I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Grumpy Old Culinary Git

I'm fed up with restaurants. Not that we eat out a lot. But lately we have done so rather more than usual - mainly to celebrate various birthdays. And I must say I was disappointed. I mean, for £120, 3 people have a right to expect something slightly memorable for their money (or, to be exact, my money in this case). I shan't name the restaurant, but it's got a reputation as being one of the best round here. It's supposed to be French, though I didn't see much evidence of this on the menu.

As seems the custom in so many eateries in these remote parts of Lincs and Notts, the food was finicky, poncey, minutely portioned and 'artistically' arranged in little dabs and squiggles around the plate. (Is it that we haven't moved on from nouvelle cuisine here in the backwoods - or is it that nouvelle cuisine has come back into fashion and I hadn't noticed? God only knows.)

And then there's the wine. Obviously you can't choose the 'house' wine (or the wrath of the Birthday Women would be boundless) - and anyway you acknowledge yourself that the cheapest wine on the menu would be rubbish (even at £16 a bottle!) - so you go for a more sophisticated-sounding Château something or other at 20 or 25 quid, and you just know with a sinking heart that you could have bought 5 decent bottles for the same money at the supermarket. (In Galicia last year I would eat cheap, wholesome and tasty food in bars where a palatable local wine was thrown in free.)

To add insult to injury, we were seated at a table so huge you could hardly hear what anyone was saying (yes, I know we could have moved) - a situation not helped by the noise from the saxophonist-cum-guitarist two-piece house band which decided to play a medley of schmaltzy jazz standards from a few feet away (yes, again, I know we could have moved, but I knew the guitarist and didn't want to offend him since he was at the time selling my old Korg M1 synthesizer for me).

I'd finally had enough of so-called French restaurants at some point during our final celebratory meal the next week. This time the tables were so small (or should I say bijou) and closely-packed that you were practically eating your next-door-diner's dinner. (Not that I would have minded over much as I'm one of those awkward people who always wish they'd ordered someone else's choice.) I went for the lamb tagine (at least this was vaguely French because of the North African connection) - but unfortunately it turned out to be just a sweet-savoury soggy mess on the plate. I couldn't help but compare it with the lamb tagine I make myself which - all modesty aside - is really good!

The message is clear and plain. Entertain people at home - at a fraction of the cost and with hugely increased pleasure, relaxation and taste sensation. No worries about drink-driving. No worries about tiny portions. And you know you'll get good coffee.

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