thai orchid, clapham high street
from the outside it looks like a perfectly decent place to eat. looking through the window it's tastefully and simply decorated with bare wooden panels and floor. there's a bit of leather here and there. there's a groovy mezzanine level at the back where you'd get to eat if it became really busy. i hope that doesn't happen though, that would be significantly unfair on the good restaurants of the world.
it was pretty cold inside when we first entered, but it was absolutely freezing outside so we stuck with it and carried on with Plan A.
"what would you like to drink?" we were asked, almost immediately after sitting down. it was difficult to answer as the wine list was so vague it may as well have just been a list of the dialects of the world.
"could you give us a couple of minutes please?" we answered, taking our coats off. the waiter was a strange chap with limited understanding of personal space. the movement as he left us was a unusual mix of sinister-slinking and a skip.
screw it, we decided to have champagne. we called the odd chap back over; which wasn't difficult as he had stayed within earshot, and had stared at us intently with a curious smile on his face. it was like eagerness, disguised as a sexual predator.
"we'd like a bottle of champagne please."
"yes. red or white?"
"wha..? it's champ... umm.. white please." we glanced at each other, "oh and could we have some tap water?... oh you've gone"
and he had gone. wandered off - it turned out - to find someone more senior who could open a bottle of champagne.
one spillage and a wine-bucket of cold water later and we were at least drinking champagne. from glasses chunky enough you could hammer nails into a supporting wall admittedly, but that could just have been be a design choice to match the rugged hardwood floors and haunting air-temperature.
"would you like to order?" the far away smile had returned.
"yes please. how many fish-cakes do you get in a starter?"
"i don't know... five or six i think." he gazed at us. it was uncomfortable.
"okay, could we get one of those between us please?"
"yes." he smirked and wandered off again. we didn't really converse with him about food any further, although he did remain a claustrophobic presence in our lives for the rest of the evening.
a couple of minutes later the more senior member of staff who'd opened our champagne arrived. "would you like to order please?"
"oh, i thought we'd already started that." i said, because we did. but this chap had a notepad, and a slightly less threatening demeanor.
the 'fish'-cakes arrived within a minute or two (never a great sign). freshly deep-fried from the packet from whence they were squeezed, they sat there in an oily substance we could only hope was oil. i describe them as 'fish'-cakes because there was minimal evidence of any real fish. in fact, on slicing them open some of them contained a gristly substance that could only be realised as 'cheap nasty meat.' this was not great for the vegetarian i was spending the evening with. we were either eating very bad fishcakes that had been padded out with low quality chicken bits, or we were the first humans to taste the flesh of a mermaid.
neither was preferable.
at this point the prices on the menu went from "very reasonable" to "highly suspicious," and had we not had a bucket of cold water and a bottle of champagne (resting on the table next to us) would have walked out there and then.
my companion had a pad thai for mains. although her report suggested that you'd get a better pad thai from wagamama's. which is a japanese restaurant.
i wanted a nasi goreng, and according to the ingredients on the menu that's basically what i was getting. albeit with a different, more unique-to-this-restaurant name. at this point the staff seemed very distinctly not-from-anywhere-near-thailand, at all.
the mains were as good as to be expected at this stage. not terrible though. i mean, not great, but not supernaturally evil or life-threatening. admittedly i didn't touch the mussels, which didn't seem to have been cleaned and most certainly had a vague greenish tinge. all food was delivered by the strange creature who'd ignored our request for water, and had to be reminded twice before eventually delivering it with what he probably considered, a flourish.
some vastly over-cooked squid and a distinct lack of some promised ingredients later (no fried egg, no.... um.. vegetables - luckily we'd ordered side dishes) and we were ready to leave. as in, we were still ready to leave from that time earlier when it became evident that this was going to be shite. still, freedom was imminent and the fresh, biting winter air was beckoning to us as it whistled past the road-works outside.
creepy-smiling-weirdo was back.
"could we split the bill half-and-half please? on each of these cards?" i asked.
"could you pay for everything and she can pay you back?" he responded, signaling my companion with the side of his head.
as we were leaving (thankful for the timing) a stench began emanating from the general direction of the back of the restaurant. it could have been the kitchen or the toilets. i wouldn't want to put money on which one; but just before we left, my cohort - rather bravely i thought - decided she needed to pay a brief visit to the latter. on returning she had a unrecognisable expression on her face.
"i don't want to talk about it," she said as we left.
"fair enough," i replied, feeling very british. and how british we were to soldier on through what was - by far - the worst meal out i've ever had (and i've had a McChicken sandwich from macdonalds.. which have less chicken in them than the fishcakes).
i implore you, do not go to thai orchid on clapham high street. not unless you're the sort of person that enjoys having your wallet raped and your tongue beaten up.