The luxury lifestyle isn’t just about flying in first-class cabins (but it certainly helps) – it is also about eating luxury once you reach your destination. Nashville has an abundance of high-end restaurants, but The Catbird Seat just about takes the biscuit when it comes to hype and the price tag. So much so, you need to book pretty much 30 days out in advance on their website to stand a chance of eating there. But at around £250 per person after taxes and service, is it worth it?
What: The Catbird Seat full tasting menu and drinks pairing.
When: Aug 2019
Where: Nashville, Tennesse, United States.
Cost: $135 for the tasting menu, which seems kind of ok-reasonable-ish. After service @ 20% and tax @ 9.25%, it comes to $175. This must be paid in advance when booking and is non-refundable. The drinks pairing is then added on the day if you wish @ $95 ($124 after service and tax). So basically if you want the full whack experience, your $135 turns into a whopping $300. If you are feeling really, really flush you can add on the special supplementary dish (so a couple of spoonfuls) for an extra $50 ($65 with tax). That was a step too far for me.
I have to add first that I was attending the Catbird Seat not feeling at all 100% and that could well have skewed my evening. If I had not missed out on my non-refundable $177 then I would have cancelled (I actually did try calling on the day 3 times to say I was unwell, but no one answered, so I just had to suck it up and go!).
I arrived about 15 minutes early for my meal and was invited to have a drink at the bar upstairs, Patterson House, which, by the way, was EXCELLENT and where I also spent the remainder of my evening after the meal. When the Catbird is ready for you, you are collected from the bar and allowed into the discrete building.
I didn’t take photos of the entrance experience, as if you are going to go, it is worth the surprise. But expect over the top lighting and atmosphere in what is essentially a hallway with a lift.
Exiting the lift, you are shown to your seat, the Catbird Seat, which means ‘an enviable position’. It is certainly a great spot to have a tasting menu. You are sat with all other diners in a U-shape around the kitchen full of chefs and watch every dish being built before you. I use the term ‘built’ because to me it seemed a lot more like assembling pre-prepared components than actual cooking. Although there was a little bit, like putting meat in the oven. But don’t expect any fire or theatrics.
I was asked by my server if I’d like to add on the wine/drinks pairing for $95 plus service and tax. I agreed, thinking it meant 12 little drinkies to go with my 12 dishes. In reality, you are paying $124 for a very small (but tasty) cocktail and four or five TINY glasses of wine.
The drinks were good, but only one of the wines was truly memorable (Bodega La Araucaria Rosado, retailing at about £18 a bottle). The real issue I had with the pairing is that they were not pairings. There wasn’t a drink for each dish, and the serving of the wines was not in sync with the food. I noticed the couple next to me (who were about three dishes behind me) got a wine with a course that I was never given. I told the server that she had skipped one of my wines. The solution was to give me two at once. I understand we are all human and mistakes happen, but for a restaurant charging these kinds of prices it is just not acceptable. A better solution would have been to add on the $50 dessert for free, but obviously that would reduce profit!
I just found the general service not what you would expect at a fine dining restaurant. I asked another server what one of the dishes was, because I didn’t quite catch what the chef said and I wanted to know what I was eating. She replied saying she had no idea, that the restaurant change dishes on a daily basis and she couldn’t keep up with what they are serving.
The food itself was, in the most part, undeniably very very good, with a freshness it taste that I had not experienced before. Stand out dishes were “peas, wintergreen, sea grapes, unripe melon juice” and the “grilled marlin belly”. The dessert “frozen marzipan and sake” was probably one of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life. But there were also some flops. One dish was a big piece of rolled-up goats butter with strawberry and herring roe. It just tasted like eating a massive piece of butter. Another dish, “royal red prawn with frozen pepper jelly” was served as a bunch of goop in a cup. The pepper was overpowering and it kind of tasted like eating fishy pesto.
There were other good points. The way the food was served was inventive, for example serving fatty tuna with a whisky to coat your hands with, so you get a taste as you eat. Note this is the only dish I didn’t photograph, as my hands were covered in whisky before I got chance! I also really, really enjoyed the setting. As a solo diner, it felt nice to be part of something. I could chat a little with the couples either side of me, and also with the chef herself. I got tips on where else to go in Nashville and the whole atmosphere felt relaxed and friendly. The restroom was also an experience/surprise in itself, which I don’t think I will ever see anywhere else.
Another benefit of going solo, I got to keep to myself the couple of dishes that other couples were having to share! Great for me, but if I was spending $300 and I was then given a tiny dish that I had to SHARE, I’d be really not impressed.
The Catbird Seat was truly a unique eating experience, with high-character dishes, a wonderful seating layout and relaxed atmosphere. But if you are going to charge $300 for a meal, everything needs to be perfect. And it just wasn’t. I think if the Catbird trained its servers more, made a real effort to put mistakes right and was just generally more consistent, then maybe I wouldn’t have left feeling out of pocket (and a little bit hungry still).