Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Meal With A Poorly Hidden Agenda

I'd describe myself as entirely apathetic to most spectator sports, except of course when the virtually year-long football season begins and I suddenly migrate to the inferior-sized bedroom TV in search of alternative entertainment. Despite this, I'd go to a live football match just for the experience to soak in the scene, so stumbling across Howard's during an Internet search gives me the excuse to finally visit Leeds United's home stadium, Elland Road.

When I first discover, a new restaurant has opened, I'm expecting a packed-out pub environment with chanting beer soaked fans chowing down pies, burgers and chips in a garish backdrop of blue, yellow and white furnishings. Studying the almost elusive on-line menu is enough to convince me Howard's is worth a go and I'm soon travelling across the city, trying my best to ignore a radio discussion about the state of Arsenal.

I've done plenty of restaurant reviews before but this is my first surprise review for a new website. The venue normally know I'm coming and I have to interview the manager and tour the restaurant as part of the review. I've even had to write “favourable” reviews for higher paying clients advertising on the site but never an anonymous review.

I'm instructed to take pictures of all of my food and even the wine bottle label. I'm really not sure how I'm going to subtly carry this out and soon realise this is virtually impossible. I've attempted to make a few unseen notes and have taken a picture of the menu but as we are currently the sparse restaurant's only customers, I'm pretty sceptical I've managed to elude detection.

My doubts are confirmed when the waiter comes over handily bringing me a print-out of the menu but I'm still keeping my mouth shut, hoping I look more like a stereotypical Japanese tourist.

Later, we're given peach granite to tide us over until the starters are ready and I feel somewhat suspicious I'm getting preferential treatment until I see other diners arrive who are also presented with the same attractively presented fruity slush.

Alarm bells ring again when we're handed two champagne flutes, but I'm once again appeased as I realise everyone in the restaurant is now toasting to a Birthday celebration with the same impromptu Prosecco. It seems the restaurant manager, Philippe Lopez, is just exceedingly skilled at making all his customers feel special without hijacking their meals.

I pay up, carefully tucking away the receipt and head-out towards the taxi that awaits, cluelessly asking Philippe who Howard's is named after. He's keen to oblige, taking me to the entrance and pointing at a photograph of Leeds United's second most successful manager. “Perhaps you'd like to take a picture he says?” and I'm again wondering whether my under-cover reviewer's identity has been blown. One thing is clear, tonight has certainly been a guessing game for both Philippe and I.

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