One of these restaurants lies by the Thames near Tower Bridge. It's one of the cheaper dining establishments on the list, special-offer-wise, but the welcome at the door is very warm. This may be because the staff are always so gracious, or it may be because the ES crowd are filling most of the tables.
A choice of locations is offered, either out of the way by the far wall or out of the way in the far corner. The latter location is described as "on the sofa", which edges it. The table turns out to be just wide enough to make talking across it slightly awkward, but that's not noticeable until you sit down, and by then it's too late.
The waiter is effusive. Indeed he's possibly the most effusive waiter I've ever met, smiling and grinning and thanking me at every available opportunity. He thanks me for sitting down. He thanks me for holding the menu. He thanks me for not ordering drinks yet. He thanks me for thanking him, but I refrain from thanking him back in case the charade continues.
The Evening Standard set menu offers a fine selection of food, with one additional choice per course compared to most of the other two dozen restaurants on the list. Nevertheless the waiter sees fit to hand over the usual à la carte menu, printed on nice card rather than paper, in case diners can be tempted over to the dark side at this late stage.
His heavy European accent proves difficult to understand further, or perhaps my heavy English accent proves difficult to understand back. He has to repeat something about water, and I have to repeat something about not being sure what he said, and then he wanders off with the wine list before he twigs I might actually want some.
The first course arrives swiftly, which is the joy of ordering off a limited but popular set menu. My pate looks suspiciously like a turd on toast, all swirly and brown and rising to a sharp point, but thankfully tastes delicious. Elsewhere the lentil soup is full-bodied and flavoursome, so I'm told, although the lack of bread roll is a cost-saving too far.
The second course takes rather longer to arrive, during which time the adjacent couple order desserts and coffees, drink up and depart. The delay causes the head waiter to come over, eventually, and apologise. Again comprehension is not easy to come by, but either my mince will be here soon or my meal will be, so I assume the latter.
My pasta is delivered by the restaurant's least enthusiastic waiter, who lingers only to grate a grudging layer of cheese across the top. He repeats this duty for a bland-looking risotto, although it's top notch tasty, apparently, thankfully. Waiter number one then waits until I have a mouth full of tomato sauce before mumbling a query about whether or not I'm enjoying it. I mumble back, and he thanks me profusely for whatever it is I might have said.
The dessert course requires further exuberant negotiation. The slice of tiramisu that follows is so large that the lady at the neighbouring table feels moved to lean over and point out that her portion was noticeably smaller. My panna cotta goes unremarked, but slips down nicely, and I am at least able to clear my plate.
The bill arrives with additional flourish, and a grinning "grazie", presumably in the hope of earning an augmented pay off. But the bottom line already includes 12.5% extra, so I pile up the precise amount in notes and coppers and that'll have to do. Further gratitude is offered on the walk to the door, and on the way through it, and all feels genuine. A most pleasant evening, courtesy of the ES's annual wintertime special offer, thanks.