1) Tiny Tables
I’m aware that you’re paying a lot of money in rent and therefore need to squeeze in as many people as possible, but you’re going to get a lot more repeat business out of me if I’m not elbowing the person at the next table or (WORST OF ALL) I’m trying to eat and I’m being jostled by every person zooming past me. Not only that, but it’s impossible to fit the paraphenalia of modern eating onto a table if more than two people are eating at the same time. This situation is further exascerbated by my next point…
2) Huge Plates
There is nothing more annoying that recieving my dessert on a plate that is at least a good foot in diameter. If I haven’t ordered an entire cake, there is absolutely no point in putting a pathetically small sliver of the afore-mentioned cake in the centre of a titanic white plate. It looks lonely. It makes your accountant-inspired cost-saving dessert look about a thousand times more miserly. Not even frenetic Jackson-Pollock swooshes of coulis and syrup will fill up that plate. Which brings me to my next point…
Kindly remember that what you are serving is food. If I want art, I shall go to the MMA or similar establishment. If I order a meal that says in its description “served with a decadent chocolate sauce” I expect to be able to have some of that sauce. If it is smeared, swooshed, swirled, sprinkled or spattered on a plate the size of Texas rather than being actually ON the dessert in question, then you are selling art rather than food and I am unimpressed in the extreme. Clearly, someone has (I hope) gone to some effort to prepare the sauce so I’d like to be able to actually eat some without having to resort to licking the plate. Similarly, if I have ordered a dish, I expect to be able to find (and eat) said dish without having to remove half a paddock of cress, salad leaves and fancy-cut vegetables to find it. There’s nothing worse than ordering something and then having to go prospecting to find it. If I want salad, I shall order it. It will come in a side dish and I can eat it as I please. Don’t try and hide bad cooking or pathetic servings underneath something I didn’t order in the first place – you are compounding your mistake. And, speaking of presentation, I move from garnish to my next point…
Combined with the giant plates I’ve already complained about, the worst trend in modern serving is to pile food into a tower. Firstly, it stinks of Art. It means that someone once read a book about haute cuisine and has had Ideas. It means that someone wants to be a Chef and has attended classes on Presentation. It means that I am presented with a teetering mass of (apparently) food in the centre of a giant plate. Firstly, I end up having flashbacks to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and secondly, I need a mini wrecking ball to lay the thing flat so that I can eat it. I’m sure the idea was novel when it first debued about thirty years ago but it’s so damn pernicious that one cannot eat a meal at a stock-standard cafe without encountering the dreaded Tower of Doom. It’s food. Lay it on a plate and stop playing Jenga.
5) Fresh Cracked Pepper
You’ve just put the food in front of me on a giant plate and I’m eyeing the tower and wondering if I brought enough blast-cord to lay demolition charges. I haven’t so much as picked up a fork, and yet someone is already waving a giant pepper-grinder at me. Do I want pepper? I don’t know yet – did your chef forget to season the food? Am I going to be able to get any flavour from the swooshes of gravy around the perimeter of the plate? How about you either give me a small dish of pepper or a small grinder and – when I’ve had a bite or two – I’ll season it myself. Take your pepper-grinder and sod off and leave me the heck alone. The food will either stand on its merits or it won’t. Which reminds me…
Restaurant-speak is the peculiar language used on menus to sell the food. “Steak and two veg with gravy” will cost $10 at the local pub, but “seared sirloin of grain-fed Angus beef served on a bed of truffled potato mash with seasonal baby vegetables and served with a red-wine jus” will cost a little more to make but will sell for $50. However, over-selling the food is just as much of a deception as over-garnishing it. Eventually, your customer will dig down and find the food and discover that at some point that the words and their meaning have long parted ways. I refer to a practice which I call counter-confit. A confit is, generally speaking, meat that has been cooked and then preserved in some sort of fat or oil. Why, then, have I seen restaurants that should know better touting things like “confit of peaches” or even “carrot and pea confit“? I get that you’ve cooked your chosen ingredient in a different, and possibly unusual, fashion but use the correct terminology! The peach dish you’ve made featured no oil or fat so could more correctly be called a compote instead of a confit. Your carrots and peas were slow-cooked in olive oil until they became slightly caramelized – call them caremelized, then, or – if you must – braised but they are not confit. I’ve seen this occur with a huge variety of cooking terms and it’s usually the result of someone trying to be smart and not succeeding. Don’t confuse ingenuity with fashion – it makes you seem ignorant. If you’ve made something truly new, then use a new name for it.
7) Finishing The Meal
You’ve spent a fortune painting and decorating your eating establishment. You’ve stuffed it it full of the best in tiny tables and giant crockery. You’ve found a Cheffy chef who can make towers and who knows that gravy should go into squirt bottles to assist presentation. You have a menu so full of restaurant-speak that it requires a French dictionary, an atlas and a grounding in cryptography to read. Why, then, do you permit the horror known as the Dessert Special? Ideally, a special dessert is something unusual or unique, something rare or particularly well-done. It is ordered – even though one probably has had enough to eat in the form of towers, swooshes and counter-confits – because you wish to finish the meal with something extraordinary. Don’t go shafting your customers by putting a ready-made cake as your Dessert Special. Not even with the obligatory tart-up of whipped cream, crunchy strawberries and syrup swooshes will make a bought-in cake special enough that I won’t feel ripped off. It’s not worth paying $15 dollars for when I know DAMN well that you’ve paid $15 at The Cheesecake Shop for the entire bloody cake.
Dear reader – I have come to the end of my rant for today. Possibly I may find enough objectionable things to round out the list to a full 10 items, but I simply don’t go out that often anymore. If you have something that you’d like put onto the list, please let me know.