Everyone gets irked when eating out but none more so than us chefs, foodies or in my case food writer and restaurant inspector as well. So here are the ingredients for my dinner from hell which may resonate with some of you.
My first complaint is the demise of the bread basket and butter dish coupled with the removing of it anyway after just the starter course especially if it was soup and for good measure the side plates whipped away with it as well. The golden rule is that the bread and side plates should remain on the table until all the savoury courses have finished including the cheese which the bread is crucial for. Having to pay for the bread at all is cardinal sin stuff.
Regarding soup there is some fictional archaic law that it must be served boiling hot so that the merest sip will burn your lips and it will be ten minutes before it’s cooled down. Soup should never be boiled in the first place. I have resorted to pouring some water into the soup to make it drinkable and I usually have to correct the seasoning anyway. A lot of chefs have never learned how to taste.
My next gripe is the morphing of what is meant to be a palate cleanser or granita into a sweet sorbet in between two savoury courses. It can be a smooth or slushy texture and preferably acidic with a citron or alcohol base to do the refreshing of the mouth. Only a couple of teaspoons are necessary to do the job of preparing the taste buds for another course. I once had a full wine glass of sickly sweet passion fruit sorbet that would have ruined any savoury course to follow. On mains I have a real issue with big badly cut lemon wedges with pips still in or whole halves served with fish when there may already be a proper sauce with it and therefore the lemon has no role to play whatsoever in the dish except for presentation purposes perhaps. Lemons are only needed when no sauce is served. Bones in fish? Do not get me started.
Next is with the vegetables, perhaps cooked perfectly, but with no seasoning or any dressing like olive oil or butter on them which lets the whole show down. Also with main courses it is annoying to have the same potatoes or vegetables served on the plate as a garnish and then to find them repeated on the side. Sign of a lazy kitchen.
That brings me onto how the cheese course became a mini buffet in itself when really all that is required in one or two small pieces of room temperature, properly aged cheese, one piece of ripe fruit or small spoon of a complimenting chutney, said bread that was served on the table and an appropriate wine. The flavour of the cheese is the all important issue and the more accompaniments served are to its detriment. Cheese biscuits are far too sweet and salty. Plain but good white bread is the best. The cheese is always served before dessert except perversely in England, savoury must really come before sweet.
On sweets my issue is big blobs of whipped cream served with creamy based desserts. So the likes of crème brulee, crème caramels, mousses and anything else with layers of whipped cream in it does not need more cream on the side. As for the same dessert garnish for each different sweet, that’s a creativity logjam. Another gripe is the pouring of teas and coffees before the desserts have even been brought to the table. Speaking of pouring I have to hold myself back when the server decides I would like more wine in my glass without asking and that I must be incapable of helping myself.
So these are my worst nightmare scenarios when eating out, I just hope my last supper has none of them, surely they can get it right by then? A downside is we rarely get invited to homes for dinner but as ever if not paying as a guest cooked by either amateurs or professionals, all of the above get left at the door or in my head at least.
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