Going to a restaurant on its opening night is always perilous, anything can happen – the staff have never worked in this store before, probably half of them have never worked together before – all brought in from other locations or trained at other restaurants in the franchise before all being lumped together and told to get on with it.
Going to the opening night of Ruby Tuesday could have been even more perilous, being that it is the first UK location in this massive US operation. Not only have all the staff never worked in this restaurant before, but there is nowhere else for them to go to get their training out of the way – the best they could have done is some dry runs for family and friends of the franchise owners. I had been waiting for the restaurant open since it was announced back in March, I have visited many Ruby Tuesdays in the States and do enjoy their food.
It was immediately apparent that the glue sticking the team of hosts, servers, bar staff, management and kitchen staff had not quite dried yet. Servers were stood around looking quite bored, or confused, the host stand at the front of the restaurant was surrounded by a gaggle of personnel – nobody quite sure if there were any tables free, so we decided to wait at the bar while they made up their minds.
I should hasten to say that all of this I have no problem with – I was well aware that it was opening night, and I’m not being insensitive to the pressures, I am merely reporting what I experienced. We sat at the bar and finally got the attention of a bartender so that we could get some drinks menus, they were pretty backed up with drink orders from the tables that had already been seated so we sat there for ten minutes trying to get their attention to no avail so we didn’t manage to get any drinks before we were seated in a booth.
The decor in the restaurant is very understated, as is the mantra of the company “Simple Fresh American Dining” – nothing like the out and out extravagance of TGI Friday’s which is directly across the food court at St David’s. The whole place is decorated in soft, dark colours with the odd large picture adorning the wall, very easy to get on with. Evidently their food is meant to do the talking.
The menu is simple – a single sheet with about 20 or so dishes to choose from. No pictures, which delighted me, and some awesome sounding burger choices, along with steak and quesadillas, this is only a portion of the US menu – it didn’t take long to make a choice and we were away. We did manage to get a drink order in, I had Blue Moon beer – an imported Canadian wheat beer which is served with a slice of orange on the glass. The beer was ice cold and this made it ever more drinkable. A very nice, smooth beer – I would have another one at the end of the meal, a delight.
My dining partner, the effervescent Misia – now 7 and a half months pregnant, had a lemonade, which they promise will never be less than half full, a promise the attentive staff followed through on. From the menu I chose a mini burger combo, I went with buffalo chicken and pimento cheeseburger, for £9.99 this option comes with access to the “Garden Bar” (read “salad bar”), which, once bought, you can use as much as you want during your visit. With a good selection of green salad, potato salad, cheeses, coleslaw and dressings we ate this as an appetiser.
All the produce was fresh and tasted good – it hadn’t been left standing for long, though I suppose it couldn’t have had a chance to really, with the restaurant only opening two hours before our visit. The food was delivered to the table very quickly – this would have been a bonus in most circumstances, but since we had opted for the “Garden Bar” we were still eating salad when all of a sudden we had main courses dumped on the table, so we quickly discarded the salad to stop the main course from going cold. One tip to Ruby Tuesday UK staff – if the order includes the “Garden Bar”, hold up the main courses by 10 minutes or so to give patrons a chance to actually digest (or even ingest!) their potato salad. So, with hot food staring at us from the corner of the table we moved on to the main course.
My mini burgers looked good, I don’t call myself as a foodie – but I do like to think that I’m somewhat of an expert in the field of burgers (Look out for an upcoming feature where I try to find the best beef burger in Cardiff). The buns were soft, but not soggy. The ratio of filling to bun sizes was good (i.e. there wasn’t more filling than the bun could handle) and the chicken burger held together well when picked up from the plate. As I previously mentioned, I had ordered the pimento cheeseburger – this is a burger that is made entirely of cheese – unfortunately I was not overly impressed with this particular burger. The “patty” did not hold together well, it was very wet and broke down easily. I ended up with most of it having fallen onto the plate, easily eaten from there with a fork. The chicken in the other burger was quite chewy, definitely undercooked, but not dangerously undercooked – it wasn’t pink, but I could tell that it was only just past this point as the meat had a slight pinkish hue. The rest of the burger, the buffalo sauce, the gherkin and the lettuce really were excellent and performed a massive save, though a person with less patience would probably have sent it back to the kitchen.
My mini burgers were also purported to come with “endless fries”, although I didn’t have this explained to me so I don’t know how this works – I certainly wasn’t offered any more after I had finished all on my plate, but I’ll be honest in saying that I probably would have refused the offer anyway. The fries themselves were excellent – cooked with skins on, they were fried just to the right point, crispy and they kept their heat very well.
Misia had the parmesan chicken pasta which she indicated to me was very good, although a bit on the salty side. The portion was certainly of a decent size, though she managed to finish it all – probably because she’s eating for two. She also had dessert, her choice of the double chocolate was commended by two passing members of staff, evidently they had a chance to try the food and were impressed by this dessert, Misia was too. It did look delicious from my side of the table, but I was relatively stuffed so I made do with my second bottle of Blue Moon.
Overall we were satisfied with the food and the experience; I have no doubt that after the staff have gelled and a few busy dinner services have been completed the place will be akin to its American parent, restaurants will open in more locations around the UK and become a major player in the American imported restaurant market alongside TGI Friday’s which made the move very successfully more than 20 years ago. We will most definitely be visiting again soon, I may even pop in for a Blue Moon after work at some point.
Bill: £40 + tip
Ruby Tuesday is at St David’s Centre, Upper Eastside, Cardiff, CF10 2EF