few steps and explain how I came to discover this rather eccentric operation that masquerades as a cafe.
A friend and I had set out to have a quick lunch before going back to a seminar on meditation and self-discovery. Naturally that meant that the local greasy spoon was not going to fit the bill and we had to find somewhere with healthier, eco friendly food.
The Green room was recommended and so we set off in a light shower of rain, which turned swiftly into a downpour accompanied by fabulous thunder and lightning. That then escalated into a hailstorm, thus giving my Australian companion a brief example of just how erratic and capricious weather here in Britain can be.
Eventually we reached the Green Room and things started to brighten up. Warmth and dry pleasant surroundings were a great start. Sadly that was the limit of the good news, for we were about to encounter a level of charming bumbling and incompetence that beggared belief.
‘Hi can you tell me what your vegan options are please?’ asked my companion.
‘Vegan! Right. Just a minute, I’ll check.’
We waited and scoured the menu board behind the counter. Now the place was a vegetarian restaurant – it said so outside, and all the people in there had that certain ‘veggie’ look about them. On the menu there were a number of dishes with a huge green ‘V’ besides them, so that presumably meant that they were the vegan options. My companion looked at them and nodded.
‘OK what’s in the Goan potato stuff?’
‘It’s a curry with potatoes and other things’ came the less than helpful response.
‘Hold on, I’ll ask’
The serving lady disappeared into the back and another lady popped out. She looked at me and decided that I wasn’t her type of customer and so moved on to the next person in the ever-growing line.
‘Excuse me, I think I’m next’ I began
‘You’re together.’ she informed me slightly sniffily.
I thought about this for a moment and wondered how the hell she knew I was together, after all she hadn’t been at the morning’s session where I had clearly been a pretty ‘together’ person.
‘Um no – did you mean am I being served?’
‘Well aren’t you?’
‘No, this lady is being served but not me’
‘You came in together!’ she said accusingly.
‘Yes, but we are separate, honestly!’
‘Well, you looked together, what do you want?’
By now I had spotted that any smart remarks were going to cause far too much trouble so I simply pointed to the menu.
‘I’ll have the lasagne please.’
‘No, that’s off!’
‘OK then can I have the vegetarian chilli?’
‘That’s off too!’
‘OK. what is available then please’
The woman gave me one of those looks that indicated that although I was a complete idiot, her politeness training didn’t allow her to voice her views. Her attitude and look however made it clear to all that she was now dealing with a complete moron.
She pointed to the board behind her.
‘What would you like?’
Now I had already failed with my first two choices so I scanned the dishes behind the counter.
‘Are the potato skins filled with cheese available?’
She glared at me and pointed to the plate of potato skins in front of us both. Clearly her first idea that I was a complete idiot was right!
‘Do you want chutney with that?
With that she scooped up a small potato with some mashed spud and cheese in it and disappeared into the back. I have no idea exactly what went on behind those doors, but that was where the witches’ cauldron was probably kept.
Her colleague re-appeared and went through a short list of options for my Australian vegan-seeking friend. Apparently there were quite a number of things that were off – including the Vegan special of Goan whatever it was. By now I was starting to get the giggles and that is a bad thing – especially if you really do want something to eat.
My potato skin reappeared and my companion kept up her struggle to find something to stop her from starving to death. Cutting a long story short, I will just say that the menu board behind the counter had more things on it that were ‘off’ than were available. Eventually my friend went for some soup and that too was taken into the back.
By now the line behind us was growing impatient. By the time the soup re-emerged from the back the second assistant had taken pity on me and taken my potato back ‘to warm it up again’
I won’t bore you with the saga of trying to find suitable buns or cakes to take back into the afternoon session, nor will I attempt to describe the look of sheer horror on the face of the assistant when she was asked if there was a soya milk option for the cup of tea.
‘We don’t do that here’ was the response and that summed up the whole place. They really didn’t do much of anything there. And if you were a potential customer then quite clearly you were best described as a troublemaker.
I will add however that the ‘chutney’ I had been given with my potato turned out to be jam. Yet another first,’ I thought to myself. ‘I cannot quite figure out who thought that jam was an essential accompaniment to a cheesy stuffed potato skin, but one thing is for sure. When you put the jam into the microwave you sure as hell get a scaldingly hot side dish, which warms up the luke-warm spud beside it.
I won’t give you the address of this place – unless you desperately want to try the experience for itself, or if you have a mind to make a clip for Youtube. If that’s the case then I am perfectly willing to take part, after all it has at least given me the material for this email!