Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe © 2009
The King’s House Breakfast Project
It’s a simple problem really – feeding approximately 45 people with 25 seats in about one hour. It needs the military precision & control that only a General can muster and the Maitre D’ is the best man for the job. She is a short solidly built lady in her late 50’s in a black uniform and she marshals her troops for battle with well practised skill – she has done this many times before.
Some words of explanation are required to place this event in context. The King’s House Hotel is located at the head of Glencoe and is an old 17th Century Droving Inn that now lies on the West Highland Way. It is in fact pivotal in the walk, being the only accommodation between Inveroran & Kinlochleven – a 20 mile stretch that most WHW walkers prefer to break into two days – it is also in a spectacular setting. This all means that it gets busy – I booked in September for an April visit! My early booking did give me a room with a view but the hotel was full to capacity. Most walkers want to be moving so they all want breakfast about 8 o’clock hence the tight timescale.
So the battle lines are formed when I arrive just after 8.00am with about a dozen diners well spread out in the dining room. I spot my walking companion – Paul - already seated at a table for two and join him to watch the fun. The Maitre D’ stands by the door to the kitchen observing the fray. Paul had ordered his cooked breakfast and was eating cereal so I loaded up a weetabix and returned to my seat. He pointed out the menu – Full Scottish Breakfast was listed with the usual fried suspects but then the addendum – “Also available – Black Pudding, White Pudding, Red Pudding, Fruit Pudding – but must be finished” - no waste allowed in this eatery.
Paul’s breakfast was delivered by a young antipodean lass who was behind the bar the previous night and had welcomed us in. He was still eating his cereal so with an alacrity at odds with her build the Maitre D’ swept in and removed it stating clearly that it should not be served whilst a diner was eating a first course. The young lass was severely admonished for her error and returned sheepishly a few minutes later to take away the empty cereal bowl and deliver the errant breakfast. “Just in time” we said and she smiled at our shared joke.
The advance was now in full flow as diners piled up at the entrance and the Maitre D’ greeted them with the sort of ‘Good Morning’ that rivets you to the spot. It reminded me of a Spike Milligan quote “Not so much a ‘Hello’ as a goodbye to personal liberty”. A party of 3 waited to be seated and our General spotted the only space as being a table occupied by a Dutch girl who was on her own. The attack was swift and decisive – she and her meal were uplifted in mid rasher and moved to a space on a table for 6 already occupied by 5 Germans – she fitted in perfectly if a little alarmed.
Vacated tables were subject to a pincer movement from the General and one of her staff – a tall thin young man who would be at home in Gormenghast and completed her perfectly. Each table was stripped and re-laid in seconds ready to accept the new diners waiting to be allocated their space. When it looked like the diners might overcome the servers, reinforcements were called in and a burly smiling receptionist descended on tables and shepherded the empty plates to the kitchen whilst the thin man re-laid them. In one movement she was back to her office hand writing the room bills with her copper plate script.
At last the battle is over and as I pass the dining room on my way to pay the bill I note that the final diners have finished their meal and all the tables are bare. There were no fatalities just the one casualty in the form of a table with a cloth on it. The General stands proud by the door defying any other diner to enter the battlefield whilst her team hover in the background. I offer the encouraging comment, “Thanks for a great meal” but whilst the young lass smiles knowingly the Maitre D’ just nods in approval – it was never going to be anything else.
King’s House 1 Diners 0.
© Keith Ratcliffe
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