Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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)


  1. Lars,

    This is Roberto, Chef owner of Pinchos. I know is a bit late for the response but better late than never.
    Lets go to the point .Sorry to hear that you had problems with the food. Sometimes happen like you said.
    Chef told me that the dates were over panfried and burn yes, long time ago we received few complains about the bacon was not cook so it was chewy. Long time ago I instructed my chefs to increase the panfried time so bacon became roasted until a point that is almost burn. At the moment is one of the more popular tapa at pinchos.
    The reason why we replaced you the 3 pieces only is because happen before that customers after eating half of a dish they returned saying that they dont like it...chef tries the dish, checks the quality and if is ok , we charge costumer obviously letting him know. I know your case is different and have to be flexible but I have to be rules when not around, like you said , cheat me ones cheat me twice I make a rule.
    For the meatballs and the chicken, If you had ask the waiter could have been cook again and replaced.
    Water issue , actually is a issue yes. We had recently customers drinking tap water and sharing 2 tapas with lots of free baskets of bread. So we were trying to implement the question , Sparkling or still? but if costumer insist tap we give. Actually we are trying to set a rule for that but my girls sometimes messed it up. Sorry about that. I don’t know if you know but lots of restaurants in kl don’t have tap water as well and my price for a imported water is for sure much cheaper than lots of them.
    Like you said… sometimes people do mistakes and has to be brought up , fine. We run a busy business , my boys are working hard and doing their best to operate the place and maybe you don’t realize but in Food and Beverage business is really hard to make happy everybody. What my point is : the way you express yourself about “rubbish food “and pinchos serving rubbish I think is not proper if you have respect for the people who serve you. Serving is hard. I know you can say whatever you want and the way you wanted in your website , fine for me . but don’t expect me to let my fans and my regulars in facebook to read your link that you post with this comments. Actually if I leave it there sure some of them answer you same like I did just now.
    I hope you understand my point of view.
    If you want to let me know your reply , you can always cc me at robertsolanes@gmail.com

  2. Robert:

    You start by saying better late than never. I must say immediately that based on the response I think never would have been better than late. I'll explain why shortly.

    Let's take the bacon first. Yes sometimes kitchens screw up. But you missed my point here. My point was not about the screw up but about the way the screw up was handled. I am not really an educated chef but I am a pretty good cook and there's a huge difference between bacon that is cooked to little, bacon that is crisp and bacon that is completely burned. In this case it was completely burned and yet I ended up - as a customer - paying the full price (or indeed any price whatsoever) for something that is not only uneatable but in fact quite unhealthy.

    Then you move on to explain why I only got 3 pieces. You can't be serious. Let me get this straight (and you repeat it later). You're the owner of a restaurant. You have a certain number of bad customers yes? And you feel it's quite acceptable to treat your good customers in a certain way based on the bad ones? I am sorry - I don't follow that logic at all. Since I discovered Pinchos a few month ago I have spend way over RM 1000 at your place and yet you find it totally acceptable to treat me bad based on how you feel you should treat your bad customers. I am sorry - if you have a bad customer deal with them as you see fit - but do NOT let it out on me - at least not if you want to see me as a customer again.

    Then let's move on to the water issue. Same thing Robert. You have a few bad customers that just drink water and eat free bread. So what? A kg of flour cost what - RM 3? If they buy two tapas they already pay around RM 50 or so. No matter how many baskets of bread they eat I am fairly sure you are not really losing much money on the deal and again - look at my bill for crying out loud - I did NOT just order two tapas and expecting free baskets of bread. What I did was ordering a bottle of wine and asked for it to be served with "plain water" (I honestly cannot remember if I asked for plain water or ice water - but one of the two). And no - I was specifically and in a quite arrogant tone told that you would NOT serve plain water - ONLY bottled water. I have lived in KL for the past 12 years and yeah - I have seen chinese mamak shops charge me RM 2 for plain water - BUT I have never EVER seen ANY restaurant of certain quality refuse to serve water with wine. In fact I shouldn't even have to ask.

    to be continued...

  3. As for the last paragraph it reminds me of Avis (the car rental company). Years ago I had a bit of a discussion with them about a major screw up they made. At the time they had a slogan that said: "We try harder", and I had to point out to them that I couldn't care less how hard they try - the only thing I am interested in is how they do - not what they try to do. I am sure it's pretty hard to run a food and beverage business but for me as a customer I couldn't care less. The only thing that is relevant for me is how you do when I am a around, how you treat me, what kind of food you serve to me. As I clearly pointed out in my original post I have been to your place a number of times and never had a complaint before. If you had taken my complaint serious then I would have been quite ready to look at this as a one time screw up. But instead your staff - and indeed you - start arguing your case. I am sorry Robert but that is quite pathetic really and it is further illustrated by the fact that you removed the link from your Facebook page. It is a sad state of affairs if your place cannot stand up to scrutiny and still come out ahead.

    So no, I do not understand your point of view at all and you obviously do not understand mine. If you can only maintain fans by hiding criticism then you really have a problem. If you really feel that others would have written the same if you had left it there - then why didn't you? I would say the fact that you removed it show that you basically feel that there would have been people agreeing with me.

    Fact is Robert that on the night in question, Pinchos did serve rubbish and charged the customers full price for the "privilege". You say it's not "proper" to write that. I disagree Robert - what I wrote is that it is not proper serving rubbish and asking the customer to pay the same price for that as they would have paid if you had done a good job.

    Finally you seem to miss the point and power of the Internet. You can run but you cannot hide :) Try to google for "pinchos changkat rubbish" and you will understand what I mean.

  4. By the way - final though. A Google search did in fact reveal 2 other cases where you start arguing with people who criticized your outlet. Look Robert, I don't mean to be a smart ass or anything but I really think you should listen to your customers instead of arguing. You write yourself that it's hard to run a food and beverage outlet. Well, yes - I can understand why that must be hard if you spend your time worrying about a customer that get a free basket of bread with some water instead of spending a little time listening to the customers who actually spend money at your place.

  5. Actually I did a mistake... I didnt read your posts in your blog properly before my reply. Complaining the way you do to all restaurants, and actually nobody comments about it. Now I feel was no point spending time with my reply yesterday.
    the most unbelivable one is "21" lunch , blood nasty complain on april and then on september sorry sorry actually is nice . No sense. Just erase it lah ! No point we continue arguing (like you said) me I was just explaining you our side.
    No more comments from me anymore. Actually I have a busy restaurant to run.

  6. Robert, well - as the name implies I don't really use this blog to post positive reviews although they are there occasionally. I only use it when things goes really bad and I doubt you can find a single review that is unreasonable.

    As for replies - I have received replies on each and every one of them. Mostly on Facebook directly (check the pages for Dome, Secret Recipe, Brussels Cafe, Starker Beer etc.) and most with a quite positive attitude.

    The 21 lunch - well - there's a proverb (Spanish I believe although I will make no attempt to quote it in Spanish) saying: A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will. I realized later that I probably was a bit harsh in my original review (albeit the point still stands).

  7. "Try to google for "pinchos changkat rubbish" and you will understand what I mean."

    Nah.. you don't have to type that much.
    On Google Malaysia, searching for just pinchos review shows this post as the 5th result, and same on the main google site for pinchos bukit bintang. Of course, pinchos bukit bintang review brings this post as the first result on both of them ;)

  8. Google is a fairly dynamic thing and this article have been crawling towards the top.

    Writing an article such as this serves 3 purposes:

    1. To vent my frustration from being asked to pay good money for bad food. The results are achieved immediately.

    2. To "push" places who do that into taking their service and quality a bit more serious. Obviously I failed miserably in this particular case. Judging by the responses from the owner this place is beyond reach.

    3. To help people making an informed choice and avoid places that do not take service and quality serious. This is where Google come in handy :)

  9. And I didn't even create a link from Facebook's Changkat Bukit Bintang page. That would have driven a huge amount of traffic to the page. I only posted it on Pinchos page and they deleted it within 24 hours.

  10. I was googling for reviews on Pinchos but after reading the owners' crass responses above, NO WAY am I going to spend my money and further contribute to the coffers of its arrogant owner.

    I agree with Ibthomsen in this case. And regarding Pinchos' owner comments about Ibthomsen's blog and the dearth of comments here. Hello, most Malaysians are lurkers, they hardly comment because of their nature, poor command of the language, or just tidakapa (unless they feel very strongly about something).

    Worse, the Pinchos owner then took more low blows by further commenting about Ibthomsen's contradicting views of Twenty-One. Well, you know what, at least Ibthomsen has the integrity to voice out if a place is still worth a shot, even though the first incident was due to the shock of his having to pay for a second ice-lemon drink at RM10, which is more than the price of his set lunch at RM9. Anyone would have mistaken that the waiter is asking if Ibthomsen wants a drink refill, not a fresh order! If it had been me, I would have been just as upset, too.

    For Pinchos owner to cite this as an example of Ibthomsen's vacillating views and that Ibthomsen only blogs about negative experiences, thus Ibthomsen's review is unfair, and that Pinchos should be rightfully exonerated is completely bollocks. If anything, Pinchos' owner comment just shows his vengeful mindset.

    Ibthomsen's blog is to highlight bad experiences so that his blog readers are aware of the pitfalls of patronizing certain unscrupulous restaurants/shops.

    Ibthomsen did not purposely set out to flame Pinchos. He had a very bad experience. And I for one am glad he shared, in the hopes that Pinchos would take the criticisms constructively.

    And judging from Pinchos' owner response here, we can see Ibthomsen is not far from the truth. What then is Pinchos excuse for charging customers for burnt or inedible food, and then having the cheek to come here and give excuses about how difficult it is to be in this F&B industry.

    Is Pinchos exempted from legitimate criticisms, and therefore expects its diners to just shut up and take whatever it serves, and then bloody well cough up and pay with nary a squeak even if the food is sub-par?!

    Anyway, this is to Ibthomsen: Thanks, dude, for doing us a service! We don't just want to hear about good food as some Malaysian food bloggers are want to do by sugar-coating and hype up their experiences, or only publish good food reviews. It takes balls to voice up.

    Based on the crass remarks from the Pinchos owner here, there is no reasoning with the man.
    Ibthomsen, please keep telling it like it is, dude. Forget about Pinchos...crappy food, crappier attitude from its owner. Such joints won't last long with such arrogant management. Mark my words.

  11. I believe in M'sia all the bollocks excuses given when things go wrong

    When they are right they make u spend and then ditch u when complain

    1 thing i wanted commmon sense in F&B is that when a person order a bottle of wine, any good matured spirits like cognac, armagnac, brandy, scotch single malt whisky water should be given no matter is tap unless the customer is stated that they want sparkling or still

    That's y the fact owner who is running F&B business are driven by passion but profit.

    Example try going to Europe, Australia for that matter closer even Vietnam does better as they would offer after someone seated whether would they like to have Sparkling, Still or Tap. Industry calls it as SST which also means Service with a Smile To your customer which should leave a good impression throughout the service even it screws up. Some customer are understanding and forgiving like Lars yourself.

    By the way, food bloggers in M'sia are bullshit and sellouts for the F&B owners. I would they are so called wannabes whose no nothing but shits about food and beverage and suckup for the owners whose buy their loyalty through their stomachfucks.

  12. Well, there are bad restaurants everywhere, in Europe as well as in Malaysia. The main difference is that Malaysia have a culture of not complaining in public and that is why bad restaurants tends to survive in Malaysia, while in Denmark they would die a quick death after 2 or 3 bad reviews.

    My own starting point is that badly managed businesses of any kind - food & beverage in particular - deserve to go out of business as quick as possible. A review is not meant as free advertising - it is meant to be a big fat warning to business owners that without clients they do not have a business.

  13. Lars well said coming from a diverse Hospitality background myself "Word of mouth" can make or break a F&B business but these days the word of mouth expands through the internet so we should change the saying to word of Net :P

  14. Well said....after reading owner's comment I think I will cancel my booking for 15 pax.