Tuesday, 18 February 2014

5 Comments that should be banned from restaurant reviews

The online comments section. That brilliant accident of newspapers on the internet. Most columnists either stubbornly and rather aloofly ignore them, or dive in, hurt and touchy about this pants-down public criticism they were safe from for years and have to now endure.

Comments on restaurant reviews are no different, but I'm starting to see certain trends forming, and each week the same kinds of arguments are put forward, rather boringly. 

Here's a quick round-up of which kinds of commenters I think should be banned from restaurant reviews.

1. The tight git

"£50? I could make it at home for £10". 

Maybe you could. But you would have to know the recipe, maybe by reading a book or learning somewhere. (maybe 1 hr of your time spent) Then you would have to go to the shops and get the ingredients (2 hrs). Then make the meal (2 hrs), and afterwards do the washing up (15 mins). 
That's a rough estimate of 5 hrs 15 mins of your own time, and at the average UK wage (£12.56 per hour) is the equivalent to you earning £56.94 before tax.
Then you would have to serve it yourself, choose and pour your own wine, get up and get the salt and pepper yourself (squeaking as you walk, presumably), and sit there and talk to yourself wallowing in your smugness that you aren't sitting in an expensive restaurant, participating in society, surrounded by jolly people enjoying your food being cooked and served by nice people in order to make a living.

Well done, I just hope I'm never married to you.

2. The subject Nazi

"Oh please concentrate on the food rather than withering on about your thoughts on the train there/current affairs/ your sex-life" 

Ok I'm just going to come out and say it: people don't read restaurant reviews to find out where to go and eat. The internet has told them already. And one of the most common mis-conceptions about restaurant reviewers, and indeed any other reviewers, is that  they are not employed to to review things because they know a lot about the thing they specialise in reviewing. They are employed because the editor thinks they are a good writer. 
For me the best restaurant review will talk about the restaurant for less than 15% of the words, max. Quite honestly what is there more to say? I mean, this isn't an autopsy. Who wants to know all that stuff anyway?
If you want to read about unctuous mouthfeel, read a food blog. There are plenty out there. Or failing that, see a psychologist.

3. The bitter ruralite.

"I can't believe that for another week, you have chosen once again to stay (insert tiny number) miles away from your beloved home in London, where this paper is obsessed by! You should spread your wings and travel a little, you might be surprised" - etc etc fade to silence.

Well, I for one have never had a decent meal outside of zone 2, let alone outside the M25, so I don't believe you for one minute. 
This is a lie obviously, I'm sure there are many lovely restaurants right across Britain.
The fact is London is our capital city, does a fine job of being it, and because of that lots of people from all over the world come here to live and work, so it subsequently find itself with lots of people who like to eat out more often than birthdays and anniversaries, the demand of whom allows the opening of an awful lot of restaurants, some of which end up being the best in the country. 

Oh, and in London they don't serve food on square plates anymore.

4. Miss I Know Better

"You really should have tried Mrs Miggins' Cafe round the corner, the eccles cakes are divine'"

If there is any side effect of restaurant review comments, it's the ability for people like Mrs Miggins' tech-savvy teenage daughter to be able to whack some free advertising for the family business. The new Tripadvisor. Kind of don't mind this one too much I suppose, but be careful how you word it, it can be obvious.

5. The moral high-grounder

"Eating out is quite frankly a vulgar waste of money, when there are children starving in Africa, why not give the money to them?'"

Well, if nobody ate out, restaurants would quickly fail, and everyone from The Jag driving owner to the plongeur would be penniless, and according to some clumsy googling, over 2 million people would be now living on benefits street, and our GDP would be down approximately 2.5 Bn. I hope you're pleased with yourself.

My conscience is clear anyway, as I have for this reason stopped buying The Guardian and now donate the money saved to worthwhile faraway causes.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

London restaurant cuisines rated by coolness

London might be the 'best place in the world to sample the world's cusines', but what surely matters most are not which are the best, but which are the coolest. Food is of course fashion, and what you eat is surely as important to your overall vibe as what you wear, listen to, watch, read and do. So read my current coolness factor list of London's most currently cool cuisines.

Ones that nearly made the cut and deserve a mention : Balkan/Turkish/Greek, Middle Eastern - if only for the superbly hip vegetarian Dutch falafel place Maoz, currently my no.1 desk lunch without question, also Venetian, but only one serious player at the mo, can't remember who.

1. British
The recent enthusiasm for Britishness is a curious one. The popularity for wartime ephemera (Keep Calm etc) and the 'Famous Five' look, with flat brogues and short back n sides hair has seeped into restaurants, with camping tins, refectory tables, London Transport chic (rectangular tiles, off white, copper pipes, teal blue and scarlet) finding its way into almost every new opening since about 2009 and is usually associated with 'austerity, economic situation subsconciously making us feel thrifty' and a rejection of all things fancy and posh, like tablecloths etc.
The modern British restaurant is now firmly on the radar, and epitomised by such places all of which sound like stage sets in an Am-Dram production of an H.E. Bates novel: Foxlow, Social Eating House (ok sort of half French brasserie), The Quality Chop House, Clove Club, Restaurant Story, The Dairy.

Coolness: 6/10. Hip with a thoughtful, nostalgic crowd.

2. Nordic/Skandinavian
Not just Salmon and cream cheese. Golden Square bakery Nordic Bakery first alerted me to the food delights of our stylishly-designed cold weather cousins, and the egg and herring rye bread sandwich is now my third most favourite thing to eat for lunch. Influence on ingredients is obviously from Noma, with serious faces, greasy flick, stubble and intellectual demeanour completing the look.
Menus lend themselves to the 'set piece' theatre of the 'performance' style offering, where a list of current 'hits' are 'experienced'.
Design: Every fine-dining establishment worth its salt is as-we-speak ripping out anything even approaching comfortable or decorative in favour of cold, bare and industrial.
Coolness: 7/10 Not just cool in a low temperature way.

3. German/Austrian
There is no getting around the fact that Germany is the most hilarious country in the world, and every menu item sounds like a grumpy uncle in a Sound of Music spin off, so the current enthusiasm for schnitzel and sausage is unsurprising.
They quietly invented the hamburger after all, and it is available in its nude and unblemished form as a frikadeller in Herman Ze German (my current 2nd favourite Soho lunch place) with amazing gravy. Boopshi's in Fitzrovia is another more 'designed' version, but lacking in the currywurst department.
Coolness:  7/10. Up there. Berlin has forever been cited as the coolest place in Europe, but only really by people actually in Berlin, who went there when their conceptual art studios became too expensive in Shoreditch.

4. Korean
On the Bab, Koba's for kimchi and Anju, and Jubo, the fried chicken thing still rumbles on, with the Korean element giving it an edge. There seems to be something special about the crispiness or something, I don't really know but it's very now.
Coolness 7/10. If you want to make something on your menu cool, just add 'Korean' somewhere.

5. French
That's right, everyone's tired of old French restaurants serving fuddery duddery old hat dishes with by waiters who've wasted time tasting it, and good Lord please remove those carpets and tablecloths, what do you think this is, auntie's birthday? Get with it, Grandad, stuffy old French is OUT. 
The sexy little newcomers in Casse Croute, Blanchette, Chez Elles, the 2012/13 brasserie explosion of Balthazar/Zedel/Chavot, heavy demand for tables at poshos The Ledbury, Gauthier, Le Gavroche, and the success of universally adored Otto's is proof of that little pudding.

Coolness: 7/10 C'est cool. Well, I suppose France did invent the restaurant.

6. Spanish
I suppose I should rather lazily include Portuguese and Catalan food here, and am already bracing myself for the North-Spain politics obsessives who will undoubtedly pull me up for getting the name of one of their dishes wrong, but the rate of tapas bars opening across the capital is astonishing. The legendary Moro should probably be credited with starting it but Jose, Barrafina, Iberica, Salt Yard etc all doing a good job of pumping out the little plates of that tasty deep fried creamy mashed potato and thinly spiced spicy sausage, washed down with recently-revived port and sherry. And what is it with sherry? I just remember being drunk in teeny glasses by rather stiff great aunts and pronounced 'shell-air'.

Coolness: 8/10. Everyone from City stiffs to Fitzrovia TV producers can get into it.
Bluffing tip: Knowing Iberico is a type of pig rather than an area in Spain. Trust me, I've got it wrong and suffered the roar of laughter.

7. American

Where do I begin? 2013's 'great burger wars' were an almost comical episode but you couldn't help being swept along with the greasy steamed bun party. And with the current rash of MEATliquor rip-offs, and especially when blended with the BBQ trend it has everything the 18-30 buttoned down prison tat lumberjack shirt & air max 90s crowd wants (salt/sugar/fat in equal quantities) and shows no signs of faltering.

Coolness: 9/10. Huge, but spreading thin. The provincial rip-offs and smoked meat on every pub menu in the home counties has to tell us something. Too big to disappear in the short term, but the smart customer will soon demand quality over style.

8. South American

Yes, with Martin Morales' Ceviche and Andina going great guns, and Lima winning its Michelin star, and (somewhat patronisingly) 'elevating Peruvian cuisine to new levels' it seems everyone (still) wants to sample tiger's milk and pisco sours at every opportunity. Personally I think there's a danger that some restaurateurs might become a victim of star-blinded over-expansion, as when the Time-Out/Metro love affair with citrus marinated raw fish served on earthenware plates will any-day-now be dropped like an X Factor winner in Crocs as soon as the next exotic undiscovered peasant style cuisine that fits the bill comes along. And who wants yesterday's papers?

Coolness: 10/10. Even The Daily Telegraph agrees.


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