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Jonathan Schofield and the fable of the footwear one Thursday in Manchester

Written by . Published on May 31st 2007.


The Observer Food Monthly on Sunday was one of the funniest reads this year. My colleague, that indefatigable explorer of Mancunian life, Sleuth, will tell more of this on Friday.

Suffice to say that the magazine was all about Chinese food. One of the expert witnesses, Paul Kitching, that indefatigable explorer of culinary life at Juniper in Altrincham, recommended Wings, in Lincoln Square, as the very apogee of Chinese cuisine.

One incident can ruin everything in a dining experience. Fortunately we rescued the lunch by that lovely British response of sarcasm. Sarcasm like vengence is a dish best served cold.

This was surprising as at the Confidential office, Gordo and yours truly, had never been overly impressed: Wings is good but not the bee’s knees. So at lunch I went along to sample the gorgeousness. It started to go wrong from the beginning. I was with Elizabeth Alker, the very talented broadcaster (and writer for this website – check out the Johnny Marr story on this site) and her boss, David Cook, at the excellent media production company, All Out Productions.

When we arrived the officious gentleman at the door looked us up and down and then, with his clear talent for maths, said, “Table for three?” We nodded. There was an awkward pause.

“I’ll let you in this time," said Mr Happy pointing at David’s pristine footwear, “but we don’t normally let people in wearing trainers.”

Then he looked at us as though he was minor deity bestowing his favours on some scruffy village worshippers. I think he expected us to bow and curtsey and say “thank ye, oh bounteous one, you are generous and kind.”

If I hadn’t been reviewing the place I would have shooed us right out and found somewhere else. Fact: the place was three-quarters empty. Fact: it was lunchtime. Fact: a friend of mine when hearing of this remembered seeing Rio Ferdinand dressed casually and wearing trainers in Wings. I’m all for formality in certain circumstances and wearing the right kit at the right time, but this man, evidently in a management position, must have been having a very bad day. 

It was also a classic example of poor customer service that casts a pall over the whole meal. One incident can ruin everything in a dining experience. Fortunately we rescued the lunch by that lovely British response of sarcasm. Sarcasm like vengence is a dish best served cold.

As for the food, it was good, but not worth the rudeness. The pick was the Claypot beef brisket (£9.90), a gorgeous stew of super tender beef in a rich broth that skimped nowhere. Less good was the Crispy chilli shredded chicken which looked the part but lacked definition in its flavours. The Shang-hai hot chilli prawns (£10.90) were better and very good-looking, fleshy with a real fist in the face punch from the chillis.

Fist in the face is about right. The whole experience from a dining point of view was tainted by that welcome and the subsequent surliness – apart from one member of staff. In The Observer, Paul Kitching calls Mr Wing, the ‘Bruce Lee of the Manchester restaurant scene’. This certainly applies to some of the front of house staff. None of us will be back. Can Wings afford to lose customers so casually?

Those dangerous trainers

It gets worse. A prolific restaurant-goer in Manchester had another story about Wings. He told me that the restaurant refused to give him a jug of tap water when he last went but insisted that he had to purchase mineral water. He’d previously liked Wings and had already ordered a large amount of food and a bottle of wine, but he stood up and took himself, his partner and his business elsewhere. He didn’t want to be ripped off and he didn’t have to stay for review purposes. Lucky sod.

Rating: 10/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
1/5 Service
2/5 Ambience
Address: Wings
Lincoln Square
0161 834 9000

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64 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AA GillMay 31st 2007.

I do actually sympathise with you mouth breathers up there. I quote from my column in the Style section today in the Sunday Times. "One of the greatest aids to improving restaurants in this country has been the evaporation of the class system. Class now exists only in polemics and among a few angry nostalgics who yearn for the comfort of old conflicts. Restaurants were invented as a product of republican democracy, and the fact that anyone with money and the desire can book any table in the country without embarrasment is a good thing. Few restaurants insist on ties or jackets - that sort of old fashioned snobbery is as winning and attractive as cockroaches in the bar". Tell Mr Wing to go and do one.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

Maybe the staff at Wing's were all trained at Yang Sing? home of the worst service I've ever had in my life.

NickMay 31st 2007.

Why don't people do what I've done when the food or service is ****e just pay them what you think honestly it was worth ,give your name and address and tell them to sue you in the small claims-not been sued yet unless you count the inland revenue.Stock is appalling!

...May 31st 2007.

Fair enough if the waiter at Wings had a bad attitude but your can't criticise just because he asked if you needed a table for 3, you could have been waiting for extra people to arrive. Also how do you know Rio Ferdinand wasn't told before he entered: 'i'll let you in this time but we don't usually let people in wearing trainers.'

LaydeeMay 31st 2007.

I was charged 27p for my meal at San Carlo on Sat .It made sitting down an hour after having booked for 9.30 rather worth it !

kieranMay 31st 2007.

i honestly tire of poor service, havign a bit of a short fuse though i usually put the said person down to where they belong and swiftly remove myself from an establishment.I wont be going to this wings place. Bad attitudes die hard.

NickMay 31st 2007.

Why don't people do what I've done when the food or service is ****e just pay them what you think honestly it was worth ,give your name and address and tell them to sue you in the small claims-not been sued yet unless you count the inland revenue.Stock is appalling!

RebeccaMay 31st 2007.

It's a bicycle shop near Whitworth Park Gordo, now back on to Wings.Without seeing a picture of the friend in question it's hard to be objective here, but what you say reflects across quite a lot of restaurants in Manchester. San Carlo for example are well known for treating their customers like ****, and at Room you're lucky to get a waiter come over to you half the time. I suppose until people write about or actually tell management why they don't want to return they'll never know enough to care to change. Sad state of affairs really.

Rob CotterillMay 31st 2007.

Dmitri's, without a doubt. Even pointed out to us a special offer, which saved us £££.And top nosh too.I also found Room to be fine, but I'm obviously not speaking for everyone posting here...

Jonathan SchofieldMay 31st 2007.

David,Thank you very kindly for supplying an image of the offending articles. We all now know what to avoid.

DavidMay 31st 2007.

As we move towards the steamy days of summer the trainers are still very sweet and odour free. The brand is Boxfresh - note the word 'fresh'.

jamesMay 31st 2007.

ive just been in to ask them if they have the Cream of Sum Yung Gai -cant believe they dont have it - disgracefulAlso mentioned the article to them, they asked to me to tell you the triads are on their way round.....

bobMay 31st 2007.

my wife and I went to Wings with another couple when it first opened and we were all very impressed by the couteous service and excellent food. We visited again after about 12 - 18 months and could not believe how it had all gone downhill. food was OK, but servive was poor and staff were really miserable. We also could not get nay tap water, even though we had wine and beers. We have not been near since, and certainly have no inmtention of doing so again. Thanks to Jonathan Schofield for confirming!

spizzoilMay 31st 2007.

Don't know what you're on about always experienced fabulous service and excellent food. This is one of Manchesters different dining experiences. The amount of effort in the presentation would keep most of the other dishwashers in Manchester restaurants crying into their sinks. What a shame that the focus of the review was limited to the wearing of 'plimsoles'. I completely agree with the management, it's hardly difficult to find a decent chinese restaurant that would have accomodated, 'plimsoles'.

Jonathan SchofieldMay 31st 2007.

David, have you a photo of those trainers so we can inform people on what is appropriate and inappropriate footwear?

DavidMay 31st 2007.

I wore the 'offending' trainers. By my standards they are reasonably clean and certainly extremely smart when bench marked by Northern Quarter standards. Anyway I thought Wings was a £5 'all you can eat' buffet.

secret squirrelMay 31st 2007.

Actually, having now seen the offending "trainers" I can only commend Mr Wing on his utmost taste and hope that other establishments follow suit in banning new meedja chavs.....:-))..SS

BoMay 31st 2007.

I'm all for well rounded criticism- but I'm also for letting your views be known to those who are providing poor service at the time and to their faces so they have a chance apologize and improve, rather than 'rescuing the lunch by that lovely British response of sarcasm.' And criticising from the safe distance of a website of course.

GordoMay 31st 2007.

I think the gentleman in question was indeed the mighty Mr. Wing. Blimey Jonathan, I am going to have to take the long way round now to get my soup from Shlurp in Lincoln Square....

jayMay 31st 2007.

i had the same experience regarding the trainers one quiet sunday evenin. As the 4 of us enetred the door we asked for a table and as we stood to wait we were looking at the signed plates. It was at this stage the girl on the door looked at me as if i had 2 heads and pointed to the ' trainers ' saying we couldnt come in.... i wouldnt mind but they were nice trainers [ i thought anyway. Thankfully i was nt there to review and left like i was linford christies love child..... il never go back and have told everyone what to expect... i love ranting

Jonathan SchofieldMay 31st 2007.

If I told you of our sarcasm then you might repeat it - as James Whistler almost said to Oscar Wilde.

stejaskiMay 31st 2007.

Worst service? Cant beat Stock for that-patronising, superior and ignorant-and the food was nowt to shout about. On a more positive note Lounge Ten is sublime on every level-even doe to the clairvoyant in the restrooms!!!

A Baffled GordoMay 31st 2007.

what on God's Earth is the Edinburgh Cycle Co-Op?

DESMay 31st 2007.

San Carlo still heads my list of the worst ever service and unbelievable arrogance. With Wings, I have never understood what the hype was about. It always seemed very average to me, edible food if a tad overpriced, OK service, lack-lustre ambiance. I hate being asked for restaurant recommendations from visitors to town - there is nowhere I would wholeheartedly recommend.

Jonathan SchofieldMay 31st 2007.

Bo, thanks for letting us know about the typo which we've now changed. My article was meant seriously, the job is called criticism which can be both positive and negative. In this case the latter.

Kitty CMay 31st 2007.

I once waited 2 hours in San Carlo for a pizza on a 2nd chance visit, I ordered pate, to be told it hadn't defrosted! Plus side, we sent back the wine, which served to confuse so they refunded both bottles, broke even!

Kitty CMay 31st 2007.

Scathing Mr Schofield! But full agreement from me. Atmosphere void. Only plus point - they pull up an extra chair (well, stool/pouffe) for your handbag!

NikiMay 31st 2007.

I agree that the Ox for Sunday roast is terrible - rock hard veg, ****e measly portion of meat and a yorkshire pudding that reveals itself to be an all but hollow crisp of nothingness at the mere touch of a fork. I know the best sunday roast place in the city centre - but you're damned sure I aint telling you lot because I don't want to have to wait for a table every week! NER!Wings - never been but it has an excellent reputation by all accounts and I will be putting it on my list of places to try despite the above.For excellent service the Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar can do no wrong in my eyes. Superb. And the food is excellent too. A hidden gem in the N4.

tickety booMay 31st 2007.

excellent piece on a restaurant that bows and scrapes to the high profile crew and treats the rest of us like "poo on a shoe"! should we start a name and shame list of the restaurants which refuse to serve good wholesome Manchester tap water? so far it's wings and Tai Wu on Oxford Road.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

I guess the greeter at Wings also manages the Edinburgh Cycle Co-op. A more unpleasant, surly "manager" I am yet to meet. Their 20% discount runs out today. I strongly recommend nobody goes there after that.

PAUL MONKSMay 31st 2007.

Know where you're coming from with san carlo but I have always found the staff very friendly at room,the problem there is that it is so dark in some spots you need to bring a torch to read the menu

Out of TownMay 31st 2007.

Strange that WINGS is FULLY BOOKED every night until Christmas. They can't all be footballers !!

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

i agree with the comments about san carlo - the ego is writing cheques the food just can't cash

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

I visited the restaurant with a friend of mine to show him what all the fuss was about. We were both wearing trainers but were otherwise smartly dressed (the same attire we'd both been in at meetings with international consultancies that day). Mr Wing (who I know from his days in the other, far superior, Wings in Cheadle Hulme) greeted us with a polar ice-cap cooling sneer and a request to be on our way. There was one other table occupied on a very quiet Thursday night. Ah, if only we hadn't been looking for a place to organise our 100+ strong office party...Like another ranter, I also have seen minor celebs eating in trainers without problems.The guy may want to remove his head from his bottom in time to see his restaurant going out of business while everyone goes to other more interesting, less pretentious, more reasonable eateries in the area.

Antony WhitesideMay 31st 2007.

Thought you might be interested in your influence on the places you review. Following a recommendation of a friend, I booked a table at Wings a couple of weeks ago, and then this week decided to check them out on your website, and considered cancelling. I took the precaution of checking availability at the little Yang Sing in case we got a sign that we were going to have a similar experience to your man. The comments relating to trainers, attitude of the staff, ( in particular Mr. Wing) , as well as the tap water issue have been noted by them!We arrived, and Mr. Wing shook us all by the hand like we were long lost friends, my sons were both in jeans and trainers (as instructed by me). No comments, no deprecating looks, just beaming smiles!We sat down, and I immediately ordered tap water. No problem! As I was driving, I drank this all night. The staff were excellent, the food was superb, and Mr. Wing made a special point of thanking us for visiting as we left. The place was 80% full, which for a recession hit Thursday seemed pretty good to me!I would definitely recommend it, and will certainly be returning. CheersAntony Whiteside

BarryMay 31st 2007.

I met someone surly once.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

I can vouch for Chaophraya, best Thai restaurant in Manchester. Great food and wonderful service.Worst slump in food and service levels are at the Living Room.The Restaurant Bar and Grill is usually good value.I disagree about Moss Nook, food fab,ambience chronic.

handymason@msn.co.ukMay 31st 2007.

well gordo, my front room had amazing service last night - there she was, awaiting my return in pinny and in the kitchen where she is supposed to me, rustling me up a fabulous roast after id been out hunting all day. Dinner was served in good time, well presented and very tasty. ah thank you.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

In the past I've worked with Mr Wing and thought he was lovely - if you want a quick lunch where you can wear trainers, you should try his little place in the Arndale market, it's great value for money and tasty food. On the topic of bad service, I had a really bad experience in Stock not long ago and up until then I recommended it to anyone who would listen. I took my little sister trying to impress her by being the cooler trendy sister living in Manchester and being able to eat at fancy restaurants, and even though the place was fairly quiet we were ignored on several occassions, the staff seemed incapable of eye contact! Plus the food portions were too big, we didn't even manage to eat our main courses and I hate leaving my food!

TedsMay 31st 2007.

I can confirm that i had exactly the same experience last year reagrding the tap water and bottled water. " we are not allowed" I was told by the waiter.Ho hum, I only spent £120 for 2 in there. ( Lobster etc ) thats the last he sees of my money. Enjoy your extra £1.40 profit Mr Wing and then offset that profit against the number of people I have told the water tale to and the number of times I have not returned.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

I say David, are we all scruffs up in the NQ? You say they were clean but were they odourless and were they nike or adidas?

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

This reminded me of my recent trip to the Lime Tree in W. Didsbury. Horrific service from walking through the door, to sitting down to the table, right up until paying the bill. The food saved it. Wont be back in a hurry..

sykesMay 31st 2007.

i went to wings once like half a year ago. we were sat at an "overflowing" table at the bar. that "mr" wing is certainly a rude slave driver! me and my partner saw every scene happened at the reception and bar area. great sympathy to the girls who worked there or are still working there!!! altho we didnt understand the language, we sure could tell by his attitude and that loud screaming voice to the girls! but applause to him, he turned to a happy jolly popular "mr wing" again once any customers came in the door. me and my partner could hardly finish our meal after seeing him being so fake to customers and rude to staff! i think we should boycott this restaurant honestly! the poor girl got told off was holding her tears.... god.... and she still smiled at us while serving our food.

Phil TaylorMay 31st 2007.

Wings should have spotted Jonathan, he's well known enough on the foody circuit.As to, having to stay for reviewing purposes..... I reckon that's a perk of the job. Joe Public can just tell their mates, a critic can tell thousands.The only time it's a bad experience if they poison you. I understand that Jonathan had a dose of liquid botty from a Northern Quarter place a few years back. Tends to influence the review I suppose.A Cheshire pub got a 1 star review once. Might be the awful food and service and giving the reviewer's photographer food poisoning from a dodgy steak pudding.Water scams- the Indian restaurants that bottle tap water in bottles with Grolsch type tops, and pass it off as bespoke bottled water.

BoMay 31st 2007.

How does this qualify as a fable? Unless the moral of the story is that being paid to eat free food and then making sarcastic comments and being amused at your own cleverness in doing so is a really tortuous way of making a living. How dreadful for you. Maybe you need to go on a diety? Or was that meant to read deity?

Gordo knows whoMay 31st 2007.

For the best service try The French @ the at The Midland (predictable eh Gordo) or just as good, give the Moss Nook a try both smart dress and a clear credit card !!!

JohnMay 31st 2007.

I tried Wings myself a couple of weeks ago and, despite the almost empty restaurant, still got the impression that the front of house guy felt he was doing me a huge favour by letting me in and yes, I got the 'only bottled water served here' routine. The food was , however, excellent. Maybe they just despise we foreign devils. Pity as the decor is pleasant and the food good, perhaps if we all just decined to leave a tip the penny would drop.

TristanMay 31st 2007.

They're not trainers - they're pumps. You can't go to a restaurant wearing gym shoes!

Adele SloanMay 31st 2007.

I'm the winner of the meal for 2 at San Carlo i'm a bit worried about going now. I will of course post a review and let you know how it goes.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

I once accompanied an American journalist to Le Manoire aux Quatre Saisons. Lousy, snooty service initially - which she reported in her book. These people forget it's the customers who pay their wages

RuthiehMay 31st 2007.

I also found the customer service and dining expereince to be the strangest and most comical i have ever experienced. It seemed all the staff were on tenterhooks..... 'Mr Wing might see!!' They insited on putting both our food and wine on a table next to us so they could silver serve us..... however i kept wanting a top up and more rice and nearly got my hand slapped off when i dared to serve myself (what felt like stealing!) some of our rice (i had been waiting to catch the busy staffs attention for 5 minutes!)The meal was farcical and if i had not been with someone i knew well i may have even been embarrassed! I wont be flying back to wings any time soon or recommending it to any one!

secret squirrelMay 31st 2007.

So how about Mancon printing a regular rolling top ten poll for worst service, on say a monthly basis. Shame them into improving? Will the lawyers allow it?

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

Ah, misguided restaurant dress codes which instantly fail to apply the second someone 'famous' approaches.If you really want awful service try Old Orleans in the Printworks! In fact, now the menu is worse than the service.

KevMay 31st 2007.

Never had a problem at Wings, life is too short to get overly upset about a pair of trainers. It sounds to me like that was a bit of a set up anyhow, the food and service are usually great and the atmosphere good. If you want cheap and cheerful and your trainers then go to a buffet

NatashaMay 31st 2007.

Me and my boyfriend wentto Wings about a year ago and were served the wrong bottle of wine (one that was £5 more expensive than we had asked for). We told the waiter and were given a mouthful of abuse by Mr Wing...all for the sake of five pounds! Never would go back again, he said many derogatory things...what is £5 of a £70 bill?! What happened to the customer's always right?! very rude

Mr Food LoverMay 31st 2007.

Picking up on the celebrity bullsh*t, we made a trip to the OX on Liverpool Rd for a slap up sunday lunch only to be told they had sold out (at 4pm!). We ordered some very average Pork instead. Half way through this boring and tough pork dish I noticed Suranne Jones (her off Corrie with the large breasts) with her 3 person entourage walked in. She gave the waiter the nod, and would you beleive as if by magic 4 plates stacked with Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puds appeared!! As a new St Johns Gardens resident i had hoped the Ox would be my local but sadly not. Is that service or what... for Z-List Celebs only!!Wings is nice food but up it's own arse.

oscar wildeMay 31st 2007.

What did you say that was sarcastic?

BuckersMay 31st 2007.

Got to agree with the comments about wings, the Cristal bottles in the window harden the snooty factor for me.With regards to the Gordo question about where is good, got to agree with Dimitris, and also Heathcotes has consistantly made me happy, other than than we are struggling in mcr !!

BarryMay 31st 2007.

....it's a bike shop in Rusholme. Surely 'Anonymous' takes the award for the most tenuous response to an article?

johnthebriefMay 31st 2007.

The best service I've experienced in Manchester was at Ikan on Portland Street. The worst was probably the Yang Sing.

AnonymousMay 31st 2007.

Buy some shoes mate, about time you made an effort -)

Stuie72May 31st 2007.

Sane Carlo..........food ok, but don't ask for the desert menu. We had it flung at us with a grunt and a mouthful of language. when we complained about the offence the response: " She's foreign" !!!! What is this Fawlty Towers????

GordoMay 31st 2007.

OK Guys, it's easy to criticise, but where have you been recently that has good service? Lets give them some airtime. I will start off with Tampopo on Albert Square. Apart from the fact it's the best green curry in town, the people are fab.

NortherngeezerAugust 23rd 2010.

Great article and some of the old rants were hilarious. I cant see Wings getting many votes eh. Strange how folks thought San Carlo was shyte 3 years ago, nice to see the management dont give a flying fook for there customers as nowts changed.

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