It is with a heavy heart that I embark upon writing a less than favourable review. Much more a fan of writing positive and glowing reports, my trip to Graffiti restaurant in Cambridge over the weekend has unfortunately tainted my usual good and generous review spirit. Having failed to get a place at the Michelin starred Midsummer House (which I have yet to try), I searched for another Cambridge-based option of a notable standard and reputation. Research and reviews lead me to Hotel Felix’s well-reviewed restaurant, Graffiti.
Their website displays photographs of a style-conscious interior (although the giant image of a tarantula hanging on the wall in one of the rooms was not the greatest welcome for an arachnaphobe such as myself) with quotes such as “…’Super food’ is winning quite a name for for (sic) this stylish boutique hotel dining room” by Hardens – albeit it from 2006 and I’m hazarding a guess they’ve had a change of chef/staff since then. What we discovered in reality is an accurate representation of the phrase ‘Style over substance’. Were it not for the fact that I was in excellent company and therefore still managed to enjoy my evening I would probably have kicked up quite a stink when the bill landed, with a somewhat heavy thud, on our table at the end.
So, where did it all go so wrong? Well, it started when we arrived (on time) for our booking. There were only a couple of tables already seated in the restaurant when we arrived, but room for plenty more. As it was a glorious evening with an early summer’s sun warming their outside terrace area, we requested to have an aperitif on the terrace before we sat down for dinner. They happily obliged and we were shown the door and wandered, unaccompanied out to the terrace where we pulled a couple of tables together ourselves to accommodate the size of our group (6). 5 minutes later a waitress arrived with the cocktail menu for us and said she would give us a couple of minutes to make our selection. Around 20 minutes later, as we slowly baked in the sunshine, gasping for a drink, she re-emerged with a pad and pen to take our order. One of our party requested a Manhattan cocktail which she promptly wrote on her pad, then turned and walked back inside the restaurant. We all looked at each other, bemused, and wondered if she intended to do one drink order at a time. 10 minutes later a different waitress appeared and asked us if we’d like to order drinks. We explained that we had already commenced an order to which she replied “Yes, I know. A Manhattan. What else do you want?” Sorry??
Drinks finally ordered (5 cocktails and a glass of prosecco) our food choices were requested. After a considerable time 3 cocktails were delivered and the waitress disappeared back into the restaurant. The recipients of their drinks offered to wait until everyone’s drinks had arrived before starting theirs. This was an offer they began to regret when after another 10 minutes the remaining drinks had yet to arrive. We asked a passing staff member if they would mind checking on our drinks, and finally another few minutes later the remaining 2 cocktails arrived, but no prosecco. It took a further 2 requests before this was eventually delivered and we were all able to take our first sip of our drinks almost an hour later. Moments later a waitress arrived to tell us our table was ready and hurried us through to the restaurant, despite us being only half-way through our drinks.
We were shown through to the (still fairly empty) restaurant.
As the starters arrived we all realised how hungry we had become and looked forward to tucking into our food. I had ordered the Pistou soup with thyme bruschetta. When my soup arrived it looked nice. I quickly scooped a spoonful out and sampled it. Disappointingly, despite being packed full of vegetables, beans and a pesto-style broth it was devoid of any flavour at all. I was stunned. I have made many a vegetable soup in my time, and I thought it was near impossible to pack it so full of ingredients without achieving some semblance of flavour. The thyme bruschetta was also missing, and when we (halfway through the starter) asked a waiter whether we were right in thinking it came served with bruschetta we received a terse “It’s coming” response. No “I’m so sorry, let me apologise, I will see if I can find out where it has gotten to for you”. No, none of that whatsoever.Later on, as one waitress arrived to collect our empty starter plates another approached our table, looking confused and clutching a basket of thyme bruschetta. We suggested that it was now a little late and to not worry about it. The waiter then returned himself and apologised for the mistake, and offered us a complementary glass of prosecco (for the soup eaters) as means of an apology. We accepted. The prosecco eventually arrived halfway through our mains around 20 minutes later.
Now, it’s fair to say that Graffiti are conscious of presentation. The tables are laid well and the purple upholstery and dark wood interiors make it look like it knows what it’s doing. However, there were a couple of notable presentation slip-ups in my book. The trend of depositing a spoonful of sauce onto your plate and then scraping it across the surface to make a decorative ‘swoosh’ is fine by me. I’ve seen it executed very well and, when done right, can really bring vibrancy to the plate. Unfortunately with both the mackerel starter and the bitter chocolate dome dessert at Graffiti they attempted the technique but with substances that resembled regurgitated baby food. Happily I did not order either of the offending dishes, but I’m quite sure that if I had, I would have asked for it to be removed so as not to put me off my meal.
All in all, I have to say that it was one of my most disappointing restaurant experiences. The service was abysmal, the staff lacking the standards and charisma you’d expect for the reviews and the price. The wines on offer were weak, and poorly recommended. The food lacked flavour and, in the case of the £20.20 main course of beef fillet, a decent amount of food for your money. I believe that £12 for a 2.5″ thick solid fillet of beef (as served at The Corner Room) is FAR better value for money than 2 meagre slices, some miniature vegetables and some sliced potato for £20.20.
Also, a note to remember would be that when you say on your menu that your cheese selection comes served with oat biscuits, it’s going to be noticed if you in fact serve it with stale water crackers. Sadly, by the time it actually got to dessert and my cheese selection, I was so far past caring, I just wanted to get the bill and move my group on to somewhere we could enjoy ourselves without feeling like we were taken for a ride any further.
Needless to say, I won’t be returning to Graffiti in any hurry, or in fact, ever at all. Next time I got to Cambridge I’ll be sure to just book myself in to an average high street chain and get the same standard at a fifth of the price.