Lisa, surely the friendliest waitress in town, is gesturing towards the little drawstring pouch on each place setting. “You can use it afterwards to put your earrings in,” she beams.
The dinky pochette contains a £5 gambling chip, which comes with the Dine In Style deal on offer in the plush new restaurant at Napoleon’s Casino, Owlerton.
To us, the token is nothing more than a bit of garnish. We’re here to sample the food and the ambiance now the 20-year-old venue has undergone a £2 million refurbishment and extension. There’s a new restaurant, bar and lounge area and the first outdoor gaming terrace outside of London - designed so folk can play as they smoke.
To Lisa and her staff, though, the token is seen as a highlight of our evening. We must have been asked half a dozen times if we were ready for our free lesson with one of the croupiers.
It’s probably about profit margins, too. Dinner is such good value, it can’t make much. Midweek, £22 gets you a three-course meal, a welcome drink, and that £5 chip (at weekends it’s £3 more). If you have a little flutter on the tables, odds are the casino makes a bit more. Though gambling is certainly not compulsory; you can pay for dinner only.
The revamp oozes cruise ship glamour - rich burgundy tones with glinting handrails guiding you up and down little staircases. Warily, I tried the Asian-Yorkshire fusion starter, wontons filled with black pudding. But it worked. Chef had been sparing with the pudding, the casings were crisp and a sweet but still sharp apple and sultana compote gave balance. Colleague Sarah enjoyed her nicely-presented pulled aromatic lamb with hoisin, pancakes, spring onion and cucumber, a good take on the Chinese duck classic.
Before mains, Lisa pops back for a natter. We discover she’s worked for owners the A&S Group for over 30 years but doesn’t gamble herself and is on first-name terms with the regulars. What an asset she is to the company.
Sarah’s pork cutlet is tender and succulent, but butter in the creamy leek mash, the velouté sauce AND the sides of veg and Dauphinoise potatoes means she’s all buttered up. My lamb shank, slow-braised to tenderness, fell nicely into an Italian-style red wine reduction laden with butter beans.
Sadly, puddings were a let-down. Apple and plum crumble? We could have sued under Trade Descriptions. It was a fruit swamp. The topping had sunk without trace. The pastry on the lime and lemon tartlet was something very new to me; it was bendy.
Food isn’t haute cuisine, but on the whole, it’s well-cooked. It’s as you’d get at a meal in with friends. And thanks to our lovely waitress, it felt like we were.
By the way, guess how long it took us to squander our chips on the Black Jack table? About 30 seconds!