A Birthday Dinner Celebration

My Review of La Colombina

My Dining Experience at La ColombinaThe last dining experience which was done on another day was in a slightly snobbish gourmet restaurant called La Colombina (#26). This was a small gourmet restaurant hidden inside a lane. We wanted a nice place to celebrate my birthday and I wanted to pick one that was listed on TripAdvisor so we picked La Colombina.

The restaurant seemed quite popular and the diners were mostly well dressed. To be honest, we felt a little out of place possibly because we were dressed very casually for a place like this and maybe because we were Asians (who don’t drink wine). They asked if we had reservations which we did not, but they said they could accommodate us. So we were seated at a small table for two near the entrance.

Coperto, Breads & Water

The coperto for this restaurant was €2.50 which we kind of expected. For this, we were served the best breads we tasted in all the restaurants we ate in Italy. This was gourmet bread with a few varieties and served on a plate which they would replenish once empty. For some strange reason, throughout our trip, we were never offered olive oil (and definitely not butter) for our breads so I asked for olive oil. I wondered if this was more of a French thing.

I would also like to mention that in Italy, we often felt compelled to order water even though in Paris, you can just ask for free tap water (carafe) as it was a norm there. But in Italy, ordering and paying for water (be it a San Benedetto or tap water in a bottle) seemed like the norm. We ordered a bottle of sparkling Acqua Panna and a glass of prosecco to celebrate.

Do All Gourmet Restaurants Have To Be Snobbish?

La Colombina - Amuse BoucheWe weren’t the only TripAdvisor diners here as I spotted another family come in after us and he had the TripAdvisor screen on his phone. The service was ‘appropriate’ but far from warm or friendly. One of the service staff even carried an air of snob befitting of a fine dining restaurant. I felt a little tinge of regret after being seated.

Don’t get me wrong. I could definitely afford a meal here. It’s just not the usual restaurants we dine in and the prices were a little on the high side ($$ – $$$) and the size of their food portions were small. Selection is not wide but should work well if you are a foodie with a good budget for dining out. This place works best if you drink wine because most of the diners here ordered wine (and were probably served better). You would expect no less on the quality of food served here but I ended up being disappointed with my pasta.

Our Dinner

La Colombina PastaWe were served amuse bouche which was a pleasant surprise. It was carrot soup and I suspect was a small portion of the same soup in their menu. I had the fettuccine al ragout (tomato sauce with meat) while Chris had the Spaghetti di Gragnano con Caparossoli (clams). The presentation was what you would expect from this gourmet restaurant listed in a Michelin Guide. However my fettuccine was a little bit of a disappointment. It was not as rich in flavour, a tad dry and it was a bit too al dente for my liking. Chris’ dish was very good though and I actually liked his more. Despite the clams being so tiny, the seafood flavour was strong and tasty in his pasta.

We ordered one main course (Seabass fillet in zucchini) to share as we were afraid of ordering too much. But what we didn’t know was that the portions here were a little on the small side for Italy. I probably overestimated the portions in gourmet restaurants to begin with. If you ordered a three course meal, it might actually be possible for you to finish it.

When I started to split the fish portion into two, I saw a fine strand of hair entangled amidst the layer of zucchini slices. This was quite startling for a fancy restaurant like La Colombina. I felt I had to inform them of this little disaster since a gourmet restaurant should not have hair in their food. I felt it was necessary that the kitchen was informed of this.

Is ‘Sorry’ The Best You Can Do?

La Colombina - Sea BassAfter waiting a while to get the busy restaurant manager to come over, she claimed that she could not see it. True, the place was dim and she had to see with her reading glasses. After a few minutes of close examination and removing the layers of zucchini, she finally saw the hair strand and proceeded to apologise. I had initially told her it was okay and that I could still have it but she insisted on a replacement. So we waited for our replacement fish. When the replacement dish came, it was even smaller than the first one. At that point, I felt a little regretful tossing out the first one.

Having worked in a fine dining restaurant myself, I would think that service recovery would be an important aspect when such fiascos occur. We were very nice diners and did not kick up a huge fuss or make a scene. I would’ve expected some form of service recovery be it a complimentary dessert or a discount off our meal. Unfortunately while I waited for something like that to happen, it never did. Apart from a couple of apologies, we got nothing but our bill for the dinner.

La Colombina - Hair in FishEven if the fish was tender and beautifully cooked, our dining experience felt more of a disappointment. My birthday dinner did not feel very satisfying perhaps due to the kind of service offered to people who do not really fit in at such restaurants. If we had been a well dressed couple who looked like we had cash to spare, I am pretty sure the service we got would be way more different.

Looking back, I think the kind of service really impacted what little good impression I would have had of the place. While you cannot accuse them of poor service, they were far from being warm, friendly or gracious. And they most definitely have lots more to learn about service recovery especially when the diner discovers hair in her main course. A complimentary dessert would not cost much, but it would change what poor impression a diner would’ve had of the place. Unless it is not in the restaurant’s interest to satisfy every customer, but only selected ones who fit in.

What They Failed To Do

The irony of it is that the ones who did not fit in came to La Colombina because of TripAdvisor. What they failed to do, was to go beyond an apology when hygiene is compromised on a dish. The diner may claim to be okay about it. But if you were in the diner’s shoes, would you think an apology would suffice?

Restaurants should know that there is a price to pay when you list yourself on TripAdvisor. Opening themselves up to scrutiny, the restaurant needs to realise that it becomes important to ensure that every customer walks out feeling satisfied and happy. If the restaurant does not welcome all, then they need to reconsider their direction being listed on TripAdvisor.

I do my best to remain objective in my review here and deliver the truth of my dining experience in La Colombina. Dining in TripAdvisor ranked restaurants can be an interesting experience but it would be most enjoyable when you pick the right one to dine in.

– UPDATE as of 2 July 2017-

After posting my review on TripAdvisor, as expected, the restaurant retaliated with a defensive reply – as if they are always right. A restaurant’s response to a bad review can really tell you what the restaurant is really like. Yet they never addressed the main issue I had which was poor service recovery. Either they were missing the whole point of my feedback or they are just too self absorbed to listen to honest feedbacks.

To read about our other food adventures from TripAdvisor listed places, read this post.