Tear Down This Wall!

This is where the world’s best dosa can be found.

Bangalore’s best dosa – buttery-soft, warm, slightly spongy and delicious – is served at a small and very crowded nondescript-looking eatery deceptively called Hotel Mylari. It is no hotel however; eateries there just like to refer to themselves as “hotels.”

Food-wise: great-tasting dosa (each piece cooked to order); service-wise:  flawless attention to details, a level of service that can rival the service that I received at the Oberoi, which I stayed at again in December. (The Oberoi is a real hotel.)

Fluffy, aromatic, soft and oh so tasty!

There was even a hairdresser nearby.

But I had to forgo the idea of an Aryuvedic head massage because I was suffering from postprandial somnolence, otherwise known as “food coma.”

Thankfully, I was able to recover and adjourned to the Leela Palace for a Cohiba Genios Maduro.

There was no “wall” between service staff and customers. Ditto all the other places I visited in India. Whether at street food stalls or at fancier eateries like the award-winning The Bengaluru Oota Company restaurant run by the super chatty Divya Prabhakar – such a sweet lady – there was no barrier between establishments and customers. Do check out this fabulous restaurant if you go to Bangalore.

The Bengaluru Oota Company serves Gowda and Mangalorean cuisines of Karnataka. The menu of the day is determined by what the chef finds in the market that morning.

Vishal Shetty and Divya Prabhakar, owners of The Bengaluru Oota Company.

A selection of super-tasty and flavorful dishes at The Bengaluru Oota Company.

Flower crab curry.

Fried lady fish, also known as “kane” fish.

And at the Oberoi, every staff member I encountered spoke perfect English. What more, they were human. They could actually carry out real conversations with you, unlike many robots, er, I mean, service staff in Singapore. Waiters would ask if the spice level of the curry I ordered was suitable for my tastebuds, if I’ve had a good day, etc.

I experienced service par excellence as well during my recent whirlwind trip to Germany end of last month.

I ate at several German gastronomic institutions. In Berlin, at the Lutter & Wegner restaurant  (founded in 1811) where, wanting to steer away from sausages and schnitzels, I opted for potato soup (oh no, there were sausages in there!) and lamb. The lamb chops were done just right; they were thick, meaty and succulent, with just the right amount of fat and tasted heavenly.

A very generous serving of potato soup.

Succulent pieces of lamb chops.

In Berlin, I also ate at the 150-year-old Borchardt, a Michelin Plate restaurant, where everyone who is anyone goes to eat and to see and be seen. Actors, politicians, the Who’s Who of Berlin and elsewhere flock there.

George Clooney, Natalie Portman, Barack Obama, etc have all been there.

The restaurant actually puts up a notice advising diners not to take photos of other diners. Being an obedient law-abiding and subservient Singaporean, I decided to just keep my camera away. By the way, I had turbot for dinner. Served on a bed of beetroot relish, it was, as expected, very fresh and tasted divine! A guilt-free meal after those heavy lamb chops the evening before. I finished off the dinner with an extremely decadent serving of Crème Brûlée, though.

There was no restriction on camera use in the very luxurious high-end food hall of the iconic KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) departmental store, Berlin’s answer to GUM of Moscow and Harrods of London, where I sampled some caviar and devoured a lobster for lunch one day. The lobster was simply boiled, so it was cold, just like the way most restaurants serve seafood at buffets – shrimps on ice, anyone? – but accompanied by a glass of champagne, it was a light, if somewhat indulgent lunch.

Unlike in Asia, this wasn’t alive and swimming in the tank before I ate it, but it was fresh, nevertheless.

At Hanse Stube (also a Michelin Plate restaurant) at The Excelsior Ernst Hotel in Cologne, having been gifted with tins of Iranian caviar before and having enjoyed some excellent caviar when I was in Russia, I couldn’t resist ordering some again – this time Prunier St James. For main course, I had stewed German wild boar. The wild boar tasted so rich and delicious. It was not tough or gamey at all. The goodness of the meal was further enhanced by the accompanying sauce or gravy, which must have taken the chef hours to prepare; it was so exquisite! Service, as always, was extraordinary! Indeed, great food with superlative service is always a winning combination!

Caviar again!

One of the most memorable dishes this trip – German wild boar.

And in Munich, a visit to the historical, century-old Gaststätte Grossmarkthalle restaurant is a must – I have eaten brunch there every time I visited Munich. It serves the finest Bavarian Weisswurst in town. These are white sausages made of minced veal and pork back bacon and which you must skin before consuming them. Because they are made fresh every morning, tradition dictates that they must be eaten before noon. With apologies to my dear German friends, I have to say that German food is German food and nobody really gushes at German cuisine which is why I try eating less of what would be considered typical German dishes every time I go to Germany but service in each of these establishments – including at the food hall in KaDeWe – was unimpeachable, flawless and near perfect. Perhaps this was due to the fact that wait staff are mainly men and women of some age and maturity, not like many of those wet-behind-the-ears kids and unsophisticated young adults we have in Singapore.

Indeed, it’s so different here in Singapore. For a start, there are no caviar and lobsters at food courts, but seriously, as an example of how rotten the F&B scene can be here in Singapore, I recently dine again at the Michelin-starred Labyrinth and though I spent top dollars for a supposedly very innovative (but honestly very mediocre meal – what on earth were the Michelin star judges thinking?!) the sour taste in my mouth was caused by the maître d’ (a snooty Indian douche bag in a suit) who had absolutely no business at all to be in the F&B industry. The retarded wannabe diva doesn’t seem to realize that it is us customers who pay his salary. He just pranced around like a castrated eunuch with a smirk on his face and almost spoilt a surprise I had arranged for my dining companions.

Compare that with service personnel in India and Germany or even cabin crew of airlines like Qatar Airways – unlike cabin crew of many airlines here in Asia, including Singapore Airlines, whose clearly deranged fans are known to have sent death threats to those who criticize it – Google to find out more about a recent incident  – these men and women in the service industry possess a service mindset. Talking about airlines, Qatar cabin crew members were authentic, not robotic and are able to converse with passengers in an intelligent manner. Try that with the cabin crew of Singapore Airlines!

Emirates though, was a disappointment. This time I flew Emirates back from Germany and the business class cabin was over-staffed by lots of pretty bimbos strutting around but who were absolutely clueless. On one sector, they even forgot my appetizer and not once did they go around offering drinks or asking if anyone needed more coffee or tea or port with their cheese. Emirates’ saving grace is the free limo service they provide for their business class passengers. Emirates? Never again! I will never exchange shitty service for free transportation to the airports.

The East German authorities called the Berlin Wall the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall or “anti-fascist protective barrier.” In other words, they were eager to convey that it wasn’t meant to keep the East Germans in but rather to keep those land-grabbing “fascists” in the West out.

Many service staff in Singapore seem to have the same mental attitude, that our business is a major interruption to their lives, that customers are fascists out to make their lives difficult. Some of these morons behave as if they want to keep you out of their establishments.

Singapore should build a wall like the Berlin Wall – the photo below shows fragments of the original now on display at the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernaurstrasse – and round up all derelict service personnel, led by that retard from Labyrinth to slowly use their bare hands to tear the wall down. Just bare hands, no tools allowed. This will be an excellent experiential learning experience. It will cause some bruises and some fingernails will break but such an extreme exercise may finally help to drum the message into the heads of service personnel that they should break down and not build walls between them and their fee-paying customers. It will help them remember that customers make paydays possible.

Parts of the Wall now on display at Bernaurstrasse, Berlin.

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