Monday, 30 April 2012

Micro-Leaves and Smears

ENOUGH of these superfluous garnishes. They are not a mark of culinary talent, they are there merely to dress a dish up. “No!” you may cry. “It is just as important for food to look good.” yes, it is. But everything on the plate should add something other than aesthetics to a dish. otherwise, you will be severely disappointed when eating a tasteless but pretty piece of green stuff. Look at this collection from The Times Magazine this weekend.

THE MICRO LEAVES. Typically Noma-esque, from Baby Richard to mini cress on an otherwise beautifully cooked rack of lamb. They take away the ‘wow’ factor on an excellent dish because the chef feels he or she should make it look ‘wispy’ and fashionable. Crap! And don’t get me started on chervil, the garnish on EVERYTHING in the 80s. It’s all peluche – fluff. 

THE FLOWERS. They don’t taste like anything so why are they on there? “But they’re so beautiful!”. They look poncy, they have no taste. Garnishes like this make it clear that the chef is trying to gain a Michelin star, and it is such a transparent ploy – a Michelin starred chef does not need this. Look at one of my favourite examples, Alice Waters, who has managed for 20 years to refrain from adding any unnecessary garnishes to her plates. Her dishes speak for themselves.

 SMEARS. Seemingly an attempt to be ‘arty’ and ‘casual-but-not-really’, it just looks like a skid mark in the toilet bowl, if we’re being brutally honest. Can’t it just be drizzled or arranged, you know, nicely? Instead, it looks as if a toddler has got in a strop with his mashed potato and dragged a spoon through it. And now it’s such a cliché. I’m sure I’ve been in a greasy spoon where the ketchup has been ‘expertly’ arranged in a chef’s smear. Pretentious much? Chefs seem to feel like they are some kind of abstract expressionist. If I see one more clip on Masterchef of the ‘swipe… 

It boils down to this: If it adds something to the dish, be it texture, taste or another element, it’s ok, but a lot of the time, chefs are merely adding to make it look how they think it should look. BORED.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Ways to Convince People you are a Foodie

  • Insist everyone orders different dishes. They must understand that everyone must try EVERYONE’S. even if they don’t want to.
  • Take AT LEAST one photo of every dish with your noisy camera and flash, despite protestations of embarrassed friends.
  • Namecheck the owner / head chef a minimum of 3 times, just so your dining companions are aware of your knowledge. If possible, make up an improbable (but un-checkable) story about an encounter you once had with said chef. Thanks @johnny_mary.
  • Your companions MUST try the salt beef sandwich, or the slider, or the lemon pie. You read about it on like, four blogs and twitter.
  • Devour each mouthful with a grimace, and occasionally, make thoughtful ‘hmm’ sounds, and exclaim ‘not bad’. But not too much, you don’t want someone else to steal your opinions for their food blog. They might even tweet it at the table.
  • Refer to all critics, chefs and influential foodies by first name. Upon being questioned the identity of your ‘mates’ Giles, Russell and Marina by people who don’t know the London food scene intimately, you snort with incredulity and splutter ‘Hello?’.
  • Read the River Café cookbook on the tube, in Starbucks (even though according to Twitter, you are hanging out at Fernandez and Wells or the latest artisan café) and at every opportunity, making sure, of course, that the cover is never obscured. You don’t even really cook that much but it’s just soo inspiring.
  • When faced with, god forbid, dining at a chain restaurant, you sigh and make uncomfortable noises, reeling off a string of ten other restaurants you could have gone to in the area, before and asking the waiter ‘what is safe’ to order, picking at your meal with distain and drinking heavily.
  • It is imperative to be FIRST. “Oh, you weren’t there for the soft opening? Such a shame, it went downhill after that. The concept got way too diluted.”
  • Namedropping famous people who have been there (they don’t have to know it wasn’t at the same time) is also good for bonus points.
  • You are not sure why you like a dish, but everyone else likes it so you’ll just keep on eating it – if everyone else likes it, it must be good. Thanks @jameslewisland.
  • Sneer at people who shop at supermarkets – because everyone has the time, money and snobbery to shop at the local fishmongers, farmers’ markets et al. Thanks @gi_nav
  •  Pronounce it 'hhhhhoreeetho' 'pie-YEY-a' and 'brooos-KETTA'. Thanks @emmizzykay
  • Oh right, you paid? We were invited.' Tell everyone you didn't pay for the meal, even if you did.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Service Charge at the Bar?!

I have no real problem with tipping in restaurants, even if I do sometimes question this outdated dubious tax-avoiding practice. It is just something we have grown to accept and work into the cost of eating out.

Automatic service charges have become the norm now, which in my opinion defeats the object, removing any incentive from the server to work any harder.
If I tip someone I would like it to be because I want to, not because it is expected. Also, with the question of when is charging service okay, where do we draw the line?

My friend recently went to The Prince Albert Pub, Albert Bridge Road in Battersea, which is owned by Geronimo. He ordered three pints and asked about crisps at the bar. There were none, so upon being made aware of the bar snack menu, he ordered 3 oysters.

He stood at the bar and enjoyed the oysters.
When the bill arrived, however, there was a service charge on the entire bill (about 10-15%, he said). Along with the £12-worth of beer, it was about £2, nearly half the price of the £4.50 worth of oysters.

Automatic service charge for standing at a bar? Come on, that’s a bit much. It’s not something you expect to be confronted with for a bar snack and a few pints.

How very petty, and the perfect way in which to piss off your customers for the sake of two quid. It certainly puts me off visiting a Geronimo pub again, who seem to have secretly taken over all of the pubs in South West London.

Do you think it’s ok to charge service for what you have ordered and eaten/drank at the bar in an ordinary pub?

Let alone service, I remember when I was younger you would find hot roast potatoes served free on the bar!

How sad that Geronimo seem to be doing their best to iron out what decent practice was left in British pubs.

The Prince Albert

UPDATE // Geronimo Pubs have since emailed and apologised, stating that there is an optional service charge for tables only. And my mate's next round is on them.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Little bit of Old-Fashioned Ego Massage

So, there was me thinking we now live in a world of understated discretion. With the so-called recession, social-climbing, attention-seeking, name-dropping went out in the noughties, right?

It seems it is not the case.

Eating in Quo Vadis last night (which was brilliant by the way) with some friends in a somewhat half-full room, I couldn't help but overhear a large group near me introducing themselves to the restaurant manager, and explaining they were from (I presume, based on the "oh, got the night off?" reply) another restaurant.

I couldn't really think what the point of this was, were they expecting some kind of special service? Maybe they were friends of the chef. But if this were the case, why the need to tell the restaurant manager?

Ah - it was soon made clear, when the chef, Mr Jeremy Lee, came bounding in and welcomed them all to the restaurant. Obviously they were at least acquaintances.

Now, my eyes began to roll when I thought about this.

I know a lot of chefs, some quite successful, and every one of them would say the same thing. There is nothing more frustrating than having to leave the kitchen, mid-service, clean yourself up, wash the sweat of your face and go into the dining room to greet a bunch of customers.

Would I go to the theatre and expect my friend with the leading role to bound over mid-show and welcome my friends and me? Of course not.

Also, why is this practice limited to head chefs only? Why not other members of the kitchen? Would it be acceptable to introduce myself as a friend of say, the wash-up person and expect them to appear, dishcloth in hand, bowing to the room to a ripple of applause?

Somehow I don't think so. No, I'll tell you why: Because the only reason you do this is to draw attention to yourself, impress your party and massage your ego.

So naff. So out-of-date. So Eighties.

My advice is this. Your fellow diners don't care who you know. If you're friends with the chef and want them to know you're there, send him a text or something.

I'm now off to have my cringe marks removed.


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