Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wrong Wrong - not Vong Wong

Mumbai is a city where, on a special occasion when you're in the mood to celebrate, there's no dearth of good restaurants. Most places offer special menus and deals and clients pour in.

Vong Wong at Express Towers enjoys a good reputation and the family decided to celebrate Navroze, or Parsi New Year here. Between the husband and the father in law, the table for 21 of us was booked, the menu was chosen, the rate was fixed, all was confirmed and we all looked forward to having a great evening together.

We were 21 of us including 6 children. Our table was booked for 10pm on Saturday 18th August. We all managed to be there on time. When it's 21 people and there are kids involved, trust me, that's an achievement! Amid exchanges of "Saal Mubarak" and much hugging, we were all ready to get to our table and let our evening begin.

The first surprise. We had no table. The manager told us "we're just clearing and readying your table, just give me 5 minutes." We waited, and waited. Around 15 minutes later we were invited into the restaurant and led, no, not to our table but to a waiting area. Some of us sat, the rest of us stood around and tried to keep the kids out of trouble. To cut a long story short we were there for another 30 minutes. My sis in law wanted some water and after many requests one hostess came to us carrying a tray with 2 glasses of water. We were 21 of us. Wow! Such hospitality.

Eventually we were led to our table. We settled in.The kids were hungry, we were hungry and we expected to be served more or less immediately. We sat around for another 20 minutes till C finally asked what was going on. We had two waiters who came and took our orders. Why were they taking orders? Didn't we have a set menu, I wondered. Guess what? The waiters didn't know that.

The menu for the evening was -

(all items unlimited)


Pepper corn chicken
Roast pork chilly
Golden Fried prawns


Chicken Manchow soup


Basa in Lime Chilly Garlic
Chicken Thai green curry
Crispy Lamb in Sweet and Sour sauce
Chicken Lotus Leaf Rice


Tub Tim Crob
Vanilla Icecream

All this @1,200 per head + taxes.

The starters began with the prawns. We all got 1 each and that's the last we saw of the prawns. The chicken starter arrived and was served to most of us. They hadn't sent out enough to serve everyone. We had arrived at 10pm and it was now past 11pm. We were hungry and getting more and more irritated by the minute. What was served disappeared in a matter of seconds and we waited again for another interminable amount of time.

The soup arrived in assorted bowls. Some of us got soup in what looked like miniature main course serving pots. Some of us got soup in soup bowls of a weird small size and some of us got soup in what looked like chutney bowls. I was horrified. It's this place one of the well known fancy joints in Mumbai? Why were they serving food in plastic crockery that a road side Chinese cart vendor would use? One bowl had gouged out bits where something hot had touched it and the plastic had melted.

More of the chicken starter arrived. We'd already asked for more prawns but there was no sign of them, nor of the pork starter that was on the menu. We waited as we snorkelled up the soup.

Eventually, after many requests and finally a few sharp words, the pork starter arrived. There were 3 or bowls of the stuff and there were 21 of us! We all got about a half tablespoon each, and some didn't get any. This starter never came back. After a heated complaint to the manager were served pork spare ribs! No explanation why spare ribs made an appearance at our table was given. When we questioned the waiter he dumped the bowls on our table and disappeared. We didn't know what to do. Do we serve ourselves, had these come to our table by mistake, what was going on? It turned out that the manager was trying to make amends but I think they had run out of the pork starter that we had ordered and that's why these were served.

What part of 'customised set menu' Vong Wong doesn't understand, I don't know.

I don't know why we stayed. We should have left. It was nearly midnight, we hadn't eaten much and where would we all go at that time? Even an anda pav on the roadside would have been better..but we stuck it out.

After another endless wait some more prawns arrived. We asked for the mains to be served and actually instructed them to first make sure it was all ready and only then to serve us. The Lotus rice arrived and it was closely followed by the Basa in Lime Chilly. The Thai curry arrived too! I think I was in shock. I recovered quickly - there was no sign of the crispy lamb in sweet and sour sauce. It appeared after we reminded them about it.

Then the dance with the dessert happened. Tub Tim Crob is water chestnuts stewed in coconut milk, to put it very simply. It was to be served with Vanilla ice cream, or so we had been told. Since none of us had ever had it before we accepted what they said. Once again an assortment of bowls arrived filled randomly with Tub Tim Crob. Once again, not every one got a serving. You had to be the chosen one at the table and if you were lucky, you got it. Vanilla ice cream arrived in long boat shaped serving dishes. Very pretty. Not a serving spoon to be seen or a dessert plate on the horizon. It was like a sick joke. And of course we waited...
Finally the Tub Tim Crob appeared in a huge tureen followed by another massive bowl piled high with ice cream. I don't know what Vong Wong thought about us but I have a feeling they just sent out the entire pot of TTC along with as much ice cream as could be scraped out as if to say "Here! Eat as much as you want now".

Eventually at 1am after demanding the bill (which took another 20 mins to arrive) and paying, we left.

I have never had a worse experience at a restaurant. We had 2 waiters struggling to serve us, clueless about their duties, the menu and everything else. These boys were also serving other tables.

The Manager, Bruce, was incredible. He would pop by whenever he was summoned, grin and laugh, try to look like some friendly indulgent uncle, fire a couple of instructions at this waiters and disappear. No, he did not stand there and make sure that we got good service, that the food arrived quickly and that there was enough food for everyone. We're professionals in the food industry ourselves. I am ashamed to think of Bruce as 'one of us'.

We were at Vong Wong  for 3 hours, from 10pm till 1am. Not one of us had a proper dinner , let alone a good time here.

We were given a 40% discount. Supposedly that makes this disastrous evening all right. Oh, and we paid 10% service charge too!

I haven't commented about the food. I know. It must have been nice but I was too angry to notice.

Vong Wong was an experience in how wrong you can be in the hospitality industry. A textbook case of everything you shouldn't do if you want to succeed in the food and hospitality industry. We don't treat our own family like this at our tables at home let alone guests. Imagine treating paying customers this way.


Jenny Arata said...

So sorry to hear about such an experience. What a pain!

Kalyan Karmakar said...

that sounds like a horrid experience and really sad that it happened on a happy could they get things so wrong

CY said...

Before we left the place on Saturday night, I requested Burce to have the proprietor call me. Given my request did not elicit a response, i followed up with the restaurant on Sunday late evening.

On calling the restaurant reservations, I was told that they could not put me through to Bruce and provided his hand phone number, which when i called, was unavilable (much like the hospitality on Saturday).

Subsequently, I received a call from a person who claimed to be the restaurant manager who asked me what the issue was. I advised him that it would be better if he took a download from Bruce instead of making me relive our agony. Further, I also remined him that I had requested Bruce to have the Proprietor call me. However, I was told that the Porpietor does not speak with any of the guests and guest relations is solely the responsibility of the restaurant manager. This was in stark comparison to the fact that when they opened, the proprietor's daughter was seen on the restaurant floor more than necessary, personally supervising operations. This change in management philosphy advised by the restaurant manager bolstered my conviction that the restaurant was started at some rich kid's fancy and these guys don't seem to be serious about their business. I have till date not come across a person sucessfully running a business through a strategy of aleinating ones self from ground reality.

On my refusal to speak with the 'restaurant manager' any further, Bruce called agin and asked what ammends can be made especially when they had profusely apologiezed to us and the matter was done with. He aslo advised that the owners have refused to speak with any of the customers (comes as no surprise, but is in sync with the business strategy explained by the 'restaurant manager'). This attitude reflected even more poorly than the torture meted out to all of us at dinner.

When asked to issue a letter of apology, they claimed that given the matter was fait accompli, and accordingly, it would be best if we treate it as water under the bridge.

In conclusion, all I can say is as a kid I was used seeing the line of 'chainis food' wagons parked opposite the Oberio Sheraton (as known back then) at Nariman Point with fancy names such as "Hungry Eyes". Over a period of time these wagons disappeard and I wondered why and where. I still wonder why, but i know know WHERE they relocated.