It tends to happen at least once a year.
And so, on a Saturday night, it felt like a strange sort of carnival, where the police marshalled a closed-to-traffic bridge, but local sight-seers made their way on foot to marvel at nature’s crushing force.
The ingenuity of those who design, build and erect flood barriers was also on display as water that would otherwise have devastated local businesses was instead safely confined to the right side of the barrier.
People stood on one side, dry and cold, while on the other, rushing water ran past at waist height. Residents and businesses breathed a sigh of relief and remembered back to the times not so many years ago when the water would have run beneath sandbagged doors and led to months of disruption and devastation.
Just across the bridge sits one of Bewdley’s most popular restaurants, Chang Thai River. Offering dining from a first-floor restaurant space, above the town’s chip shop, its popular both with eat-at-homers who want to order takeaways from its easy-to-navigate website as well as those who eat-in and don’t want to bother with their own washing up.
On Saturday, it was busy from the off as people sought highly-prized window seats so that they could watch the roaring water as they chowed down on a decent Pad Thai.
Not that Chang Thai River can be considered the best in its category. Suree Coates’ magnificent Thai restaurant, further upstream, at Ironbridge, offers the best food and service in the game, while in Ludlow there’s a pretty good Thai restaurant, tucked away behind the old buildings and cobbled streets.
In Bewdley, one of the region’s prettiest and desirable towns, The food is decent, the service is reasonable and there are small things to do to elevate standards.
The prawn crackers, for instance, greeted us as we ascended the stairs.
They’d been parked, in a vast, plastic tub, big enough to fit a medium-sized dog, and left for the staff to gather into small vessels as customers sat at their seats.
It wasn’t a good look. I mean, we all know that restaurants are largely smoke and mirrors, but there’s no need to leave a plastic tub of prawn crackers at the top of the stairs for customers to see. It takes away the magic and the mystery.
Hide them away, reveal them like rabbits from a magician’s hat and serve them with a small tub of sweet chilli sauce. Make your guests want more, not shrug their shoulders at the banality of it all.
Service was okay. A youthful waitress lacked a little confidence but worked hard throughout the evening, running between tables, doing her best and impressing with her commitment and work rate, if not quite having the experience to pull it off.
There were a few errors – the drinks bill was wrong and an ordered pot of rice didn’t show, while noodles were late to the table. We didn’t complain – diners seldom do.
And, besides, you can’t really criticise someone when they’re committed and giving their best, as the waitress undoubtedly was. She’d just got too much on her plate, a responsibility to pass up the chain rather than take herself.
The food was decent. It was ‘we’d-come-here-again-if-there-was-nothing-else-doing’ decent, rather than ‘we’ve-got-to-book-for-next-weekend-right-now’ good. Some dishes were delightful, a hot and spicy soup, filled with prawns and mushrooms being a great example, while others felt a little limp, a chicken in oyster sauce, served on a cold plate, being a culprit.
I don’t know. I guess the thing is, Chang Thai River felt unconvincing. It felt like a date with someone who don’t really get on with. It felt like an ‘it’s-not-you, it’s-me’ conversation waiting to happen.
The cold plate thing – like the prawn crackers in a plastic box – was emblematic of a restaurant that didn’t focus on the details.
It doesn’t take a minute to warm a plate, which means dinner doesn’t go cold sooner than it should. And those are the basics, the bare minimums, that show a restaurant audience you mean business.
My partner started with the aforementioned hot and spicy soup, which was delicious. With a lip-tingling heat, plenty of prawns and mushrooms, and a magnificent lightness, it was the stand-out course of the evening.
I began with a plate of chicken satay, which were decent, if not served with too little satay sauce. The chicken had been marinated then scorched on skewers while a small side salad, replete with elegantly carved swizzles of carrot, added crunch and light relief.
My partner ate prawns in a creamy curry sauce for her main. It was ordered with noodles, which arrived after the prawns.
It was a pleasant dish that made for decent eating without creating any long-lasting memories. Good, but no cigar.
My chicken in oyster sauce underwhelmed. The plate was cold – why, oh why, oh why – and the sauce soon coagulated at the edges. The sauce had been wan and lacked robustness.
The chicken was tender, as were the vegetables, though the ordered pot of rice, with which I’d intended to mop up the sauce, didn’t show. The waitress was so busy that I didn’t enquire further – she’d been doing her best all evening and these things happen.
The bill was a bit wonky – an error on two drinks – that again we overlooked.
But the small errors, the cold plates, the prawn crackers at the top of the stairs, showed a restaurant that wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
As the water rushed passed outside and the locals gathered, we got the impression that Chang Thai River needed to up its game.
A little more polish, a little more pride, a little more focus and a lot more attention to detail would make a world of difference.
The basics were all fine, but the desire to elevate the diners’ experience was lacking.