Restaurant Review: Chilies, Basildon

April 05, 2007

There is a rather unfortunate habit amongst us expats to view some things (or most, depending on one's perspective) with the rather jaundiced viewpoint of 'oh are they ill-treating me because I am an Indian / non-white?' Whilst I am not a card-carrying member of this group, I will definitely put my hand up and admit that there have been a few occasions when I have asked myself that. More often than not, the offending situation would resolve itself to make me rethink my views. But some times, certain situations pan out in a certain way that more or less cements my belief that no matter how 'accepting' or 'open' a society prides itself to be, the reality is often a totally different concept. Last Saturday, something happened to reinforce my thinking and I would be greatly interested to see which way the readers of this post align themselves.

The past couple of weeks, I had been harbouring a hankering for a good margarita. S also kept hinting at the long overdue meet we were planning with a good (fellow Indian) mate of his from work and his wife. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, I suggested we head for Chilies Restaurant and Bar at Basildon, which was local enough for all of us and which, more importantly, served some amazing cocktails. Plans were made and on ringing the venue, we were told that as long as we were in a group of less than eight members, we would be given a table with minimum fuss and delay. We got one within thirty minutes and I counted ourselves lucky as I recalled a past visit when we visited for a record two hours and forty-five minutes for a table for four (P was two years old then)!

We sat at our table, chatting and managed to come to a reasonably quick decision regarding the menu - made easy by the fact that three of us were vegetarian and we had just two or three mind-bending choices to make. Then we waited.

We talked about our families, which part of the country each of us were from, the languages we each spoke, our colleges, the different cities we each had lived, how we were finding living in the UK and my blogging. Still no sign of a waiter / maitre'd. And we waited.

P was getting impatient and quite a bit peckish. His enthusiasm with the kiddies pack had exhausted itself by now and he had made up his mind about what he wanted to eat. But still, there was no sign of a soul.

The restaurant was full and all around us, the staff were running around taking orders, bringing in the food, generally making sure the people were getting fed. But no one seemed to be paying us a blind bit of notice.

After waiting patiently, we decided enough was enough and we flagged one of the girls down. She took our orders and we specified that we preferred the drinks, starters and P's order to come in first. So it did - well, almost. One starter and P's mains arrived together and we started tucking in, mentally imagining the beautiful pitcher of margarita.

But there was no sign of the ambrosia and we had finished devouring the garlic bread. We were desperately thirsty now and P was beginning to chant for his OJ. Another frantic hand waving resulted in a supremely uninterested girl plonking some side plates and cutlery in the middle of the table and vanishing into thin air the next minute.

This was the first time any of us had been to a proper restaurant and ended up doing part of the staff's job ourselves. Joints like Nando's pride themselves on their casual approach but as other patrons had had the luxury of the staff setting the table for them, we had assumed, foolishly, the same would be available to us too.

After a colossal thirty minutes, when we saw our neighbours finish their meal and exit the restaurant, we got our drinks - a pitcher of margarita, with some beer glasses. We first thought they had made a mistake. When we pointed out the fact that we were missing cocktail glasses, the girl who brought our drinks coolly explained they had run out of glasses and we had to make do.

By now, we were getting a few degrees ahead of peeved but still were determined to have a good time. So, we gamely drank our delightful margaritas out of beer glasses, imagining the salted rims and the still-absent tostada chips. Some time later, our pitcher was nearing empty, P had finished his dinner and the garlic bread was a distant memory. There was still no sign of our food - the remaining starter or our main courses.

Deciding enough was enough, we asked for a passing waitress if we could speak to the manager. The manager materialised in a few minutes, with the standard 'hope you are having a good time'. She did not seem too shocked by our 'no, not really.' After complaining for a few minutes, our friend finished semi-jovially, 'I hope you are not making us wait for our food 'cos we are Indians'.

To which she replied: 'No, I don't think so.'

I was gaping at that. Having got used to a PC Britain, where at least in public people put on a politically correct mask, this nonchalance was surprising, to say the very least. The slight matter of a few patrons waiting for their food and of cocktails served in beer glasses didn't seem to matter much and after some half-hearted platitudes, she went away to investigate. She came back, with our main courses and useless starter, and a laughable explanation of why we had been sitting there for the better part of an hour, twiddling our thumbs. The kind lady, who was 'in charge' of our table, was having a bad day and it was all getting a bit too much for her. Enjoy your meal now that you've got it.

I could not bite my tongue any more and reamed into her at the disgusting treatment meted out to us. Not once did we get a heartfelt apology or horror at having some seriously irate patrons, complaining away about every single thing.

We ate our food then in silence, most of it turning to ash in our mouths. A promising evening ruined and I couldn't even enjoy my margarita. That was when a lady we had never seen before put in an appearance. She bustled in, full of apologies and we assured her everything was okay, all the time wondering who the heck she was. She explained that she was so busy that she was unable to pay any attention to us and she felt so close to tears to know how awful we felt.

WTF? This was not the girl who took our orders. Not unless she aged a good decade in the time since we saw her last. This was definitely the lady who was serving our neighbours and now was apologising profusely. This farce was getting ridiculous and after placating the woman we tried to carry on with our food. A few minutes later, the lady materialised one more time, armed with a scoop of ice cream for P, who gobbled it all up.

The bill, I must say, arrived without any delay and we found our delightful experience was not cheap by half. Though I wasn't betting on it, I had thought that the management would have had the courtesy to deduct some bit off our bill, as a goodwill gesture. Well, it was obvious that goodwill was in short supply that night, especially when we were at the receiving end of it.

The only thrill we got was walking off without tipping them for treating us so nicely and making the evening a memorable one.

To think I told a friend last week that Chilies was my favourite restaurant in Britain. How things can change in the span of a few days! I think the joint should do what I suggested and put up a big board stating in no uncertain terms that folks of our sort were not welcome to partake food there. Do not start being a hypocrite at this late hour, Chilies, and stick to your guns like you did last Saturday night and display the same nonchalant spirit in showing everyone what you stand for. At least this way, your august establishments will not be soiled and your staff, needlessly overworked.

Writing is my passion and music is my soulmate. When I have a book in my hand and my music blasting in my ears, I am on top of the world. I would love to be a published author someday. But till then, I shall enthrall you all with my creative genius. :)
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April 5, 2007
06:11 AM

Is this part of the US-based Chili's chain of restaurants?

Sounds like a typically dreadful place - been to tons - the casual service is part of the decor almost.

April 5, 2007
06:24 AM

I think it is the same chain, Aaman. I've been here loads of times and while I will not say cheered when I walked in, at least food arrived on time and service was fairly okay. Being served margaritas in beer glasses was the pits!

Give me Nando's anyday.

The Great Ganesha
April 5, 2007
12:45 PM

That's terrible. I had a similar experience at this place called 'Citizen Cake' which is in the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco, so I can feel your pain.

We were basically told to stand and eat at the bar, when the restaurant was empty. I was pissed and usually my first reaction to these things is "its because I'm an Indian" but after I cooled down, I found out from Yahoo! and Citysearch reviews that pretty much everyone is treated like crap over there.

What really peeved me was that I have sent two emails to the PR person about the incident and have not even so much as heard back from them.

Apart from blogging about it (which I did), there's really not much else to do besides feeling incredibly frustrated and pissed every time you talk about it with someone...

April 5, 2007
12:46 PM

There's nothing like a fellow sufferer's angst to relieve your pain! Thanks :)

April 5, 2007
02:16 PM

We went to Chilli's once in the last 15 years and have never gone back. Don't know which was worse - the food, the ambience or the service.

April 5, 2007
02:27 PM

Grub was fine, so was the margarita. The service, or lack of, was the biggest problem.

April 5, 2007
02:39 PM

Chilies at Reading is almost the same- Good food, bad service.

What I hear is that they are like that with customers of all nationalities. But you never know.....


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