My partner placed a review on my behalf, though with after thought, I feel a terrible rating should provide more detail for a balanced review: for a concise review please read Atkinson123.
It was through reading the Sunday Times 'Cheap(ish) Eats' guide for the UK that I came to hear of the recommendation for Atomic Burger Bar. I naturally assumed that the restaurants recommended would be of a fairly high quality if they were to be published in a national paper. It brings great regret to be writing this review.
My partner and I had been intending to visit Oxford for a while and to see this Burger Bar felt like a worthy oppourtunity to make the visit. Travelling from the Midlands, it would not be a short trek, hence I phoned ahead to see if I should make a reservation. Being a Saturday I understood it could potentially be very busy, coupled with the papers recommendation. The gentleman on the phone was very friendly and strongly recommended a reservation, I mentioned we were travelling from the Midlands which could mean our travel may take some time. He explained our booking would entitle us to a 2 hour window, plenty of time. We made a booking for 4 o'clock.
Parking in Oxford is terrible, and highly overpriced! £9 for 3 hours. Obviously not Atomic Burger Bar's fault and this does not affect my review, but for those travelling please be aware! I believe there is a park and ride slightly out of town which may have proven more effcient, though we were stuck for time as we reached Oxford at 3:30.
When we finally found a parking space (3:55 pm), we were over a mile from the restaurant. I phoned ahead to inform them we could be several minutes late, to which the gentleman replied it was no problem.
After a brisk march over we managed to reach the restaurant at about 4:10, we were greeted by the waitress who took us to our table....at this point it goes downhill. She was at haste to inform us our table would need to be vacated within a slot of 70 minutes. We were informed 2 hours on the phone, so 70 minutes add 10 minutes for being late, meant our window was infact 80 minutes. If we minus 80 minutes from 120 minutes leaves 40 minutes missing from our 2 hour slot. No one likes to be rushed when going to a restaurant, this instantly made us feel unwelcome. I understand it was a Saturday and it could be busy, I used to waiter myself several years back and know first hand about weekend service, but you persevere with a (fake) smile - something which the waitresses did not do, one of which made it clear she would rather be elsewhere.
We appeared to have two waitresses, one after the other asking if we wanted drinks, there is no problem with that but it led me to assume there was no format to how tables were allotted to staff. Possibly the reason why their service suffers. For the small number of tables in the restaurant, seating around 30-40 covers, the 4 serving staff present should easily be able to manage. If they organised themselves they could manage stress free. In reality, the time was a little after 4 and the restaurant was a little under half full until around the time we left when it had beuan to fill up, they SHOULD have managed easily.
We were handed themed menus (one clean fairly fresh print and one which had seen better days, sticky to the touch) in accordance with the decor, which could be described as kitsch, as if someone had gone through a toybox and assorted random crap from the 80's all over the walls and ceiling. I can see how this would appeal to some, as it did create a nostalgic experience, but being an artist by trade, in my eyes it just didn't balance and came across as tacky, lacking thought.
As mentioned the menu was sticky, the whole place felt grubby and this was cemented when my partner was observing the waitress wiping down the table, to which she said she was performing a half-hearted attempt at cleanliness. You instantly become aware of the table you have your hands rested upon, is also sticky.
We managed to get our food and drink order fairly promptly, my partner ordered a coke and Dead Elvis burger and a Chuck Norris (Pulled pork, salad, beef burger, with a side of fries) with Samuel Adams beer (good choice) for myself. My burger was around £9.50, beer £3.50. The food arrived within a reasonable time limit and was hot. The unhappy waitress just plonked it on the table, with the same lack of enthusiasm we should now be accustomed to as when we arrived. There was no offer of cutlery, my partner noticed there was some on the other table in a pot so we helped ourselves, no pot on our table mind, just to rub it in the table next to me received cutlery. Albeit, they were served by the other waitress. Some people like to drink from glasses and again there was no offer of a glass with drinks, picky but it is always nice to be offered.
I did enjoy my burger, plenty of meat and it did taste ok. It was of an adequate size and came with fries (as chosen from a list of sides), which were ok but I suspect they were pretty cheap. The presentation was lacking but there is little one can do with a burger and fries. I'm 6'1" and 13.5 stone and was happy to say it did fill me up, along with 2 beers and a milkshake.
The positive outcome of the food for me was quickly dashed when I asked for my second beer, the waitress was not aware of her surroundings and seemed disinterested in looking for tables which may require service, apparently unable to hear my request for another drink.
When I finally managed to flag the more welcoming waitress of the two, she said no problem. A few minutes went by and the last I saw of her was her jacket on, carrying her hand bag and walking out of the door, obviously looking forward to going home at the end of a shift...... to my frustration the drinks were actually stacked in the restaurant, I could see the drink I wanted.... so close, but so out of reach.
For desert we managed to get a peanut butter and chocolate milkshake hassle free, my parter felt unsatisfied with the size of the shake though I felt it tasted nice. It was served in a plastic glass which looked used, cracked and faded. Again, a picky detail but a small addition to presentation such as using glass sundae glasses will make it look infinitely better.
As I put the straw to my mouth we were delivered the bill by the unhappy waitress, who plonked it down without looking in her usual style. Now, I did not ask for the bill, but that is not what bothered me about this full stop to the experience as we were on the 1 hour 10 minutes limit mentioned at the start of the service, so fair play. But it was when a new waitress came over with the card machine to take my money when I had got halfway through my shake.
She explained they needed to put our table onto the ever increasing size of the table next to us. There were around 6 people sat there currently, with two empty spaces awaiting other members of the party. This is all fair enough, but I noticed there was a vacant table on the other side of the room which was a two seater. Bad planning on their part had led them to villify us, they had obviously double booked. They had been trying to speed us along throughout the meal, possibly the unhappy waitress was annoyed we were 10 minutes late? Unreasonable, since I did everything correct to keep them in the loop.
I didn't kick up a fuss, I smiled throughout the entire service, said my please's and thankyou's, hoping that things would improve, giving them every chance to improve! I know that dealing with miserable customers is a burden, I have been there myself and as a result I will actively ensure I am not one of those people. In retrospect I feel as if we have been treated unfairly, we were polite, helpful by informing them of our situation and understanding.
I am glad that others have had a more pleasurable experience, as a result of their positive reviews I was really looking forward to this trip. It disappoints me to say this trip would have been more pleasurable if we had swung by McDonalds, then we could have had ample time for a nice walk around the town centre which I must say looks lovely this time of year.
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