We’d half-eaten a mediocre platter of cheese and meat, before pushing it to the end of the table and were twiddling our thumbs. There was no atmosphere – we were one of only two filled tables in the building – and the too-loud Spanish music was giving us a headache.
The waitress, who might be best described as over-bearing, walked over to the table. Placing her hands on her hips and looking at us accusatorily, she asked: “Guys. Are you waiting for your food?”
My inner monologue was triggered and came up with the accurate and unambiguous answer: “No, we’re not waiting for food. We’re just developing mild headaches because you’ve turned the music up too loudly to over-compensate for the lack of atmosphere.”
But, instead, I said: “Ummm, yes.”
It wasn’t the only moment where I thought we were inhabiting some sort of parallel universe.
When we arrived, there were two diners at a window seat and a sea of empty spaces. The waitress asked: “Guys, have you booked?”
“Oh,” she said, as though we’d told her we’d got the flu and wanted to lick every spoon in the restaurant. “Guys, wait a minute.” As her eyes turned to her seat planner – which revealed a really, really, really quiet night, I scanned the room. Yup. Empty, except the couple in the corner. And I figured that while it was possible that in the next 90 minutes, 28 diners might turn up having already booked tables, I figured it was pretty unlikely.
Begrudgingly, she ushed us to a table for four. “Guys, this is your table.”
It’s funny. The last time I visited Casa Ruiz, service was so good that this newspaper dubbed the waitress in question Miss Brilliant. Warm, engaged, chatty, she didn’t put a foot wrong. This time, we felt uncomfortable, as though we’d done something wrong, as though we ought to laugh along and be entertained by the glitzy personality of the person bringing us food, or be made to feel small.
#BeKind has captured the zeitgeist, of course, and so that’s just what we’ll be.
We’ve provided a ‘kind’ mark, we’ll be generous in our assessment of food that was mediocre and we’ve already moderated language that would have been fun to use but would have stung those concerned.
Casa Ruiz has done well over the years. It’s stood the test of time and provides variety for locals in Bridgnorth. But it really does need a little TLC if it’s to return to the standards that it once offered.
It’s habitually cold in winter. I figured that by now they’d have fixed the heating.
When my partner and I visited, we huddled next to a small electric heater that was losing the battle to heat up frigid air.
It was put-your-coat-back-on and wear-a-hat-if-you-don’t-feel-silly-about-it cold. And that’s never good in a restaurant.
The plates were stone cold too. So when we placed hot food onto them, fats solidified and sauces congealed. Oops.
I started with a platter of cheese and meats. And here’s the thing – service aside – that really disappointed about Casa Ruiz. If you’re going to a tapas restaurant, the golden rule is that the ingredients must be sensational.
They’ve got to be better than the stuff you might buy at Tesco, or Aldi. They’ve got to celebrate the rich and diverse produce of Spain. They’ve got to offer a gastronomic journey to a nation renowned for cuisine. And these didn’t.
Slices of ham were fine, but not mottled with delicate streaks of fat. Pieces of cheese had been ruined by a drizzle of a tomato-based sauce – who puts sauce on cheese? – to the point where I tried to wipe it off with a napkin, before conceding defeat. And other pieces of cheese and thin slices of a chorizo-style meat had been drenched in oil.
I pitied the platter. It hadn’t had the best start to life and at the hands of an unsympathetic kitchen, its ruination was complete. She ate prawns and mushrooms. They were fine. She ate them out of the hot bowl – sensible – rather than making the schoolboy error of using one of the freezing plates. I ate meatballs. They too were reasonable. Slathered in cheese that had melted in the heat, they were the one enjoyable moment of the evening.
We received a running commentary from the waitress when we tucked into the deep fried cheese balls. “Guys, they’re like really bad for you but you eat one and you can’t stop.” Well, I did. Stopped, that is.
They had little or no taste, featured a really unappetising orange coloured cheese and had presumably gone straight from the freezer into the deep fat fryer. There was nothing to like about them. And if they were really bad for me, I’m glad I had the discipline not to eat them.
Whither Casa Ruiz. The chef had had to bring our fourth and final plate of tapas to us – by now the restaurant had got three tables and the waitress didn’t have time to serve us. Thankfully, he didn’t preface the deposition of our food with: “Guys…..”
Casa Ruiz wasn’t the worst restaurant experience I’ve had in the past 12 months. The food was serviceable, but nothing to shout about. In a race with Marks & Spencer, it would probably have collected the silver prize. It needs experienced management, better quality produce and some much-needed affection.
It’s a tough gig, running a restaurant, but there are basics – warm room, warm plates, polite service, good ingredients – from which venues should never deviate.
Pan fresco – fresh bread with homemade ailioli and olives, £5.95
Ensalada de tomate – Tomato salad dressed with a picanda of olive oil, garlic and herbs, £4.95
Cheese board with three cheeses, £12.95
Meat and cheese selection, £12.95
Jamon de Bellota – cured ham from acorn-fed pig £9.90
Chorizo picante al vino – chorizo in red wine, £6.45
Chicken and fish
Mild spice pulled chicken and bean stew with potatoes, £9.95
Calamares a la Roman – selection of fried squid, £9.95
Casa nachos with chicken stew and loads of cheese, £11.95
45 High Street