I did something yesterday that I’d not done for several years. I went to a Beefeater Restaurant. Truth is, I wasn’t even sure there were any left. The Epsom Downs Beefeater had been a ‘big night out’ for Isabel and I in the early days of our relationship, before I learned to cook even slightly. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t go for curries – there was something appealing about the basic big-portion fare of Beefeater with its giant steaks. It was on the way to meet Isabel for a Beefeater ‘date’ that I was attacked by a gang on a train (resulting in cancellation of meal among other things), and shortly afterwards the Beefeater was rebranded as an ‘Out And About’ with a salad’n’surf-heavy menu. So I felt I had unfinished Beefeater business.

I had older, fuzzier memories of the place too. My Dad’s favoured birthday treat was a meal at the Berni Inn*, which the pubstaurant had been called in pre-Beefeating times. In fact the only times I can remember eating out as a kid involved steaks and big ice cream portions at the Berni. The chain was a favourite with families who basically didn’t go out for meals in 70s/80s Britain – if you were like my Dad, and didn’t enjoy spicy food, what else was there? My Mum would occasionally go to a local ‘French’ place but he considered this an extravagance. Yesterday I realised that the special-occasion trade is still the Beefeater customer base – lots of dressy families determined to enjoy themselves. Luckily the staff were all about making sure they did.

The service at the Beefeater was GREAT – warm and friendly, just enough fuss made but never any intrusion, food arriving quickly and not being whisked away. OK, you’d expect quick food given that the Maitre D’ is a microwave but the rest was spot on. The secret was not hiring waiting staff for looks – lots of jolly middle-aged women beat out supercilious robed students a la Belgo’s any day, for instance.

The food, on the other hand, was mediocre – no great surprise there. (And I should say at this point that Isabel loved it). The chips were flavourless and pasty; the vegetables tough; the chicken goujon starter nice enough but pretty miniscule; the potato skins starter bland; the sauce watery. The mushrooms were pretty tasty though, and the Beefeater does still do steak well – basic, flavoursome, not too fatty, and BIG. But nothing to justify the bill, which was ?15 over a decent Tooting curry.

*(A Google on “Berni Inn” brings up reams of feeble observational comedy and little respect. I still remember it as being rather classy! – you’ll believe anything when you’re 10.)