Published: 06:00, 17 June 2021
| Updated: 20:26, 18 June 2021
"Avoid at all costs," "You have been warned," and, hauntingly, "Cold saveloy."
I went in search of the worst rated takeaway in Maidstone and was shocked to find my favourite kebab house.
I wondered if this was how people felt when they learn their partners have second families, or what it's like for Scooby Doo's Mystery Inc when they unmask the spooky monster only to be confronted by someone they trusted.
I was upset, angry and in the throes of an identity crisis. I'm not claiming to be Jay Rayner but I have at least above average taste.
Now people on Tripadvisor were telling me the food I'd been enjoying, that I'd even introduced some of my friends to, was "vile and disgusting" and "terrible".
It's has counted me as a customer for years.
Their doner pizza is my guilty pleasure but they also do excellent fish and chips and, I'm told, a highly-regarded salad and pitta.
But here were hotstuffdave, Debbie W and Large009 slagging it off on the internet unchallenged.
It was now a two-star takeaway, ranked 136 on a list of 136 reviewed in the town.
Worryingly, some of the most negative feedback was from regulars who had been let down by poor customer service.
One man had eaten there several times but all that ended when he was confronted with two "stone cold saveloys" and was apparently told by the owner to "warm them up in the microwave".
When he refused and returned the sausages the owner threw them in his own microwave for a 30-second spin, he alleged.
The saveloy saga seemed reflective of a wider issue – admittedly, I was once told off over the phone after complaining that my food was late.
But the angry woman at the other end of the line added to the charm of the place and besides some people pay good money to be spoken to like that – or so I am told.
But overall I felt sorry for the staff, they were pleasant, one man called me "boss" which made me feel important, and the food had always impressed me.
Given this is a review I understand that people can only judge on what they find but I wondered if there was a deeper issue with Tripadvisor – were anonymous and often outdated ratings ruining good businesses?
In a rare moment of charity I decided to visit another lowly-rated eatery to see if it was really as bad as people like hotstuffdave were claiming.
That's how I found myself in Chiappini's Coffee Shop in Maidstone's The Mall.
Readers of a certain vintage may know the shopping centre as The Chequers or even The Stoneborough Centre.
I'm lucky enough to get to visit this town centre retail mecca and its ever-changing shops – of which 17 are currently empty units – fairly regularly, but one constant has been the presence of this cafe.
It's been there for as long as I can remember, existing in a sort of time warp within the complex.
Chiappini's – proudly feeding the ravenous since 1978 – appears to have dodged surrounding refurbishment, it's shiny façade and retro tiles untouched yet somehow ageless, like a sitcom set.
By the looks of it many of the regulars might well remember the signs first going up.
But the Trippers weren't sentimental, they'd given it 2.5 stars, making it the worst in town in the category of 'British' food, even though the name sounded Italian.
They said it was "awful," and there was an "obnoxious man behind [the] coffee machine." One review was simply headlined "Oh dear."
I could look forward to the "worst breakfast" Sue H had "ever had!!!", with "grease-filled mushrooms", "anaemic bacon" and "barely-cooked egg". Yum!
To build up an appetite I'd taken a trip to the gym where loud trance music had been blasted at me. I'd emerged blinking into the scorching sunshine and ducked into the shopping centre cafe like a raver in search of sustenance.
The set up wasn't what I was expecting, requiring you to push your tray along the special track like you would in a P&O ferry restaurant.
There was an annoying hand sanitiser station, which squirted virus-busting solution 200 metres with the lightest touch.
I was visibly disorientated, prompting the kind lady behind the tray track to ask if I "needed help" Probably, but not in the way she meant it.
It seemed only right to replicate Sue H's order, but it was unfair to ask for the mushrooms and beans as I despise both.
The Trippers had told me to watch out for the "substandard coffee", which was possibly "pre-warmed".
Pondering what "post-warmed" would look like and in desperate need to meet my appallingly high black coffee quota I ordered an Americano; in my view one of only two beverages a cafe needs to stock.
As I paid, the reward card for my favourite greasy spoon slipped from my wallet, exposing me as a fried breakfast cheat. I felt dirty and the kind lady seemed hurt, maybe she thought I was a spy?
I liberated my 'large' coffee from the clutches of an OAP who'd tried to steal it and shuffled to the far side of the sprawling cafe where I plonked myself down on a cushioned bench and took in my surroundings.
There was an ornamental fountain, a friendly mix of elderly customers and a big sign telling me they stocked wine and lager, just in case you're making a day of it.
For some reason the decor and inviting breeze made me feel like I was on holiday.
Without thinking, I had taken a swig of the coffee – which to my mind was not big enough to be classed as large – and was not immediately disappointed.
"Substandard" and "pre-warmed" seemed harsh, I've certainly had better and in fairness the more I drank the sharper it tasted but the £2.80 price tag was the main sticking point.
The Trippers had moaned about the cost and while £4.95 for a full English had seemed good to me, the coffee did seem to push it towards the dearer end of the spectrum.
After a short wait a man delivered my breakfast – extra tomato, sausage, bacon, hash brown and two fried eggs.
I broke through the hash brown's warm crispy shell and was pleasantly surprised. It was well cooked on the outside, fluffy on the inside and was pleasant on the palate.
It was also the best thing on the plate.
The bacon, to me, was undercooked - it was floppy, slightly too pink and tasted a bit too gammon-esque.
The sausage, like the tray track, was reminiscent of a P&O breakfast, not terrible but rather small and uninspiring.
Likewise the tomatoes, of which I had been given extra, were distinctly average.
With the eggs I struggled. The white was watery and the yolk was cooked. It seemed the wrong way round.
Granted, I finished my plate without too many problems and it had not been the "worst fry up ever" by any stretch.
While it would also struggle to reach the top half of the table it seemed I had found another example of the Trippers unfairly slamming a venue.
I had felt cheated when they'd done a demolition job on my favourite kebab house but sneaking off to Chiappini's, when I already had a favourite fry up spot, made me the unfaithful one.
In life you should stay true to one greasy spoon. Moonlight is mine and it was carrying on its business just a five-minute stroll away completely oblivious to what I was doing.
My advice? If you're lucky enough to have a faithful cafe don't stray.
Sure, Chiappini's was no where near as bad as the Trippers had made out but it was also no where near as good as I was used to.
But that doesn't matter, this is a locals cafe for a very particular crowd and they've been coming for years.
"See you at 9 tomorrow!" yelled the kind lady to a departing elderly couple, "9 in the evening?!" came the old man's response, "Then as well if you like!" she chirped.
Ratings out of five
Food: The Tripadvisor reviews filled me with dread unnecessarily but still below par **1/2
Decor: It was a delightful time capsule but remained clean and fresh ***
Staff: They didn't given me much time to peruse the menu but the lady was patient ****
Price: Not appalling but also perhaps £1.50 too much ***