Michelle Tompkins yearns for the good old days at Le Rendezvous
36-39 Haydon Street, Swindon SN1 1DT Tel: 01793 526111
WHEN Le Rendezvous opened its doors a decade ago it was with a great big fanfare, and justifiably so.
A sister restaurant to the hugely successful Rendezvous in Theatre Square, it was a highly-polished, glittering addition to the Swindon restaurant scene and, for a while at least, the swankiest place to be seen in the town.
When I last visited three years ago, the place was still bustling with customers, the ambience alive with the chatter and laughter of happy diners enjoying a good night out.
Which is why I insisted on booking ahead for our recent dinner date. “It can be really difficult to get a table,” I assured my partner, who was a Rendezvous novice and clearly not in the know. “If we don’t book, we might not get in.”
Errmmm, cut to a Friday night a couple of weeks ago and we pull up outside the distinctive building in Haydon Street. “This is an odd place for a restaurant,” he mused, “...and it doesn’t look all that busy.”
That was something of an understatement. Our arrival at 8.30pm boosted the grand total of tables occupied to three and we felt a bit like intruders as we took our seats in the subdued room.
It was soon apparent that all the pizzazz and sparkle I remember is sadly beginning fade. The elaborate, embossed wallpaper is scuffed and peeling, the twinkling lights in the ceiling are no longer working, our table scratched and worn.
What on earth has happened? How can such a successful venture – a place where many a celebration has been held, many a champagne glass raised – be allowed to get so tired and flat?
Hungry and too embarrassed to get up and leave, we persevered with the menu, which was always one of the highlights of a trip to Le Rendezvous. All of the dishes can be ordered a la carte, but the best way to make the most of the food here is with the all-you-can-eat menu (£19.95 a head on Friday and Saturday), which allows you to keep the dishes coming, as long as you can finish them.
And I’m glad to say that while the front of house decor may be lacking these days, the standards in the kitchens have not slipped.
We started with a platter of hors d’oeurves – satay sticks, seaweed, spring rolls, ribs and the like – which immediately managed to put a smile back on our faces. Packed with rich flavours and everything piping hot, these had clearly been freshly cooked, and were presented with some pride.
We opted for crispy duck pancakes next (something rarely found on an all-you-can-eat menu) and they too were superb, with plenty of duck meat, bowls of sweet plum sauce and loads of pancakes to stuff it all in.
Already feeling the strain, we the went for two mains and two sides to share, conscious of the warning on the menu that any uneaten dishes ‘may be charged for’.
Our special fried rice was laced with juicy prawns and pieces of pork, and I was pleased to see the sweet and sour pork dish was heavy on the crunchy vegetables.
But the stars were the chicken in black bean sauce – a sauce not too starchy, but deep with flavour – and, a surprise hit, the beef noodles, which were packed with crispy, fried slices of steak.
As we left – the very last ones remaining in the restaurant at 10pm and consequently feeling conspicuous – we felt full and satisfied, if not fully satisfied.
I only hope Le Rendezvous finds its way back to the good old days.