There are some places in the world where one can almost wander blindly into a restaurant and be very pleased with the fare. I have been to several restaurants in Neuchatel at one time or another, and the food has ranged from good to outstanding. So I was quite hopeful when a few friends recommended the Le Cardinal as one of the better establishments in town. As far as the quality of the food went, we were not disappointed.
We were part of a large group, and pretty much everyone commented with great approval on their respective meals. The grilled char was excellent, the entrecote was very good and the pan seared foie gras was even better. One of our number had the carrot soup, which apparently not only tasted outstanding, but came with a wonderfully unique presentation: it was served in a round, glass bowl that resembled a large brandy glass without the stem, and through the glass, we could see a lovely layer of froth on top.
Yes, the food was good, but in a town where there are many good restaurants, I am not sure that I would go back to an establishment with such astonishingly poor service. To start with, all the waiters seemed to have a real flair for turning away any table where they might be signalled by the patrons. I thought it was just our group, but noticed throughout the meal that a few other tables were having similar problems in attracting their server's attention. Had the servers been doing their jobs properly in the first place, such wonton signaling would have been unnecessary. To summarize: we were all seated for about 20 minutes before we managed to get the waiter's attention and ask for water and menus; we were seated at the table for more than 45 minutes before we got the waiter over to take drinks and food orders (and one would think that such a large group might like more than two bottles of water between them); some of the orders were mixed up, and my wife never did get what she asked for despite repeated attempts to explain it to the waiter; when the time came to pay the bill, we got tired of waiting and I went in search of the waiter. All told, dinner took around three and a half hours, which would have been fine if we had been eating and drinking for most of that time. As it was, each person only had an entree; nobody was willing to wait for dessert. Most of the people in our group spoke French, so it was not a matter of miscommunication, either.
It is a pity about the service, given that the food was so good, and not a bad value. Switzerland is expensive, and the prices were quite in line with other restaurants in town. Would I go back to Le Cardinal? I doubt it: there are other fine restaurants in Neuchatel where the staff behave as though they are happy to see you.
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