When I saw a ‘Soul Food Sunday’ advertised at Gas & Co, an American style diner on Whiteladies Road, I got very excited. I had used their 2 4 1 cocktail offer frequently, was a big big fan of their breakfasts, thought the staff super friendly and I liked soul food. I had once enjoyed a tasting platter of Cajun cooking (complete with jambalaya, fried chicken and gumbo) in New Orleans, and it was fucking delish.
They also mentioned a band would be playing alongside the four course meal, and I liked music.
I thought ‘yes Ellen, you should go to this. Plus you’re like a professional food reviewer now, you owe it to your fans.’
When Gas & Co sent through the menu the week before the event, I was impressed. It looked so hot and sexy that I wanted to not only eat all the food, but smear it all over my own and everyone elses body. I started getting food envy for myself in the future who would have all this delicious food.
The language on the menu was so enticing. Everything was fried, dirty or battered and it was nice to see the words ‘bacon’ and ‘drippings’ together at last.
I worked hard to prepare for the event. I saved up my calories, built up my appetite by forgoing snacking between meals (like, on the day) and thought about the concept of my soul for six hours. I was READY.
Little did I know that it was the beginning of a dining experience from hell. Okay, maybe not hell. Maybe Hull. A dining experience from Hull.
So everything started off well – the person at the door knew my name, and I his, because he introduced himself as Jason. Another host appeared, and she also knew my name. I felt special. Myself and my partner were encouraged to go to the bar to enjoy a 2 4 1 ‘Soul Sunday cocktail,’ before venturing upstairs to be seated. Drinks weren’t included, but we had paid £18.95 each for four courses, so we figured it was pretty good value anyhow. The band had not started, but their equipment was on a stage, so they definitely existed.
Excited, we sat at our table, sipping on Lynchburg Lemonades, barely remembering what we ordered from the four course menu we picked out the week before. We attempted bullshit conversation about our thoughts and feelings and stuff but deep down we knew we were here for one reason, and one reason only. The Bacon drippings.
It started well, as the starting board arrived at the start. Little did we know we would have to wait for the passing of ALL TIME before we received our starters.
The menu said what we had in front of us was green fried tomatoes in bacon drippings, peanuts in spicy broth, fried buttermilk okra and a dip made of sunsets.
What the board actually contained was watery green fried tomatoes, a fishy sauce and boiled peanuts. I hate peanuts – to me they are Satans testicles, but my boyfriend assured me that these peanuts were okay. They started out bland, but if you stuck with them they got vaguely better. Like the TV Show Gotham. But it did cause some concern as the menu told us the peanuts lived in broth, but there was no broth to be seen.
I asked my boyfriend, ‘where is the broth?’ We both looked for a while, but could see no broth. We worried – Have we got broth blindness? Or worse, have we been mistaking broth for something else all these years? We thought it was like, a liquidy soup, but actually it’s invisible, like dark matter?
‘I’ve got it!’ I screamed, slamming my head on the table, ‘Broth is a metaphor for your SOUL!’
The soul is invisible. As is the broth! The soul is liquidy. As is broth! The soul has bits of vegetables in it! Just like Broth! OF COURSE. This was part of the ‘soul’ experience of ‘soul’ Sunday, where broth was subbed in by your inner sanctum! We both high fived each other, and ordered more drinks, finishing off the okra (which was truly yummy) and the fishy sauce – (which was also yummy if lacking sunsets.)
We waited 45 minutes for our next course. I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend, we talk, like, all the time, but we began to lose the power of speech such was the growing frustration. The customers around us didn’t seem to be faring much better, and the staff, although lovely in nature, seemed pretty stressed. There was an air of franticness to the evening, with staff rushing here, there and over there. It was like looking into the face of Michael Douglas before he blows up most of LA in Falling Down. My soul was becoming more soup like by the minute. The eureka moment with the broth began to fade into the background as I gnawed at my own fingers.
My boyfriend got his next course first, and I waited about ten minutes for mine and watched him eat.
We are still slightly unsure of what he was given. Literally nothing on the menu resembles this. We don’t know if one of the chefs went insane and tried to improv something, someone got confused, or they REALLY misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘broth,’ and that whole broth/soul thing was a lie we made up. I think it is meant to be the shrimp and cheese grits in a chicken and lemon broth, but maybe by the time it took to get to the table all the liquid had evaporated? Or other hungry patrons sucked it off the plate whilst the chef wasn’t looking? Or again – broth was imaginary and supplied by the customer. Also the menu did not mention any cheeky little mushrooms.
By now the menu was a book of lies.
Then mine turned up. A lukewarm gumbo sort of thing. It was definitely fine. It was okay. It was there. I had hoped it would be warmer, but by now, I was slightly drunk.
When the waitress took the plates away she asked what we thought, with such big eyed sincerity I felt guilty for telling her the food wasn’t great so far and we had been waiting for ages. She promised they had been working hard towards this, and I felt like a disappointed parent who has come to see their child perform in the end of year panto, and sort of discovered their child can’t act, sing or dance, and they had only been cast in the role of ‘tree number 8.’ And it turns out there has never been a worse tree, and I had to tell them they were the worst tree.
The waitress promised she would bring out our mains quickly, and grabbed us some new cutlery.
They could still pull this back, I thought. Knock us out with the main course. Bring it over quickly. Maybe at the same time.
35 minutes later. No mains. No music. We began to hate everything.
This was meant to be an evening of catching up, being slightly pissed and warm together. Bonding over the joy of delicious food. I had saved SO MANY CALORIES for this day, for the pudding, and the chicken and the cocktails. The band hadn’t started yet, and I was promised live music. At that point we dreaded to think what the total bill would be. We had already paid £18.95 each for the food, and the drinks were bound to take it up £40 each for the entire evening, which was insanely depressing considering how miserable we had began to feel.
I didn’t want to dislike the evening and the food, but it felt like salt was being rubbed into the wound every time we complained and then waited longer for drinks, or food, except there was no salt because they didn’t know how to season.
We began to do that thing, where every time a waiter walks past with a dish, and it’s not yours, you begin to die inside. We prepared our complaints speeches. We got nervous about them. We decided to see how the next meal was. If it was amazing, then we leave happy. If it was dire then we sort of politely, kick up a bit of a fuss.
My main came out. My boyfriends did not. Oh dear, not gumbo again. Why did I order the gumbo twice? I couldn’t handle the tepid oily confusion again. The green beans were not seasoned, despite the menu’s promise. They were boiled in water. Like my mums at Christmas, and my mum can’t cook. The chicken however was tender and delicious on the inside, but I the coating was too thick, and parts of it tasted floury, undercooked and unseasoned.
My boyfriend was all like ‘where’s my fish?’ a couple of times, except his patience was wearing thin. Why couldn’t we eat at the same time, and share our misery together! Why wouldn’t they let us! I was beginning to feel so ripped off, that no amount of explaining how hard everyone had worked would cut it. Plus I was hungry.
My boyfriends food came out. He had ordered the fried red snapper. He took a couple of bites before his face fell.
‘This is disgusting.’ I tried some and concurred. The fish tasted like it had been microwaved. A really big cut of white fish that tasted overcooked, and bland.
‘That was in no way fried, definitely baked. Forever.’
Not worth the long wait, or the money.
By that point we lost our shit, and he complained to the waitress that his meal was inedible and we just wanted to leave. The dessert was not worth the risk, and we were both now hungry drunks.
The waitress seemed saddened by all of this, and I was saddened because I wanted it all to be good. I wanted it to be amazing, I hate complaining, but I would have hated paying that much money for such a terrible eating and dining experience. The owner of the business came over, and gave us our money back as well as charging us nothing for the drinks, which I thought was exceptionally reasonable of him. He could have told us to fuck off. He seemed to understand, and was very apologetic and polite about it all. But I wonder if other people had the same experience? Maybe we were just unlucky and the other people’s food came out on time and it was much nicer than ours? I don’t know.
I like Gas & Co, but the whole evening felt like a shambles, like it was all hanging by a thread, and no amount of kind servers and owners could have made the food taste, well, good. They know how to make a damn fine breakfast, and a damn fine cocktail, but if they ever have an evening like this again, it needs to be a lot better. Or brothier. Or the person who made the menu should make the food on the menu. And salt.