BEFORE Covid struck there was a hit play in the West End called The Play That Goes Wrong, in which Murphy’s Law rules supreme. Actors miscue, scenery falls down, things explode. It’s a real hoot.
It happens in the hospitality business too. Welcome to The Meal That Goes Wrong.
In this case it has happened early on in a restaurant’s life when things have still to be tweaked, staff to settle into routines and systems work the way installers promised
So although things went wrong on our night at the new Cornerstone restaurant in buzzing Dyson Place, just off Sharrowvale Road, I still thoroughly recommend it. Because by the time you go they will have tweaked big time.
You very certainly will be charmed by the 100-cover eaterie on two floors in the former Mission Hall, which had been empty and dark for years until developer Martin Flowers came along.
A building where the congregation once raised the roof in praise to God has had it raised yet again (and the floor lowered) to make enough space for tables on two levels.
And they probably won’t keep you waiting for an hour for food, bar bread and olives, and then arrive with your main course because the electronic ordering system has pinged your starters into Kingdom Come.
And, hopefully, the food won’t be tepid because it has waited on the pass too long under lights fitted too high up to keep things warm.
Nor, fingers crossed, will the fire alarm go off for five minutes because the barbecue in the kitchen is sending flames sky high.
This was the sort of night, to be honest, I would have given my right arm for when reviewing professionally because the story really writes itself. People, being what they are, like a touch of calamity. And it was my job to tell it how it was.
Well, I am a blogger now who pays his own way (unless where stated) and this is not one of those anodyne blogs, you’ve seen them, where Everything Is Simply Wonderful.
Folks, that’s not how life works.
Cornerstone is the project of brothers Richard and Michael Massarella, third generation members of the well-known catering family which runs a cafe empire across the North. It was grandfather Ronnie who started it off, building upon an icecream business developed by his own grandfather who emigrated from Italy over 150 years ago.
So they are not rookies in the business.
I’d booked for four of us online and a few days before the meal the agency sends a breezy email checking we are still going. Good idea to stop the no-shows. Then it suggests clicking a link to check the menu on the restaurant website. Bad idea. It’s not on there.
“We are still tweaking the website,” says Richard when we find our table, handing out flimsy paper menus because they are seeing what works and what doesn’t before they commit themselves to laminate.
The place is open all day and Massarellas don’t need any lessons on providing café dishes. Where the brothers have raised the eyebrows of older members of the family is angling the afternoon and dinner menu to World Food.
So while it nods at their Italian origins with pasta and chicken Milanese it goes progressively East with halloumi, harissa, falafel, kofta,Korean chicken and even a Vietnamese dish, cocking a cheeky snook at the Vietnamese restaurant across the block.
The building itself features bare brick walls with big chapel windows on one side looking onto the table-filled forecourt with heaters. Banquette seating runs round the walls while down the centre is a wooden arrangement which looks and feels, according to the ladies of the party, like old tram seats: fair enough for a five minute journey, not comfortable enough for a two hour meal.
A new metal staircase leads a low raftered first floor where, incidentally, three of the four unisex toilets are.
We order padron peppers with chorizo, sesame prawns with a dip and watermelon with whipped goats cheese but they never come. Our waitress has typed them into a tablet but they disappear into the ether.
We nibble at decent olives and bread (with no plates) and wait for them to arrive. And wait. Suddenly the alarm goes off just after a burst of flames in the partly open kitchen. Our pal Craig thinks it’s his peppers being barbecued.
There is a conclave of staff clustered at the controls for seemingly five minutes and a cheer goes up when it is finally turned off. I notice Richard leads a round of applause and he gets five stars for chutzpah. I like him.
When our mains arrive we vaccilate. The waitress says she will re-order our starters and they go back to the pass. But we worry we will get the same dishes back later and scrap the starters and recall the mains.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady in possession of a fish does not want it with bones. Or if it is, the menu should say. My wife’s Vietnamese monkfish was served not as a fillet, nor as a steak, but completely on the bone. It was heavily spiced but the heat made up for the food being barely warm.
My lamb koftas were pleasant enough, served on a flatbread with labneh ( strained yoghurt) with rather too much coleslaw.
Craig was quids in, raving enthusiastically about his flatiron steak which, tweaking the menu himself, he had served with a broad bean, pea and feta salad, swapped from another dish. It, too, was lukewarm.
To be fair they offered us free desserts but we declined, perhaps a bad move as I have been told they are good. So Richard scrapped the alcohol bill. We liked him even more. Our bill was just over £70.
And Cornerstone had lots right: a relaxed, interesting menu, pleasant staff who kept to their stations so you weren’t being asked the same questions by different people, and a good atmosphere.
It’s not always right on the night, particularly when a reviewer is there. Murphy’s Law again. If things can go wrong, they will.
However, the runes are good for Cornerstone. I’ll go back. A tweak and a prayer should get them there.