I was reluctant to join my colleagues for our team Christmas lunch when it was decided that we were going to The Red Lion at Gloucester Green. They don’t have a single vegan thing on their regular menu so I was fairly certain that catering for us during Christmas wouldn’t be any different. After an awful experience at Pierre Victoire last year with my team in my old job, I had vowed not to bother with a work Christmas meal again. Perhaps it’s me being a scrooge but Christmas is already an expensive time and I’d rather not have to budget for a £30 meal that is anything other than enjoyable. However, as I was very new to my job and team when the Christmas menu was sent round this year, I felt more or less obliged to be sociable and go. The person organising it was really lovely in speaking with The Red Lion to get a vegan option sorted for me, and after a bit of back and forth we agreed they’d adapt the veggie starter and main, and have a go at a ‘mixed nut crumble’. They had initially suggested a fruit compote for dessert, to which I asked whether they might be able to stretch to buying some ready-made pasty from a supermarket to top it with at the least. Fruit compote is not a dessert, it’s a pot of sauce that would be served alongside one. But I paid my deposit for the meal and crossed my fingers that the crumble would be a little more than some crushed up almonds.
Sadly, the meal entirely lived up to my expectations. By the time the lunch came round, it was nearly a month since we’d made our menu choices, and I was actually feeling fairly hopeful about it, as if they presented me with the food as we’d discussed, it shouldn’t have been too bad at all. Unfortunately my optimism was misguided. Shortly after we sat down, a waiter brought out some homemade tortilla chip type things as an appetiser after our drinks (for which I was made to feel awkward and embarrassed after asking for a non-alcoholic one instead of the prosecco they were pouring out at the table). As he put the crisps down, the waiter announced to the table ‘these aren’t vegan’. I felt reassured that they knew what they were doing when it came to my food as they had made the effort to mention about the snacks, but unfortunately it turned out not to be the case at all.
I’d ordered the thyme roasted mushrooms to start, which were served with ciabatta, and on the ordinary menu they came with melted raclette cheese – but as we’d discussed beforehand, the dish could be adapted. When the starters were brought out, all of the mushroom dishes were smothered in cheese and double cream. I asked the waitress with a spare one in her hand ‘I think one of those should be vegan?’ and it was clear they’d messed up. Another waiter came out to apologise and explained that the chef had had no advance warning that there was a vegan dining. Perhaps it was unsympathetic of me but as I’d sent my menu choices over three weeks ago, I was pretty unimpressed. They apologised though and said they’d bring my starter out as soon as possible. When it did eventually come, I’d thought I’d ordered mushrooms on toast essentially, but the mushrooms were served with the most hilariously tiny crouton sized ciabatta pieces. The thyme mushrooms were actually very delicious, but it was a shame that my starter came out ten minutes later than everybody else’s. This event also reminded me and a colleague that we’d been there a couple of years before at the previous company we both worked at, and they had messed up her vegetarian order that time too, despite again us pre-ordering our meals well in advance. Her main course hadn’t arrived until everyone had completely finished eating (though they did give the meal to her for free to apologise). Not a great sign that they haven’t come any further in two years.
My main was a nut roast which came with a fairly small amount of a very questionable looking sauce on top. I asked the waiter what the sauce was, and he kindly went to the kitchen to check. He came back with ‘vegan beschamel sauce’ but considering how they had totally messed up my starter and apparently hadn’t known I was coming, I wasn’t convinced that they understood what ‘vegan’ meant, or that they would have the ingredients or desire to throw together a quick vegan white sauce just for me. I knew the whole thing would be thrown away if I sent it back, which would’ve been a complete waste, so I scraped a good layer off the top and put it to the side of my plate. The nut roast itself was actually pretty tasty, it had a lot of flavour and it wasn’t dry, which was certainly a good thing as the plate came with no gravy. In fact, a colleague asked for some vegetarian gravy, to which they seemed perfectly happy to provide, but disappeared off, and just never returned with it. There were two ‘roast potatoes’ on the plate, usually my favourite part of the meal, but these weren’t crispy at all, more like big boiled potatoes, and were pretty disappointing. The handful of veg the meal came served with were fine, though I didn’t eat the warmed tomatoes which weren’t great.
Before the desserts arrived, someone came to ask me ‘do you eat honey?’ to which I replied no, though I was glad they checked. They said ‘okay, what we can offer you is a berry frozen yoghurt sorbet type of thing’. It took me a few attempts to clarify what they meant, with me reiterating that frozen yoghurt was not vegan, but they were able to confirm that it was in fact just a sorbet without dairy. They didn’t actually really ask me if that was what I wanted, they just told me that was what they were going to serve me. I was presented with admittedly a nice looking plate of fresh fruit and one scoop of sorbet. The fruit and the sauce it was drizzled in tasted nice. Though while everyone tucked into their warming brownies and Christmas pudding, I felt a bit short changed, as it wasn’t what I’d been promised when I paid my deposit for the meal and I would literally never choose to eat a sorbet.
They were gracious enough to take £5 off of my meal (after I asked) but I still don’t think the experience was particularly worth the £24 I paid. I could have honestly overlooked the mistakes if I had turned up that day and demanded they cooked me a three course vegan meal but as I had a full conversation with a manager so far in advance and we’d discussed everything, I thought it was so strange that they were completely unprepared. I had only paid to go for the meal under the assumption that they’d be able to cater for me fine, otherwise I would have just joined my team for drinks after they’d finished with the food – so I felt a bit cheated of my money. Next time I’d certainly say I had an allergy as perhaps they would have been a bit more careful or understanding. Everyone else left fit to burst having had three stodgy courses of calorie heavy food, but I wasn’t even that full after my meal. I made a lentil shepherd’s pie when I got home later that evening and had dinner as I normally would. Even if they promised decent enough things, The Red Lion failed to deliver, and I’d recommend avoiding next year!
How disappointing 😦 I was lucky this year, I had two Christmas meals and both were able to cater and did a good job. Jericho Tavern had a vegan option on the menu and George & Dragon in Hanborough were able to adapt the nut roast. I didn’t bother with desserts though as like you’ve said it usually ends up being sorbet!
Good to know some places are able to pull something together, I don’t think it should be this hard! Good idea with the dessert though, I might try that next year – though most of the places I’d looked at are a fixed price 3 course menu and you don’t have the choice to pay less for 2 unfortunately…