Prosecco in the waiting lounge

The Red Lion, Gatwick Airport North Terminal

Saturday 9 May 2015

Arriving at Gatwick North Terminal, en route to a Mallorcan family beach holiday, my sunny spirits are immediately threatened by the utter absence of even a glimmer of the glamour of air travel.

IMG_4077Leaving super-early to avoid an EDL march in Walthamstow that day, I stumbled from the train into a crowd of stressed, red-faced folk in tracksuits, parents dragging screeching children on Trunkis, the airport-style melange of delays and rush.

Our delay on a flight to Vienna, almost exactly a year ago, spawned the first “Spoons airside’ experience in the South Terminal. Now, prudently 2.5hrs early for my flight to Palma, it seemed fitting to pass the time in the Red Lion, the Spoons of the North Terminal.

This Spoons is proudly on the concourse, spilling across a quarter of it. Its glittering lights dazzle the Harrods concession, the World Duty Free and the Dixons into meek submission. Half the airport is already in here.

The appeal of an airside Spoons is easy to see.

Prices.

Normally, a couple of Russian business folk quaff Champers and slurp up oysters in the middle of the concourse, next to the spinning car no one seems to win. Everyone else sits miserably on the free seating with a Burger King, or blows half their holiday money on the ‘world food’ cafeteria, or joins an unfathomably unmoving queue in a Nero, throwing a tenner at a hapless ‘barista’ who, hours later, hands over a murky, lukewarm liquid and a flaky pastry in return.

However, Gatwick North has other treasures: a Jamie Oliver franchise – a coffee truck, a cafe and a restaurant and bar. These are all empty. I try my luck in the Spoons, along with everyone else. I spot the problem: the Spoons linger factor. Worsened by the airport factor – everyone’s too early for their flight.

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Huge groups squat determinedly around tiny tables, barricaded by carry-on cases. Empty plates and glasses are stacked high. No one’s budging. The atmosphere is loud and brash, women in hen party sashes and beer swilling all-male groups. Everyone’s guffawing…”And, then, yeah, I was like, oh my God ” anecdotes bombard me. Amongst the revelry silent pairs of bronzed, middle-aged couples chew on Peri Peri Chicken Wraps and sip warm white wine, staring at the jovial groups.

I do a circuit, squeezing through my fellow sun-bound travellers, and having established no standing room at the bar, re-route to Jamie’s cafe. Yet minutes later, now with a skinny flat white and a granola, pear and walnut gluten free loaf, I spot an exodus from Spoons as a bunch of low-cost flights to Spain are called. I’m in.

Perched on a stool at a table a few moments later, I note the inflated airport prices on the all-too familiar Spoons menu. Ordering a glass of Prosecco reveals another big difference – the incompetence of the bar staff. These local teenagers are harried, perplexed, and probably on a weekly Saturday shift. They can’t keep up with demand, and are clearly unfamiliar with the vast Spoons menu.

My Prosecco order befuddles them. “Is that a bottle?” No, just a glass. (Sometimes it comes in mini bottles – I add, hopefully.) “Will it be under red or white wine?” I’m too taken aback to respond. A small huddle forms. Eventually it’s rung through, and £3.60 changes hands. I’m intrigued, normally it’s £3.99. “My colleague will bring it to you” – a vague gesture from my server. I spot a sporty looking young man rooting around in a fridge for several minutes. He eventually extracts a full bottle of the stuff, and sets about opening it. Yes, he’s trying to use a bottle opener. Someone else advises on cork extraction. Finally, pop! that wonderful sound, and my drink is foaming in its glass…and the glass is definitely half full. It’s not even clear how it was measured. Poor value. I think fondly of the Southgate New Crown. (They do the mini bottles for 3.99).

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My Prosecco attracts a good few stares. My fellow punters are now a little more of a mix – there’s more single occupants at tables, reading. Business travellers, arty types, a mother and daughter. A pair of tattooed Italians are earnestly poring over the menu. I leave it well alone – I know with rare certainty that I don’t want a pre-flight meal from Spoons – and nor do I want to linger. I gulp my thimble of Prosecco in 3 swallows and hotfoot it back to my empty table in Jamie’s cafe for a lentil salad.

The Red Lion feels firmly like an airport lounge, not a pub. It lacks the Wetherspoons history of a wonderful old building. It’s annoyingly crowded. And, everything costs more than it should. One for the fly-past.

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