May 2011 Archives

You Wooden Believe It!

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You Wooden Believe It!

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

Is it just me or have you noticed that some restaurants have decided to abandon putting food on plates in favour of mahogany?

It seems that, either to save washing up, or accelerate the global warming process, there is an increased tendency of late to put food onto slabs of wood. I am sure Henry VIII was perfectly happy with this method of presentation, it being preferable to the "let's rip a leg off a deer in the forest" method of presentation or even the "throw all the food straight on the table" method of presentation which were both popular in the 16th Century.

Our problem is that we are now used to having our food on a plate which has an upturned edge to stop the food falling off, so when you are presented with round objects on a board, eating them without everything ending up on the floor (or your lap) is like playing that game with no name we used to play as kids where you had a plastic "thing" containing a cardboard picture and 6 tiny metal ball bearings which you had to align with 6 tiny holes in the cardboard by tipping and wiggling it, without them all falling out of the holes as you tried to get that last ball into its hole.

But let's not stop with the wooden boards. Who ever imagined that humans would want their chips served vertically, in a tiny metal flower pot wrapped in white paper? Apart from the fact that you can only get about 7 chips into a tiny flower pot, where do the other vegetables go? Into a tiny saucepan? Yes. Often they do. Served in a tiny copper saucepan. So the table now looks more like a potting shed. What's next? Wine in a watering can? Don't even joke about it.

And speaking of watering cans, when is the best time to water your garden? Probably not just before it starts to rain, I venture to suggest, but therein lies the mystery. The weather.

Not since the emperor agreed to purchase his new clothes, has there been a greater opportunity for commercial deception than the weather APP. The mobile phone market is overrun with applications promising to foretell the weather. But what if they don't work? If you bought a calculator that didn't calculate, you'd rightly complain. If you bought a car which didn't drive, you'd ask for a refund or the AA. But with a weather application, you're stuffed. The companies who sell these applications can say what they like (much like the BBC Weather service) without fear of attack as nobody can predict the weather and anyone who says they can is likely to face a 100m dash across burning coals or the ducking stool to prove their innocence.

Another business idea which couldn't fail was wax. Yes. That famous French woman, Madame Tussaud, who came up with an idea that must have seemed like lunacy at the time to Mr Tussaud. Charging people real money to look at a blob of old candle wax. OK, so the blob was moulded into a shape like a human and she stuck on some of her old hair from a hairbrush and some eyes made of marbles. It was like a Gallic version of "Penny for the Guy", but much more expensive. Whole families now queue for hours in Marylebone Road with their timed tickets to see various famous people made out of wax and pretend to have their photo taken with them. And for a family, that can work out very expensive (£99 to be precise!).

For another family game, try the "crumble challenge". It consists of this: you go to a restaurant and order Apple Crumble. Then you say the top wasn't crumbly enough, thick enough, crusty enough, and the filling was not appley enough before you decide that no other crumble will ever equal the home-made version made by mum. Then you repeat this at other restaurants all over the UK. I am not sure where this will end. Whether my wife intends to write the definitive UK Crumble Guide or whether we are destined to complain about every other crumble ever ordered until we return home and sample the real thing.

Mind you, I had better be careful who I criticise as she has noticed a recent tendency for me to be something of a sausage connoisseur. And I have to admit that I have begun to grade sausages by different characteristics. Notably, knobbliness, meatiness, tightness and the last, and all important characteristic, badgeriness.

To explain the badgeriness quotient (B0 to B5), one must envisage the Badger. An animal completely covered in black and white stripes. And so it is with some sausages. Instead of being cooked all around so that the colour is the same on all sides (if a round object can be said to have "sides"), many restaurants now decide that cooking on one side is quite enough and that the other sides can be left white, or alternately black and white, which gives an unusual sensation of eating meat half raw and half cooked as you bite your way across the grain a little like the Russian-Roulette type experience of eating frozen beefburgers which have been half-cooked on your neighbour's new barbeque and wondering if you will end up in casualty with food poisoning.

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Sausages illustrating the Badgeriness Factor!

The Tightness factor (T0 to T5) leads to that other sensation when the sausage resembles a dog chew. The feeling that serious amounts of biting and chewing will be needed to consume it.  Knobbliness (K0 to K5) is that sensation of finding gristle in each mouthful as you eat a sausage and wondering what part of the animal you are avoiding as you spit them out. Meatiness (M0 to M5) is that quality you would have thought you needed in a sausage - the taste of meat. But too much of a good thing can be bad. Too much meatiness and the consumer starts to growl like a werewolf and hide from the moon.

And so I constantly seek out that perfect sausage.  A specimen with the statistics K0, M0, T0 and B0. But, so far, no luck, especially at Popham Little Chef where I had expected great things from all that Blue Sky thinking and Hestonisation. But all we found was a full car park, sausages in the K5,M5,T5,B5 range and over-trained staff who kept saying "Is everything alright with your chips Madam" or "would Sir like some ketchup" as they sprayed the smell of the sea above our heads. It was all too much, like a comedy sketch in a tailor's shop where the staff keep repeating "Suits you Sir".

Alas, the crumble fared no better, so her indoors and I headed out onto the open road (well, the A3) in search of the perfect crumble and sausage!

*** STOP PRESS ***

I have just been a restaurant in Sandbanks which didn't even bother to take the chips out of the basket to put them into a flower pot - and you get a prize if you can guess how many chips they managed to fit into the basket!

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