Eating out has always been a battle. Customers, desperate to snaffle as many freebies as physically possible, are always scouring receipts for the slightest mistake. Kitchens, meanwhile, are in a constant war with ingredients - desperately working out which type of lettuce or breed of chicken might be marginally cheaper than the rest. At the end of the day, the whole thing boils down to accounting.
This attitude, while not particularly romantic, is totally understandable. Restaurants are expensive, both to run and to visit. Most of us have to hustle to make ends meet, so why should eating be any different? The economic realities of dining mean that any attempt from one side of the pass to swindle the other is almost always met with outrage. Usually, this conflict slips under the public radar.
Unfortunately for one East London restaurant, there are people in the food industry who have the means to name and shame anyone trying to get away with something shady. Food writer Rosie French is one such person.
After enjoying a meal at well regarded Italian restaurant Ombra in the heart of Hackney, French was alarmed to discover something untoward staring back at her from her bill. In addition to the expected expenses of burrata, tagliatelle and tiramisu, her bill included an additional £1.50 surcharge for “Parmisan Supplement”.
There were two shocking things about the inclusion. The first was that an Italian restaurant had managed to misspell parmesan. The second was that she had been charged extra for grated cheese. Though the former was a shock, it was the latter that French really couldn’t stomach.
As she later explained, the prospect of an additional charge had been at no point explained during the “awkward, painfully slow grating at the table”. Given that most restaurants are more than happy to sling in a few extra fistfuls of cheese free of charge, any guest could be forgiven for failing to grasp the policy. Whatever Ombra’s policy, it’s clear that French felt ambushed.
Understandably angry, the food writer took to Twitter to draw the world’s attention to the unusual addition, calling upon colleague and co-critic Jay Rayner to pass judgement on the situation. With typical reserve, Rayner demanded to name “Where in God’s name” had decided it was a good idea to charge extra for grated cheese. This in turn led to an outpouring from his Twitter following, unveiling other astonishing stories of hidden food fees.
One user revealed that a restaurant had once tried to charge her and her husband extra for an additional fork with which to share a dessert. Others told tales of fees for chilli flakes, ketchup and even pepper.
When pressed for comment, Ombra head chef Mitshel Ibrahim insisted that the additional charge was included on the menu, along with listings for gluten-free and vegan options. However, he also added that the cheese should have cost £1.00 rather than £1.50. He apologised for the error and offered French a refund. Unfortunately for Ibrahim, the cat was already out of the bag.
There are several lessons to be learned from French’s unusual experience. For fellow foodies and regular restaurant patrons, the message is clear. Always double check your bill. You never know what might have found its way on there.