Sunday, 19 February 2012

Livebait: caught in the net


Just before Christmas I met one of the 2.67 million unemployed people in the UK. I must have met hundreds - the Daily Mail envisages them walking around the country like zombies in a horror film - but I saw the real impact of it at Livebait on the Cut in Waterloo.

Why was an unemployed person eating on one of the trendiest streets on south London, I hear you ask. They weren't. It was the waiter who was unemployed, or soon to be. Livebait is no more, their website is now a white scar on the internet. It seemed that our waiter had been informed of this that very day, and during the meal we watched a man slowly fall to pieces. It was like a TV dinner that got a little too real.

The whole situation was mad. We actually had to wait thirty minutes for a table, which is not the usual sign of a restaurant going into liquidation. After retreating to a nearby spanish bar, we returned a little the worse for wear, and more than little giggly, after an ill-advised margarita and crossword race. We were confronted by a sweaty, middle-aged man, rushed off his feat and on the verge of tears.

Once seated we failed to flag down any service for a good 10 minutes, and were on the verge of giving up and leaving when he came rushing over and collapsed to his knees at our side as if praying. With the table taking his weight, he took a deep breath and said:

"So it is easier to explain what we do have on the menu than what we don't. Our suppliers have stopped delivering, half our staff aren't working and I will very soon not have a job."

So we set about the task of choosing between scampi, cod and plaice (that was it) and contemplating the situation.The waiter was crying, the menu had more dishes crossed out than not, and the specials board looked like a child with ADHD had been set lines and wondered off. We decided to stay, partly because it was now 9pm, but more because we didn't want to be the trigger that caused our poor waiter to kill himself.

The food was rather irrelevant by this point - and, given the amount and speed of the margaritas, my memory is sketchy. The wine was drinkable, the food good - although the chips were a little too chip-shop soggy to be served in a mid-market fish restaurant. I struggled to see why this poor man has been put in this position - busy restaurants should not fail, even if the decor has more in common with a kitchen show room than an eatery.

But as the meal went on we created a sense of camaraderie, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. So why has it failed? Being a chain, our increasingly honest (and possibly drunk) waiter assured us his was the most profitable branch and that they had been let down by the failures of others. I wouldn't blame the people in the restaurants. There will always be a market for good fish and chips, which is what Livebait served, and the fact we waited long enough to put away eight shots of tequila is testament to that.

Livebait was a good restaurant, albeit built on an industry beset by environmental and economic issues. Evidently it proved too much, despite the demand. Our waiter, like so many unemployed people, was a (sweaty) dolphin caught in the net - although it didn't help he forgot to charge for our starter.

So, if a man feels he has to deliver the specials in the prayer position, tip well. And pray for him.

I would give the location, but I guess it doesn't matter where it is now ...

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