Picture the scene: it’s Friday night, my plans for vintage champagne tasting have been unexpectedly cancelled (I know – woe is me), I have no restaurant reservation… I ask the Honey Badger what he wants for dinner. “How about Mexican?” asks the semi-Texan, optimistically. I mentally run through the options; none are particularly appealing. I hop onto Iens.nl and search for Mexican. And there, right at the top of the list with an average score of 8.1, is Tio Pepe. Alarm bells should be ringing when I look at the address – it’s at the top of the Spuistraat, near Central Station and slap bang in the middle of tourist ville. But we’re tired, hungry, reservation-less people by this point, and we crash on with our sorry plan regardless…
We’re also thirsty people with a mild drinking problem, so we pounce on a couple of margaritas as soon as we walk through the door. It’s rare that I have to force down alcohol, but this was one of those occasions: it wasn’t that the tequila was bad – frankly I wouldn’t know the difference. It was that the drinks were drowning in so much lime cordial and salt that my tongue couldn’t decide whether its sweet or salt receptors were in more shock. In any case, my sour receptor – the one that was crying out for real lime juice – wasn’t getting tickled at all.
“Do you think they do chips and salsa?” the Honey Badger continued, still optimistically. They did, but we had to pay for them. In fact, what they did were tortilla chips that looked like they’d come from the supermarket and tasted like they’d been fried in oil that was a year old. The salsa itself wasn’t too bad, but the guacamole had been served from a piping bag, like pommes duchesse.
We soldiered on to the mains. The Honey Badger opted for tacos, thinking they’d be cheap and cheerful. The cheapest cost €14 and came stuffed with minced beef so dry it fell out of his mouth, let alone out of the taco shell. He wasn’t too cheerful. My burrito was supposed to be filled with chicken and shrimps. Well, I guess it was filled with chicken and shrimps, but we discovered that if you mix very dry chicken with very cheap shrimps, it tastes kind of like canned tuna. So I basically had a tuna burrito with some beans and rice that had less taste than the interior décor of an Eastenders set. I braved as much as I could to stop my tummy rumbling and then admitted defeat. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fail to finish your dinner,” mourned the Honey Badger. “It’s a sad, sad day…”
It was time to get out of there. But not before the server had pushed a glass of the house liqueur on us* – presumably to sweeten the taste of paying €60 for a meal I wouldn’t fatten a pig with. “Do you think she just gave us NyQuil?” asked the Honey Badger as we walked out, the sweet, medicinal liquor coating our throats. One can only assume, by this point, he was desperate for something to put him to sleep.
Meanwhile, back at the house with a conciliatory G&T, I opened my computer to find Tio Pepe’s Iens page still open. I scanned quickly through the reviews and realised our mistake: steve123, barbi34, jako71, laura80 – all popped up on the first page giving the restaurant 10 out of 10 in every category. The stats had been rigged. And I – of all people – should have spotted it. There’s a silver lining in all of this, though: publicly generated review sites like Iens are easy to skew; independent review sites like Amsterdam Foodie are not. Just sayin’.
*In their defence, the servers were so nice I didn’t have the heart to tell them the food sucked.