Saturday, 13 June 2009
I never set out to be a ranter, I really didn’t. I think it’s a bit of a cop out, a little bit lazy – a biased, subjective way of addressing something while being vaguely amusing and controversial at the same time. Kick off with an exasperated intro à la Jeremy Clarkson – Can you believe the state of the bloody underground? I literally can’t believe it, can you believe it? (Note use of rhetorical question to draw the reader in). Then develop the theme with some highly topical and highly predictable similes that contain some awfully shocking profanity or other – those tube drivers are as lazy as an MP that employs a Pole to feed their ducks and then charge it to their bl**dy expense account. Then rant, rant, rant, send to sub, and go to pub (where there is no doubt something else to whinge about).
But some things do need saying. Spleen needs venting; bees need releasing from bonnets, ants from pants, snakes from boots. As a sort of precursor to my upcoming comprehensive, and somewhat valedictory, guide to eating in Bristol, there are a few things about restaurants that I need to get off my chest, mainly because I simply do not have the balls to make a fuss at the time. I don’t personally think there is any superciliousness here, nor do I think these are complaints that I alone have. But let me know if you think I’m way off the mark here, and I’ll retreat back into my nest of simmering resto-resentment.
1) How often do you receive a fairly passable burger or sandwich or whatever, perhaps with some decent chips, but accompanied by the most depressing pile of dry salad you’ve ever laid eyes on? Way too often. Dress. The. F**king. Salad. Please. Surely it is obvious to whoever has produced this leg-side dross that this is a culinary abomination. If you, Monsieur le Chef, can come into the dining room, look me in the eye, and say “I think salad is nicer undressed” then fine, I’ll let this one slide. But come on, there is more chance of Gordon Brown resigning than there is of you believing that, and your refusal (and I am talking to a large percentage of cooks/chefs of the café/pub/bistro ilk) to try to make this sorry heap of iceberg lettuce, sliced pepper and tinned sweetcorn taste at all edible simply shows that you do not care. It’s a very small thing, I know, but if a chef is firing something out of his kitchen that he is not 100% happy with then something is seriously wrong.
2) Vegetables suffer from the same ignominy in these places, pubs in particular. If I’ve just paid £12 for roast lamb, how dare you send it with a soggy roast potato that’s been sitting in the warming oven for hours, and a few lame pieces of carrot, broccoli and cauliflower that have been cooked with about as much love as, oh I don’t know – Ronaldo for Fergie? Gordon for Hazel? Morrissey for a big ol’ T-bone? Just a little salt and pepper please chef, maybe some melted butter – would a sprig of parsley be too much to ask? If the answer to this is ‘yes’, then you should take off your toque, hang up your jacket and throw in the tea towel, because you do not belong in a kitchen. You clearly do not understand food.
If you, reader, can name one vegetable that is not improved by a little salt and pepper, or a little oil and vinegar, then I’ll take you out for dinner. But I think my money is safe. Such a miraculous thing does not exist.
3) ‘Discretionary 12.5% Service Charge’. All too bloody discreet most of the time. A A Gill has already had a pretty big go at this one, so I’ll leave this particular flag in his very capable hands. I do not possess the minerals to send the bill back when restaurants do this, like he does, but I do now insist on paying the bill to the penny, maybe even a penny short. That’ll show ‘em.
4) Menu spelling. Real head in hands stuff, this. For one thing, you run the risk of sounding like an absolute arsehead if you are going to insist on using the French or Italian name when the English one will suffice. Spell it wrong, however, and you are in the running for ‘Arsehead of the Year’. I’m pretty happy not to correct a restaurant that offers ravioli (plural) and then appears with a single raviolo, because in English that’s pretty much what it has come to mean. Ditto on the panini front (though some horribly pedantic part of me always insists on ordering a panino – I mean, you’d chuckle if you heard an Italian asking for a sandwiches, wouldn’t you?), but I just can’t help but make a kneejerk judgement about a place that serves pollo alla parmiggano, or confit de cannard. Come on. Oh, and if you ever correct my pronunciation of bruschetta (hard ‘k’) and tell me it’s bruscetta (soft ‘sh’) I’ll rip your tongue out. It’s one thing to get it wrong yourself, it’s quite another to try and correct somebody’s already correct pronunciation.
5) Water. If you bring a bottle of mineral water when the patron has asked for a jug, you’re liable to find that bottle smashed over the back of your head. It is daylight robbery, pure and simple, and underhand at that. If they ask for a glass of Prosecco is it acceptable to bring a bottle of Bollinger? Clearly not. If they order the vegetarian risotto and a side salad, is it OK to bring lobster and chips? Hell no! (Well, I probably wouldn’t complain too vehemently). But seriously, why the frig do people let this go so often? It’s abominable behaviour, and must stop.
Oh God there are hundreds of others, but most of them petty and pernickety. The five above are the main offenders, on the whole, and ones that I think most people will sympathise with. That said, I’d love to hear others, and specific stories too, because there are some real corkers. Not a complaint in the slightest, but amusing nonetheless, was the time I went into a Bristol pub during one of my (frankly idiotic) Lenten, beer-free fasts, and asked what wine they had. A befuddled look was followed by the hesitant riposte – “red… and white”.
I hate to come across as a snob, inevitable though it probably is. I would argue that my views are actually far from snobbish or patronising. These aren’t complaints about restaurants that claim to serve foie gras when it’s really only chicken liver pâté, or sommeliers who bring the ’83 instead of the ’82, or waiters who serve from the wrong side (does anyone even care about this anymore?). No, ultimately all of these gripes come down to apathy – the fact that someone in the kitchen staff simply does not care enough to make the infinitesimally small effort to do the even smaller things well, and more importantly, with love. And frankly, if you’re one of these people, you’re in the wrong profession mate. Go and be a tube driver. Apparently they don’t give a fuck.