Dear Cafe Rouge,
I'm afraid our relationship has run into difficulties and I do not think we can weather through it. I have been fair and loyal to you, but for a long time now you have disappointed me and I feel like enough is enough.
I want to reassure you that this hasn't always been the case. In fact, in the beginning you, me and my future husband were a regular little menage a tois. I have a lot to thank you for in those fledging years, my custom growing with the seriousness of mine and my husbands feeling for one another. In those beginning years,it felt like I had won the lottery and upgraded, from a boy to a man, from all-you-can-eat congealing buffets to well presented french food. As I'm sure you know, in the honeymoon period everything is rose tinted, a toastie is no longer a toastie – it is a croque monsoir!
My future husband and I, in our warm dewy glow of first real love, felt this was real romance. French food and candlelight, how much more romantic can you get? And in those days, the atmosphere was warm, the service was prompt and the food was delicious. We ate through our student budget at your branch at the Corn Exchange in Leeds, celebrating mid-term exams and commiserating hangovers.
As my future husband and I graduated and moved into the real world, we moved to Newcastle and got jobs and a real disposable income for the first time in our lives. It wasn't always plain sailing but life was very exciting. I celebrated getting my first post-University job with a new grown up leather handbag and a glass of wine and a bowl of goats cheese pasta at your branch at the Metro Centre, Gateshead. When the quarter life crises hit, was this what I wanted to be doing with my life? - I made myself feel better with more of the same pasta and a little retail therapy, my future husband doing the same.
Over the years, birthday meals were had here also, as I always took up the incentive of free wine with a meal in your birthday club.
Relationships have to progress and mature and you were witness to that when my future husband proposed to me outside Durham Cathedral. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, everything felt so magical and unreal and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. We shared that night with you, Cafe Rouge, as we celebrated with champagne in your branch overlooking the river, in a candlelit nook just built for two. To celebrate my newly grown-up status, I had duck dauphinois with green beans and I don't think any meal could have competed at that moment.
This was to be the pinnacle, the high point of our relationship, Cafe Rouge, before the almighty low. Around the end of 2009, after my future husband and I got engaged, you changed. The warm efficient atmosphere was gone along with half of your staff and your menu it seems. My husband likes to joke that the dip in service was a lack of morale due to the absence of the salad de Merguez from the menu, but that's his own personal issue we won't go into. I tried, Cafe Rouge, I really did – but whenever I gave you the chance to impress me, you started to disappoint me with your lack of attention and your inflexibility. You no longer seemed romantic and new, rather rude and old-hat. My eye started to wander to the up and coming, more pretentious and exciting restaurants that were literally appearing on my doorstep. I felt guilty but I told myself that dalliances were okay, if you had only kept up your end of the bargain, then I wouldn't have been driven to taking my pleasures elsewhere.
But still, my husband and I always came back, hoping upon hope that we could revive our feeling for you. After all, we have a long-standing history. You have been witness to some of the greatest and most challenging times of my life. We share a lot of fond memories, to just give up on you felt like I wasn't honouring them. But there is only so much you can take before you realise enough is enough.
Lately, there have been two different times and places that we have shared with you, that have made me realise that we simply aren't compatible anymore. In the recent past, my husband and I got married and we now have a two year old daughter. This summer, we celebrated my daughters and my dad's girlfriends birthday with a big family meal at your branch in Trafford Centre. I noticed, as I have on previous occasions, that other people seem to have gone off you too, your main traffic being those who couldn't get into Pizza Express next door. You were the quietest restaurant in the Trafford Centre, despite being very aesthetically pleasing. We saw this as a positive sign, less customers usually means a more prompt service.
Not so. It seems Cafe Rouge, that despite having one of the better children's menus out there, you are not very child friendly. First of all, it is standard practice to bring out a child's meal with the starters, not leave a two-year old whining for their food for what, believe me, seems like an eternity. The starters were slow arriving and the mains even slower. My two-year old is quite a well behaved little girl, used to eating out, yet even the best two year old has their limits and I suspect that that limit will not be waiting an hour for something to eat. Especially when that hour only brings limp sausage and chips, half-cold. It is also not acceptable to leave a two-year old without a drink for twenty minutes, despite parents constant reminders that they would really like a glass of squash please. And lastly, to have a member of staff roll their eyes because my toddler had a dairy intolerance and did not want ice cream on their bowl of strawberries...and then to take almost half an hour to put some strawberries in a bowl and bring it to the table...can you see where this is headed? Toddler meltdown and the general feeling on my part, that this relationship we have Cafe Rouge, might be headed towards a swift and final conclusion.
The last straw, Cafe Rouge, was back on our home turf – the Cafe Rouge at the Metro Centre, Gateshead. We were Christmas shopping, a rare moment without our toddler and we decided to have one last go of it with you, your final chance to remain a part of our lives. We noticed that you had halved your menu again, it looked rather sparse and unappealing and we wondered what your current business model was. It clearly wasn't working as the other restaurants flanking you were bustling and we were table one of three. We had a late breakfast, we thought we would go easy on you – a Croque madame and eggs Benedict with a side of Lyonnaise potatoes and a pastry basket. My husband was very hungry you see and was almost drooling in anticipation. Alas, we were once again disappointed. The pastries in the pastry basket were burnt on one side, to the point where we were having to pick the burnt bits off to eat them. My husband also did not get his side of lyonnaise potatoes. I asked for them three times, each time getting more and more insistent, until finally they arrived, over half an hour after our breakfast had come out on the table. Everything else had been eaten and our plates and cups had been cleared away, so the waitress plonked them down on a completely empty table. Not once had we been asked for a top up of drinks and the waitress was so observant that she didn't notice that my husband had absolutely no cutlery to eat his potatoes with. As she flounced off to somewhere unseen, we vainly looked round to provide ourselves with cutlery, to no avail. And there Cafe Rouge, was the sound of the death knoll on our relationship, watching my husband stubbornly trying to eat your greasy offering of small, cold, hard potatoes, on their own...with his hands.
I felt I owed you an explanation, our relationship having been so long and full of memories and here it is. I wish you the best, a long and successful business life, but I'm afraid that with your current attitude, you will probably never attract loyal customers like me again.
All the best,