Damons, Lincoln

Damons (no apostrophe) is an American and American-styled hotel and restaurant chain now with three UK outlets, set up for reasons best known to Damons in Lincoln, Sheffield and Liverpool.

The Lincoln branch is established on the outskirts of the city aside a retail part and service station.  I didn’t see the hotel but the bar and restaurant is formed in a large rondella with retro decor that reminds you of sleazy 1970s American B-pics and TV cop shows.  That did not appear to have put off the good people of Lincoln, who had flocked there in drunken droves to celebrate birthday parties, apparently the big marketing USP of Damons, where birthdays are celebrated with a free cake and candle.

This is what Damons says of itself (since, unlike the first sentence, it is a corporate body and therefore singular):

Damons pride themselves on being one of the few restaurant chains that genuinely cooks to order, using fresh products wherever possible. Combine this with generous portions and a relaxed atmosphere and Damons really is the place to eat. Damons can seat over 150 guests at each of their restaurants. A spacious and comfortable lounge where guests can enjoy drinks both before and after their meal is complete a fine dining experience for the whole family.

Fresh products?  Generous portions?  Relaxed atmosphere?  Fine dining experience?  Comfortable restaurant?  If you make these statements, be prepared to be judged accordingly.

First impressions were of a chaotic place with appalling acoustics, such that I could not hear my companion even when she was sat two feet away from me.  Nor were we shown directly to our table at the appointed hour.  We waited at the bar with drinks for probably an extra half hour while staff sorted out their tables, but then that is probably deliberate since the management undoubtedly wants you to buy as many drinks and extras as possible to bump up their profit margins – and it’s exactly the sort of place where you can imagine those conversations happening.

OK, let’s cut to the chase.  We made it to the table and perused the laminated retro 70s-style menus, which declared Damons to have been “made famous” by its ribs, though I cant say I’d ever heard of Damons before.  More marketing twaddle, in other words.  Anyway, Damons also sells the usual retro burgers, steaks, chicken, seafood, Mexican and salads.  They say this of their food:

We specialise in cuisine from the American Continent, with dishes ranging from award winning barbecue ribs and their specialty onion loaf to fine steaks, quality seafood, quality burgers, sourdough sandwiches and much more…

I’d say highly packaged and unnecessarily long on choices, which is one way of guaranteeing that a good proportion of the food is direct from freezer to fryer.  It’s very typical of the genre in that respect, and I don’t believe for one moment the dishes were cooked from scratch to order.  Burgers maybe, but my companion had been there before and recommended the ribs, so that was what we ordered – and they were unquestionably pre-cooked.

As ribs go they are pricy, with a “regular” portion priced at nearly £16.  She ordered the “petite” portion with salad, fries and garden peas.  I went for regular with mushy peas (presumably a nod towards British culture, and certainly not what they would sell in the States), coleslaw and more fries (being a poor imitation of proper British chips.)  All very pat and commoditised, but several things were readily apparent when the food arrived:

First, the menu says it is serviced with “fresh baked bread & butter”; yes indeed, one roll to be precise.  Is this an economy measure because couples can’t get through two rolls?  At any rate, I’d sooner they have served a few slices of really good quality fresh-made crusty bread than a part-baked roll shoved in the oven for 5 minutes, but maybe that’s what the public want?

Second, very noticeably my whole rack of ribs arrived as two tiny specimens, where my companion’s “three quarter rack” contained at least as much if not more meat.  In short, this seemed like inverse portion control, whereby the cheaper dish is supplied with the greater quantity?  Certainly many Americans I know would have sent back my plate as being derisory since it far from filled a moderately sized plate, yet almost no American chain seems to serve to we Brits what they serve to their own domestic audience.  Why?  Makes no sense to me, other than that we don’t demand doggy bags and they do want to sell us desserts.  Trust me, it was barely half the size of the impressive pics Damons publish on their website.

Third, the meat was indeed tender but also very dry.  No warm BBQ sauce was provided to partner the ribs, and my companion noted that they were not as “sticky and gooey” as usual.  Not very impressive for a place that specialises in ribs, and certainly well below the standard I would serve when cooking BBQ ribs – certainly deserving of no award greater than the wooden spoon.  The chips were so-so, the coleslaw very ordinary, the salad undressed and the overall impression that in food terms Damons was very, very average indeed, and not the quality or quantity to justify the prices charged.

I passed on dessert, but my companion’s “strawberry and rhubarb cheesecake with cream and ice cream” underwhelmed too.  No tart taste of rhubarb, very sickly and over sweetened, piles of squirty cream from a can.  This was the worst of the 70s back from the dead.  Perhaps they should have called it “dawn of the dead”?

Service on the other hand was reasonable, and improved as various parties went on their merry way, though as always no waitresses were to be seen when we wanted to pay – a phenomenon I’ve observed in many a restaurant of all classes.

So let’s return to the key claims made by the company:

  • Fresh products: being commoditised products these are never going to be the best of local produce fresh out of the ground, so it depends on your definition of fresh.  This is industry-fresh, not freshest-of-fresh. It is warmed through in the kitchen, not created from raw materials and cooked to order.
  • Generous portions: fail big time!
  • Relaxed atmosphere, comfortable restaurant: I can’t recall going to a restaurant with a less relaxed or comfortable atmosphere.
  • Fine dining experience:  this is clearly a joke, since Damons is to “fine dining” what the UK is to Antarctica – very far removed.  This kind of stupid and dumb claim should be monitored under the Trades Descriptions Act.

I really can’t think of anything good to say about Damons so maybe I should stop there, other than to leave you with the one thought that if you go out to dine with the hope of finding a good standard of food, look elsewhere.  If on the other hand you go to be overcharged and overcrowded while enjoying the sight of glossy black walls, kitsch Hollywood photos and hearing drunken parties intone “Happy Birthday” while shouting to make yourself heard, this is the place for you.

Personally, I won’t be returning – and neither will my companion, so she says.  Why?  Because for the money there is far better food and much more pleasant environments in which to eat, and there is no pride in the food or service – it is a cattle market for extracting money from customers, no more and no less.  Not that anything will change because I say so.

PS. The response from Damons to this review was along the lines that “nobody has ever said that before.”  To me this is the most disingenuous denial of criticism, that because nobody else has said it so it can’t possibly be true, and indeed that none of the things mentioned had ever occurred to the management so they will simply ignore the comments rather than taking them seriously.  Restaurants ignoring constructive criticism may often come to regret that lack of vision and humility.

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