Flying High Falling Hard (review: Pinchos Tapas Bar, Changkat Bukit Bintang)

I have written before about Pinchos Tapas Bar in Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur and since I “discovered” the place some months back I have grown quite fond of the place.

I first entered the place because they were one of the few places left that still serve Carlsberg beer and I really am fed up with Tiger draft.  While having my Carlsberg I gave their tapas a shot and they were really quite good – not to say absolutely excellent.

Yesterday a friend of mine were having her birthday, so I invited her out and I thought tapas was pretty cozy.  Unfortunately on this occasion it would appear that none of the “bosses” were around, so everything – service and quality – had gone to hell quite literally.

It was a Wednesday evening and the place was fairly busy but not as busy as the other times I’ve been there (there were free tables – the other times I have been there I had to sit at the bar).

We ordered 6 different items from the tapas list and a bottle of wine.  When they brought the wine I asked for some ice water and the waiter informed me they did not serve ice water but only bottled water.

To me this is just mind boggling stupid.  The other times I have visited Pinchos I have ordered beer, but if I am ordering a bottle of wine I want water with it and paying 12 Ringgit for half a liter of water just pisses me off.  The tap water in Malaysia taste like shit, but at home I have a water cooler and I pay 8 Ringgit for 5 gallons of fine drinking water.

After a considerable time the food finally arrived and boy was I in for a surprise.  I am not sure what went wrong in the kitchen on this particular night, but while the tapas have been truly great on my other visits, this time it was pretty close to uneatable.  Everything was oily as hell and it would appear the kitchen had run out of everything that even resembled spices or herbs.  The garlic chicken was some tasteless tiny chunks of chicken breast in a watery/oily substance without any taste what so ever.  The albondigas (meatballs) which are normally served with a nice tomato/onion/garlic sauce this evening was litterally served – well – in oil (or rather probably whatever fat ran out of them when they were cooked).  The worst by FAR was the dates and bacon.  On that particular plate was 6 black – and I do mean black – pieces of something.  And it tasted – well you guessed it – like charcoal.  They were completely burned.

When I pointed this out to the waiter she immediately switched into the typical Malaysian apology mode and started rattling off excuses (they were busy she said – sorry – no they were not more busy than all the other times I have been there).  I pointed out – politely – that she had a number of options:

1. She could leave things asis – in which case I would leave as a really angry customer
2. She could bring a replacement for the charcoal
3. She could throw out the charcoal and make sure it did NOT appear on the bill

After some thinking she decided to replace the dish and brought back a new one – slightly less burned (but still quite badly burned) – with 3 pieces.  WTF!!!!  It’s true that there was only 3 pieces left on the dish she returned, BUT that’s because me and my guest had already had 3 pieces of charcoal.  The point was that I find it uneatable and I only knew that after I tasted it.  At the end of the day I paid full price for 3 pieces of char coal and 3 pieces of something very very close to char coal.

All in all the evening was a disaster – and a quite expensive one as well.  I guess all restaurants have bad days and as such fuck-ups can happen to the best of us.  That is perfectly understandable.  What is NOT understandable is letting the customer pay for your fuck-ups.  Years back I had a rather disastrous dinner at a Danish restaurant and once I pointed out to the owner that the food that evening was rubbish she returned with a bill containing the bottle of wine and nothing else – with the remark: at this place customers do not pay for bad food!  Now – THAT is the right attitude – admit if things goes wrong and try to compensate your customers, but do NOT let the customer pay normal price for sub-standard food and service.  But apparently at Pinchos they are quite OK letting their customers pay for bad food.

As a conclusion Pinchos have lost one customer – what they did at this particular evening was charging a lot for utter rubbish.  Cheat me once – shame on you – cheat me twice – shame on me.  It’s not that there are no alternatives, so expect to see a review of some other tapas place here shortly (possible after Werner have stopped using the sidewalk as his private car park).

Update Oct. 12, 2010

After I wrote this I posted a link to this blog entry on Pinchos Facebook group.  After all it was only fair that the management got a chance to comment on it.  Unfortunately I just discovered that the link I posted have been deleted with no mention at all.  This send a strong signal about Pinchos attitude towards their customers and their own sense of quality.  A restaurant that tries to hide a bad review instead of actually being grateful that the problems are pointed out to them is a place to avoid at all cost.  I must admit that I seriously misjudged this place when I initially found it quite agreeable.  I suppose if you got a gambling gene you might still appreciate the place, – order your food – it might be great or it might be rubbish – but either way you will be charged the same.  Kind of like a casino or a lottery ticket really.

Update Oct. 18, 2010

One thing that rarely fails in Kuala Lumpur is the pattern or lifespan of bars and restaurants.  They open up slowly at which times some of them are truly excellent.  If they ever take off big time and become popular the price increases and the quality drops like a rock and 12 month later they are history.  I have lived in KL for around 12 years by now and I can’t count the number of times I have seen this exact pattern and I will never be able to understand why.  Owners of bars and restaurants are pleased when people spread a good word around, but they seem to forget that bad words spread even faster and that they might lose customers for the very same reason they originally got them.

Yes, I am harsh in my reviews but not without reason.  I have zero problems paying for good service and excellent food, but I have a serious problem and zero tolerance with places that choke in their own popularity and arrogantly start taking their customer appreciation for granted.

I don’t know if Pinchos is traveling down this same path.  What I do know is that most of the times I have been there it has been really excellent.  However, as I wrote the last time I was there it was absolutely an awful experience and well – if you read the comments by the owner himself, you will see that exact arrogance that I am talking about.  As if I am supposed to understand why they can have a bad day – but on a bad day like that I have to pay the same price that I will pay on a good day and be happy they will let me spend my money there.  Personally I think it’s the owner who should show appreciation for the fact that they did have a bad day and make sure that remained their problem – not mine.

Well, as he writes, he’s got a busy restaurant to run, for now at least…

(the owners comment was written on a Monday afternoon, so let’s just include a picture of Pinchos taken just a few hours later – Monday evening around 8pm)