Friday, 6 July 2012

Why Small Plates Can be a bit Shit

Small plates are taking over the world. I understand why, because they're good for business, good for being sociable and for this culture of trying everything and being a foodie. Of course, we can see where this started. Russell Norman's numerous places (though I have very much enjoyed meals at his places, my bank balance didn't) and the 'tapas' restaurants that are popping up all over the place have definitely contributed to this. Small plates are everywhere, and they've got some good points. They're really good for some things. For example, they're great for sharing and breaking the ice on a first date, say, and it means you can try lots of different things, and if you don't want to make a big commitment towards a weird dish, you can just try it for not much. But are small plates as we know them now really doing us any favours?

The waitress recommends that you should order 'at least 7 plates each', and when they arrive, you could really have done with about five. And they were only 'advising' and you actually ordered the food, so you can't really say anything. 

Then there is the deception of costs. 'For a starter, this is cheap! We can just have loads of starters! And that list of little whilst-you're-waiting-snacky-things is even cheaper and I've always wanted to eat a whole deep-fried octopus foetus! Let's have ten!' Then when you've finished: 'We might as well share a few more desserts - it's so cheap, it'll barely factor into our bill!' Herein the problem lies.

It doesn't make it cheaper to order lots of little things because unsurprisingly, lots of little things add up. So what is on first glance a cheap meal can be a very expensive meal, if you actually enjoy yourself and order what you want, as opposed to keeping your iPhone zealously on the table with a running total for each of you.

Or even worse, you remember that you must exercise English reserve and hold back, which can be very awkward if there's one greedy bastard who'll hoover up everything that's left there for more than two minutes. and nervously eye up the seven croquetas in the bowl and wonder how three of you are going to split them. So you end up getting a dirty kebab on the way home. Which isn't what you really want, is it?

And because these are such tiny plates, the restaurant can widen the margins a lot and you won't really notice as much, right, because you've sampled a few too many drinks on their quirky cocktail list, which you downed whilst you were waiting for a table in their tiny dining room.

And you can never quite discern how fast service is going to be so you don't want to order too few plates as a result of not being quite sure on size. I mean, if you just say you're going to get a few and order a few more, they could take ages. By which time, you have worked your way down to the bottom of the ubiquitous cocktail list and no longer have interest in tapas, small plates or seveech-ay, as your neighbour keeps smugly pointing out in a pretentious accent.

And I know what you're thinking. In fact, it's been pointed out to me a number of times. I COULD go somewhere else for a straightforward, three course meal so why have I been clogging up your brain for the last two minutes whinging about something I could just avoid entirely, but sometimes I read about a restaurant that does great food, but it's full of deceptively expensive, small plates. So I don't go.

Small plates, on first glance, do seem like a good idea, but in reality, they are expensive, socially awkward and you never know just how small they really are.


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